We got up at an ungodly hour to take the bus to the airport for our flight to Cusco. I think we left the hotel around 4 AM, but I’m trying to suppress the memory. Still, this means that we wound up with a full day in Cusco.
Cusco was the Inca capital, in a river valley at around 11,000 feet elevation. They warned us about altitude sickness, and repeatedly advised us to take it easy and drink lots of fluids. So for our first day, the tour avoided too much strenuous activity. Still, you have to do some walking if you’re going to look at Inca archaeological sites, and we started out by visiting Saqsaywaman.
No doubt I would have had a more enriching experience if I had done even a tiny amount of preparation for the trip — you know, like reading a book or looking up some stuff in Wikipedia, or looking at the itinerary to see where we were going. However, I was too busy obsessing over the GCBB meeting. So I was blissfully ignorant, and I suppose there’s something to be said for that. Kind of like the conquistadores walking into the place cold. So, for instance, the walls at Saqsaywaman blew me away.
That’s our Cusco guide, Arturo, in front of a small part of the stonework. Saqsaywaman is a huge ceremonial complex with three tiers of stone walls like this — each stone weighs tons, and they’ve been cut to fit together without mortar. You always hear about stonework where you can’t fit a knife blade between the blocks; you can’t fit a piece of paper between these blocks at any point.
We later went back into Cusco itself to Coricancha, now a Dominican church and monastery, but originally the Temple of the Sun for the Inca capital. You’ve heard about how the Inca Atahualpa filled a room (25 x 15 x 8 ft high) with gold as his ransom, before Pizarro killed him anyway? Most of the gold came from Coricancha. In any case, the Spaniards tore down most of the temple, and then built their church on top of its foundations.
You can see here the Inca stonework, with much cruder mortared Spanish stonework on top. By the way, when they had a big earthquake in Cusco in 1950, the church collapsed and had to be rebuilt, but the Inca walls were undamaged.
This turns out to be kind of a theme. Pretty much every Inca ruin that we saw was “ruined” only because the Spanish either a) tore it down and built a church on top of it or b) took stones from it to use to built a church. After about half a dozen such statements from Arturo, you start to mentally replace “the Spanish” in his spiel with “the *&@^#ing Spanish”.
At one point someone complimented Robin by saying that she spoke Spanish like Pizarro. She was trying to decide whether that actually added up to a compliment or not. Pizarro is not Mr. Popularity in the Peruvian highlands.
At the end of the Saqsaywaman tour there were locals in colorful native garb waiting to pose for pictures for a Sol or two. Robin was especially interested in the lady spinning yarn with a drop spindle.
Now I initially figured these people go home and change into jeans and “I’m with stupid” t-shirts, but in the ensuing days on buses and trains it became clear to me that this is really what they wear out in the boonies. I saw any number of families walking down dirt roads leading a llama or two loaded with thatch, with the women wearing just this sort of brightly colored dresses.
That night we had dinner at the Andean Grill, a restaurant on the Plaza de Armas. More on the excellent food later; here’s the plaza.