Published: January 25th 2012January 2nd 2012
I had spent much of yesterday watching countless movies in the hostels chilly TV room, exactly as you should do on new years day. Looking out of the window I had been rather glad to have made that choice, as it did nothing but rain for most of the day. I had popped out during one of the few dry spells to get provisions, and the remnants of the night before loomed large over the normally buzzing Plaza de Armas. Broken glass and parts of firework had littered the streets and pavements despite the cities best efforts to clear up after the mayhem. I was also feeling a little under the weather after the mixed burritos o had had for dinner, and staying close to a bathroom had become a bit of a priority.
This morning though, I left the hostel with a sense of purpose, eager to discover more about the few preserved archaeological sites on the outskirts of the city. Having put some clothes in for the hostels laundry service, and leaving my hiking boots to be repaired with Javier, I walked out to Skype Dad and catch up. We hadn't spoken since my mishap in La Paz, and we spent almost an hour catching up on what had happened afterwards. It was great to speak to him, leaving me feeling afterwards like I'd been missing my best mate.
I walked the now familiar path towards Plaza de Armas and was pleased to see that much of the city had returned to normal. Having collected lunch at my new favourite bakery I began the walk up the steep Resbalosa Street to the hills overlooking Cusco. It appeared I wasn't the only one, as I passed lots of people making the same trek through the winding paths and alleyways past Iglesia de San Cristobal and on up the stone stairway to the top. It was a tough hike, and although not the first time that I had climbed such steep inclines at altitude was equally hard, leaving me fairly worn out when I finally reached the ticket booth.
Saqsaywamán, or as many people I had spoken to called it 'Sexy Woman', means satisfied falcon in Quechwan. The sprawling sight, set over four different locations, lay between two and eleven kilometres from Plaza de Armas making it a full days outing. Saqsaywamán was originally intended to be a fortress to protect Cusco, but like so many other Incan relics had been toed down by the conquistadors to build the city's cathedral and many houses. Although much of the magnificently carved and polished stones of the three tiered fortifications are still in place, it's easy to see why it was picked by Inca Pachachutec to protect the city. When I finally reached the top it gave the most beautiful view over the whole city and it's terracotta roofed houses.
Having managed to take a couple of self-portraits on my camera, I decided to move on to the second ruins at Q'enqo. This fascinating ruins was carved straight out of the huge limestone rock that ha been left behind thousands of years ago when the sea had retreated. Q'enqo means zigzag and this is what had happened when the mighty rock had split into two, creating a natural zigzag path. It was riddled with niches and ledges that had been created and used for ritual sacrifice. It felt more like a huge adventure playground for adults rather than an ancient site of ritual significance, especially with the huge subterranean cave and it's various mummification alters.
Eager to try and visit all of the sites before the rain came down, I caught a local bus for just S/.1 (£0.24) which took me all the way to the furthest sight at Tambomachay. It was certainly a fair distance from Cusco, and I was pleased I ha taken the bus. Having got my ticket stamped, I began the walk up the steep hill where I was soon accosted by one of the many guides working around Cusco. I thought it prudent to get him to walk me through the last site so that I could understand a little more than the guidebook had given me. We wandered up to the rest of the track that led to the once mighty 'Bath of the Inca's' and began the tour. Jorge, told me that the baths were mainly used by the Inca ruler and their high priests to bathe in before ritual ceremonies. He pointed out finely carved stone channels, that still carried the clear spring water from it's source somewhere in the hillside. It was amazing that after hundreds of years the water was still running along the channels that the Inca's had carved, and still made the grass that surrounded the sight lush and green.
We descended the slopes of the baths and made our way across the road to Pukapukara. This commanding ruin was once a mighty fort and guard post for the city, protecting against the unconquerable jungle people that lived to the North. Jorge pointed out the many stones that were scattered across the hillside as a result of the once mighty fort being torn down by the Spanish invaders. From the upper esplanade you could truly appreciate the size of the ruins and as Jorge explained, the significance of the site in relation to Cusco as well as the beautiful panoramic view across the valley.
Just as the rain started to set in, we jumped aboard a passing local bus back to Saqsaywamán. I thanked Jorge for his time, and made my way back down the now perilously slippery steps to Plaza de Armas. I was keen to get back as soon as possible, because I had arranged to visit the cities planetarium that evening. Even though the ever increasing rainclouds would now hamper any attempts to star gaze, I still wanted to understand why they had been so important to the Incas.
I was collected from the steps outside the cathedral, along with a holidaying family, and taken by minibus to the planetarium. Hidden within a traditional Andean house off of Llaullipata, just down the slope from Saqsaywamán, was our gateway to the cosmos. It was a great little set up, that felt more akin to a cultural centre than a planetarium. As we each took our seats, and a star covered blanket to stay warm, we were welcomed by Ana with whom I had booked the evening. Ana explained that I would be given the tour separately to the rest of the group, as I was the only English speaking person on the tour. I felt a little awkward now, but blesses that I would have a more personal explanation of the Inca's understanding to the stars.
Ana explained that the Incan people used to follow the path of the stars, the sun and the moon to register and predict all types of events, like the solstice and equinox and when to plant and harvest their crops. She also explained that the stars were so important, that the Inca people even came to believe that the Milky Way was a reflection of the mighty Vilcanota River that runs through the centre of Peru. Ana pointed out the dark patches within the Milky Way and explained that the Inca people believed them to be animal deities, placed to protect the creatures after which they were named. With distinct shapes like the Llama, the Toad and the Snake it was easy to see why they believed these animals to be of terrestrial origin, and at the same time fascinating.
Ana followed this with a narrated presentation of the constellations in the sky, of both the northern and southern hemisphere. Although I was more than familiar with the shapes that stars made in the northern hemisphere, I knew less about those in the southern. For this section, Ana was aided by her young helper Santiago who was to translate everything into English for me. I wasn't sure if I was more impressed by the presentation that Ana gave or the fact that a nine-year-old boy was able to accurately and quickly translate everything for me!
I was dropped back at Plaza de Armas, and as I made my way back to the Hospedaje Recoleta, I was eternally grateful of the fact I had been moved to a private room. I went to bed early, having had a fairly culturally packed day, and wondering what I could spend my time doing tomorrow.