Cusco – May 21st to May 24th
Our group moved back up to Cusco and after only a few days together we were splitting up again – this time into hikers and non-hikers. Originally the group of hikers was supposed to be Tim, Ben, Ed, Rocco and Haven, but Rocco’s altitude sickness was so bad he decided it would be better for him to stay in Cusco with the non-hikers. Early on the morning of May 22nd the hikers were picked up from the hotel and taken to the start of the Inca Trail. I’ve had Haven and Ben write up their experiences on the trail in a separate blog post.
So, the non-hikers – Rocco, Dora, Heather & Madeline, had several extra days to enjoy Cusco and visit some of the sites here. The aboriginal name for Cusco was Qusqu. Another fun fact is that the Inca is not the reference for the people, but just one person, the ruler. All the native people were called Quechuan, not Incas. There were 12 Inca rulers before the Spanish conquistadors came to Cusco in 1533.
The first stop on our tour of Cusco was Coricancha or the Temple of the Sun. The temple was constructed by the Inca Pachacutec in the 1400’s , but was remade into the Santo Domingo Convent after the Spanish arrived. During the Inca Empire this temple had walls covered in gold and it had life size golden llamas and corn in the courtyard. (Of course the Spanish took all the gold and melted it down!) The Quechuan people thought that Cusco was the center of the Inca Empire and therefore, called it the “navel of the world”. If you use the Temple of the Sun as the centerpoint and draw straight lines out from it you can track where other Inca temples are located along the lines. There were several interesting modern paintings that showed the directions (NSEW) and lines to various temples. One painting also showed how the Inca viewed the constellations- they looked at the negative space in the milky way not just the stars.
Another location we visited was the Sacsayhuaman fortress, also built in the 15th century by the Incas. This complex was built to protect the Holy City (Cusco) and was made with huge megalithic blocks. (Many of these blocks were later taken to Cusco to make the Cathedral for the Spanish.) The fortress is shaped like a puma head with the large rocks on the wall representing the teeth of the puma. Every year the Inti Raymi Festival, which worships the sun, is held here during the winter solstice. Lastly, we went to a archaeological site called Qengo, where they used the naturaly cold stones is part of the process for making the mummies of the Inca leaders.
We also explored the large downtown square called the Plaza de las Armas. Here we went to one of the most interesting cathedrals I’ve seen on this trip, the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin (completed after 100 years construction in 1654.) The reason why I found it so interesting was because of all the artistic alterations that were done to make the church more acceptable to the local Quechuan people. I wish we could have taken pictures inside . For example, all of the statues and pictures of the Virgin Mary were actually of the Pachamama, the Goddress of Earth/Mother. There was a very interesting painting of the last supper altered to show the main food as a guinea pig, with passion fruit, corn and local bread on the side. Also, Judas from the Bible was painted to look like the Spanish conquistador with a bag of gold on his belt.
On Thursay, May 24th, we had to get up 3am (!!Ugh!!) to catch a bus to the train station. We had to leave so early because there was going to be a big transportation strike in Cusco and if we didn’t leave we would be stuck there. We made it out without any problems and were able to reserve a room in a hostel for a few hours to get some extra sleep. We took the Vistadome train to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu. The train, which should have been mostly full, had lots of open seats. We talked with several passengers that left Cusco later than we did (about 5am) and they said the roads were being blocked with boulders, old car tires and glass. They had to take dirt roads and even walk part of it to make it to the train! So even though we didn’t like getting up that early it turned out to be a good thing we did.