Peru part III - Cusco and Puno

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July 25th 2008
Published: August 21st 2008
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Parade in CuscoParade in CuscoParade in Cusco

Parade as a celebration or just a show for the tourists?

Inca sites in abundance

The parts of Peru and Bolivia we visited on our trip are very much dominated by the Andes. We became aware of that when we arrived in Cusco. We became aware of that the hard way. Emma suffered from mild altitude sickness the day we arrived in Cusco and Ake suffered bad from the thin air. Cusco sits at an altitude of 3326 meters and there is a significantly lower air pressure there compared to sea level. Just walking around made you loose your breath completely. We stayed in Cusco three days before heading off to walk the Inca trail. Ake had some worries about the hike. If simple walking at altitude 3326 meters is that hard, what is it then like to hike with a heavy backpack at altitude of 4000 meters and more? It turned out that three days in Cusco was enough to get used to the thin air and our hike along the Inca Trail was a enjoyable experience. You can read about our hike on the Inca Trail yourselves by following this link.

Cusco probably became a city in the 13th century and is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the
Parade in CuscoParade in CuscoParade in Cusco

Parade as a celebration or just a show for the tourists?
Americas. Cusco was the capital in the Inca Empire and also the Empires most important city. The remains of the Inca Capital of Cusco are very few today. Basically it is limited to a few palace walls. When the Spanish took over Cusco after the fall of the Inca Empire they tore down the palaces and reused the palace walls to build their own mansions and government buildings.

These Inca walls are easily recognised in Cusco for the specific style of the Inca masonry. For palaces, temples and other important buildings the Incas didn't use mortar. Instead they cut and polished each stone so that it fitted perfectly with the next. The cracks between two stones is so perfectly made so that today, 500 years later, it is not possible to even fit in a razor blade in between. Add to this that Cusco sits in a seismically very active zone and on a regular basis suffer from severe earthquakes and you get an idea of what quality the Inca masonry really have. To keep the stones in place they are cut in a way that they are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The stones are equipped with small
Parade in CuscoParade in CuscoParade in Cusco

Parade as a celebration or just a show for the tourists?
rods that fit in holes in the other stones making the stones connect with each other and also keep each other in place.

For a long time it was not known how the Incas created their palace walls. Today the technique is known but it is far too time consuming and costly to copy more than in a very small scale. In the Inca Empire time and money were not important issues so in Cusco they built huge walls with intricate patterns in this way. Some of the stones used for these walls are irregularly shaped and massively huge. The biggest stones weigh several tons and one stone in a wall in Cusco has not less than 12 angles.

Just outside Cusco is an Inca site with even more impressive walls than the ones that can be found in Cusco. This site is called Sacsayhuaman. If you find that hard to pronounce, don't worry. Not even the locals can so everybody, even the guides, calls it "Sexy Woman". The spelling of the name is also not entire clear either. On the various road signs leading to Sacsayhuaman we noticed at least two different spellings, Wikipedia have three alternative
Inca masonryInca masonryInca masonry

Stones so perfectly fitted with each other that in the cracks it is not possible to even fit in a razor blade
spellings and our two guidebooks also have different way to spell the name. Confusing? Not really because it doesn't matter how you pronounce or spell it. There is only one site that have a name even remotely near to that so everybody immediately know what you are talking about.

Sacsayhuaman was a large fortress with more than four meter high walls. Some of the rocks used for building these walls are believed to weigh more than 100 tons. Such heavy rocks are difficult to lift in position, remember that it is impossible to even fit a razor blade in between two rocks, even with modern day cranes. And in order to cut the rock so it perfectly fits with the next rock they probably had to lift these gigantic rocks in position not once or twice but maybe 100 times or more.

Sacsayhuaman is not the only Inca site near Cusco. A few kilometres further away from Cusco are two sites near each other. They are known under the names Tambomachay and Pukapukara.

Tambomachay consists of the ruins of a few baths and fountains. These baths are believed to have had religious significance like a water cult.
Inca masonryInca masonryInca masonry

Irregular stone perfectly fitted in the wall. The central stone in the picture has 12 angles

Pukapukara sits on a cliff overlooking the valley below. The strategic position makes it an ideal lookout and therefore it is believed that it was a military station. Possibly it was also a resting stop for travellers and Ake also guess it was a station for the messenger runners of the Inca Postal System, though he doesn't have any proof of this.

During the three days we spent in and around Cusco we also visited an Inca site called Moray. Moray looks a bit like an amphitheatre though it is quite clear that its purpose never had anything with entertainment. Moray sits in a depression and consists of several levels of stepped terraces designed for agriculture. Studies have shown that the temperature differs much from one place to another on these terraces effectively creating many different microclimatic zones in one and the same place. It is therefore believed that Moray was used for academic studies on farming. Possibly it was a big laboratory used for determining what plants that are most suitable to grow at a certain altitude.

Much of the Inca history is not known and the purpose of various Inca sites is often not certain.
Cusco CathedralCusco CathedralCusco Cathedral

Cathedral dating back to the colonial days
Some is known from early Spanish sources and other knowledge comes from excavations. Historians can also compare sites with known purpose and then make the assumption that similar sites had similar purpose. But often historians simply had to guess what the purpose of a site used to be. The Incas never had any written language so there are no written records left from that time. The Spanish invaders were not interested in learning about the Inca culture when they invaded the Inca Empire. All the Spanish wanted was the Inca gold treasures. So sometimes we today lack knowledge about the Inca culture and the Inca society.

In the previous entry on the blog we mentioned that in the Inca Empire they had a very efficient postal system. How that can be possible when it is also known that the Incas never had any written language is not easy to understand. The guide we had when we walked the Inca Trail explained that instead of text they made knots on a piece of rope that, if you knew how to read it, could be read as a message. If you think of how Morse code works we guess you might get
Cusco StreetCusco StreetCusco Street

Cobbled street in central Cusco
an idea of how this knots-on-a-rope-code worked.

Cusco city centre is very much a product of the Spanish. The old Inca temples and palaces have been replaced by colonial style buildings and Cusco city centre therefore resembles many other colonial cities in South and Central America. After the Inca Empire fell Cusco remained an important city. When the Inca rulers left the power they were quickly replaced by Spaniards who made Cusco the capital of both the region and the province. Cusco still today is the most important political centre in this part of Peru.

The day when we arrived in Cusco they had a parade in town. We don't know the purpose of the parade. It might have been to celebrate some big event but it might just as well have been only for making us tourists happy, like the parade we saw at Euro Disney earlier this year. Very much of the life in Central Cusco today is centred on tourism. Most of the business in the colonial heart of Cusco is oriented towards tourists such as restaurants, hotels and tour agencies. But even if the parade was a staged event only for tourists it was still nice we still enjoyed
Church in CuscoChurch in CuscoChurch in Cusco

Church dating back to the colonial days
it and we stayed around and looked at the participants and took some photos.

The same day we went to see Moray we also went to see a place known under the name Salinas. At this place there is a natural well with salty water. Ake had a taste of the water and found it to taste just like sea water. The water from the well is diverted into small shallow pools or ponds. There the water is left to evaporate and left in the bottom of the pond is the salt which then can be harvested, cleaned and sold. This is a profitable business in itself but they also make some money off tourists visiting the place. To come there and see these small ponds in various shades of white makes for an almost surreal experience when you have travelled for two hours through the surrounding sandy, dusty and dry land where brown is the dominating colour.

We mentioned on the previous entry of the blog that it in the Andes is very common and perfectly legal to chew coca leaves and drink tea made from coca leaves. As we said then we tried it a few
Super candleSuper candleSuper candle

Paraffin from hundreds of candles have leaked onto the side of this candlestick thus creating a super candle
times and never noticed any effect from it. In Cusco they even have a museum dedicated to the Coca leaf. In the museum they also had a section dedicated to traditional dance costumes and masks. It seems like parades, like the one we saw the first day we arrived in Cusco, is a very important part of the Peruvian culture and the masks and costumes often have a symbolic meaning.

After three days in Cusco we hiked the Inca Trail and visited Machu Picchu. When we arrived back from the hike we left Cusco and went to the city Puno near the Bolivian border.

On the way to Puno we crossed a pass known as Abra la Raya. Above this pass there is a small glacier. The water from this glacier collects in a small creek, which leads to a small river that eventually empties its water in the Amazon River. So you can say that the glacier at Abra la Raya is the source of the Amazon River. That is not a big thing though because the Amazon River probably has more than 10000 different sources. But still we think it is cool to have seen one

This Inca site is believed to be a big laboratory for academic studies on farming
of them.

Puno sits right at the shore of Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca sits at the altitude 3812 m and is according to Wikipedia "the highest commercially navigable lake in the world" and "the largest lake in South America".

Lake Titicaca is the home of the Uros people. They live on islands in the lakes, islands that are made from a special kind of floating reed that grows in Lake Titicaca. What makes these islands so special is that they are manmade. The Uros people collect the reed, bind it together and thus make entire islands buoyant enough to live on.

Traditionally these people live from fishing but today parts of their income is from tourism. These floating islands, there are at least 50 of them, make out a small community of the lake, a community of people living most of their life on a small floating island. The means of transportation between the islands is boats. Today they make use of small motor boats or plastic row boats. But traditionally they used to make their boats from the same floating reed that they use to build the islands.

In 1970 the Uros boat builders were hired

This Inca site is believed to be a big laboratory for academic studies on farming
by the Norwegian ethnographer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl when he needed a boat for his Ra II-expedition. Thor Heyerdahl used this boat made from reed to sail across the Atlantic Ocean, which gives you an idea of the quality of the boats built by the Uros boat builders.

Moored in the Puno harbour is a boat named Yavari. This boat was used by the Peruvian navy to patrol the waters of Lake Titicaca and the border with Bolivian that goes through the lake. The boat was built in England and sailed to Peru. In Peru the boat was taken apart in 2766 pieces. Each piece was then strapped onto the back of a mule and transported over the Andes to the shore of Lake Titicaca. There the boat was put together again and ready to be used. It took them six years from when the ship arrived in Peru until it was ready to be taken into service. Today Yavari is a museum.

Outside of Puno is a small village named Chucuito. In this village there is a somewhat odd Inca site - a fertility temple. From the outside it looks just like many other Inca sites. But inside
Salinas salt pansSalinas salt pansSalinas salt pans

Salt is produced by evaporating water from small pools
the walls it is a different story. There we found about 100 phalli of various sizes. It is absolutely hilarious to see one hundred stone dicks pointing towards the sky or jammed into the soil.

In a previous entry of the blog we mentioned that roasted guinea pig is a traditional dish in Peru. Ake loves to try different kinds of food so while in Peru Guinea pig had to be tried. Emma had a bite of it as well and we both found the meat to be perfectly OK to eat. But it doesn't taste very much so it is not a new favourite.

Additional photos below
Photos: 36, Displayed: 31


Salinas salt pansSalinas salt pans
Salinas salt pans

Salt is produced by evaporating water from small pools
Salinas salt pansSalinas salt pans
Salinas salt pans

Salt is produced by evaporating water from small pools
Salinas salt pansSalinas salt pans
Salinas salt pans

Man working at Salinas
At home we go to prison for thisAt home we go to prison for this
At home we go to prison for this

Coca leaves are illegal at home but commonly used in Peru
Coca candyCoca candy
Coca candy

Coca leaves are illegal at home but commonly used in Peru. They are so accepted that they even make coca candy.
Coca MuseumCoca Museum
Coca Museum

In Cusco they have a Coca Museum
Tambomachay Tambomachay

Inca site of religious significance
Girl with lambGirl with lamb
Girl with lamb

This girl was shepherding a herd of sheep including this adorably cute lamb
Che on a bikeChe on a bike
Che on a bike

Che Guevara is popular in Peru

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