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Published: August 28th 2019
Today we left Cusco for a long but interesting bus ride to Puno on Lake Titicaca. This road is known as the Manco Capac route because legend has it that the first Inka leader, child of the sun, emerged from Lake Titicaca. As well as the stops, we had great views en route, including a mirror-like lake with fabulous reflections of the Andes and those fabulous craggy.mountains and snowy peaks. There were herds of llamas and alpacas and we passed lots of women in traditional dress working the fields, doing washing in rivers and carrying babies in colourful wraps on their backs.
First stop was San Pedro Apóstol de Andahuaylillas which, like most old churches in this area was built on top of an Inca hueca (sacred place). There were hundreds, possibly thousands of such huecas placed in lines acting as a breadcrumb trail to Korichanka, the Sun Temple in Cusco. This church is known as the Sistene Chapel of South America, which is a bit overblown - the paintings are not exactly Michelangelo quality. But it is an impressive Spanish church with every surface covered in paintings, frescos or gold leaf -apparently not all the gold ended up in Spain. Most interesting was the melding of Catholic and Inca symbology such as a huge sun with a lamb symbolising Jesus inside, decorations of conch shells and corn cobs, and St Peter wearing an Andean hat. Jesus was white but at the little church in Aguas Calientes we saw a dark brown Peruvian-looking Jesus.
I loved Raqchi, a town named for its skill in ceramics, where we saw the dramatic, partially reconstructed temple of Wiracocha, a temple built by Pachakuti before Machu Picchu. The central wall remains with great fissures as well as some of the original trapezoid windows, used by the Incas because they are more stable during earthquakes.
I'm so glad I learned some Spanish as it enables me to communicate with the locals, not just people in the tourist trade. At Raqchi I chatted with an elderly woman named Francesa who was sitting by a makeshift shelter watching her two alpacas and a donkey. She told me she lived with her family nearby but brought her animals there to graze regularly and built the shelter to protect herself from the heat. Both she and the alpacas (Princesa and Pancho) were great photo subjects, as were the ruins.
We stopped briefly at La Raya, which at 4300 metres is the highest point on the Manco Capac route.
One of the dozens of Pre-Inca civilizations was Pukara, roughly contemporaneous with the Roman Empire, who were based in a town of the same name, a couple of hours from Puno. We stopped at a small museum of Pukara artefacts including stone statues with evidence of human sacrifice and the use of the hallucinogen now called San Pedro (because it takes users to heaven). The museum showed that some Inca symbols, such as the Chankra cross, existed in earlier cultures. Pukara is also famous for making the ceramic bulls which many people have on their roofs as protection against earthquakes, often combined with a cross, which seems a bet each way.
Now we are in Puno and ready for an early night.
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