Increible. Este es el solo palabra que yo puedo usar sobre mi viaje acá en Cusco. Mi hermano me encontró y nosotros visitemos muchos de las ruinas de los Incas. Cada vez fue increíble. Y con comida rica, era una viaje no me olvidaré.
Incredible. This is the only word I can say about this trip here to Cusco. My brother met up with me and we visited a number of Incan ruins, and each one was incredible. With this and delicious food, this is a trip I’ll never forget.
After meeting my brother in the morning, we started walking all over downtown Cusco. It is quite the sight – the Incas built Cusco as their capital, but when the Spaniards arrived and took over, they essentially built another city on top of the ruins. The effect is startling and interesting. The bottom of the buildings are impeccable Incan ruins, and the tops are colonial facades forming house after house.
We visited the Cathedral, which was enormous. Actually, it is three churches that are all connected. All three are stunning, with ornate decorations, gilded facades, enormous paintings, and delicate carvings amidst basilica walls and Inca floors. Perhaps my favorite Last Supper was depicted there, where Jesus and his disciples are feasting on cuy, or guinea pig, a traditional Inca dish that is super popular there (no pictures allowed but I’m sure your favorite internet search engine has plenty).
The next day, we woke up early and got on a bus to go visit our first Inca ruins. We started at Pisac, where the Incas has terraced an entire mountainside, creating enormous structures that provides fertile soil to this day. We hiked around a bit, then headed down to the huge market. Although a bit touristy, we got lucky because on July 15, the town begins celebrations for La Fiesta del Virgen del Carmen, so we got to see some men with crazy masks (which poke fun at the colonial Spaniards) dance through the streets to kick off the celebration.
After that, we went to Ollantaytambo, the closest ruins to the famed Machu Picchu. Again, the Incas demonstrated their amazing terracing abilities, but also their impeccable precision architecture. There, a Temple of the Sun sits atop all the ruins, with stones so precisely fit together you can’t stick a hair in between. Furthermore, geologists and archaeologists have discovered that the stones at Ollantaytambo are not from the mountain the ruins are on; rather, the quarry was behind an adjacent mountain, meaning that the Incas cut and harvested the rocks on the other side of the Urubamba River, carried them down a mountain, across the river, and back up a mountain. Totally astounding.
At the end of the day, we found ourselves at Aguas Calientes, the town at the bottom of Machu Picchu. Also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, the town is the main access point to get to the famous ruins. We spent the night, and woke up at 4:30 am to eat breakfast and head to the buses up to the ruins. We got there at about 7, and it would be an understatement to say that we were amazing.
There we were, looking at the famed ruins. Part of the excitement is its fame, but the ruins totally live up to and surpass their expectations. We began our day there by hiking Wayna Picchu (also spelled Huaynapicchu), the mountain in the background of the photos of Machu Picchu. The hike was awesome! We were literally walking in the footsteps of the Incas who made the path to the top of the mountain. At some points, we were climbing up stairs as steep as a ladder, enjoying the green scenery and the fleeting glimpses of Machu Picchu. After passing through a tight cave and climbing up some huge boulders, we got to the top, and enjoyed one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen.
The ruins are impossible to see from below, so as you wind your way up the mountain from the buses, you’re anticipation grows because it seems like you’ll never get there. But from above, you can see everything, and it is a spectacular city tucked away in a lush valley between snow capped mountains and an incredibly fast River.
After getting back down, we went on a tour of the ruins. Being up close made them that much better. Like in Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu has temples with unbelievably precise stones, forming typical trapezoidal windows and doors with perfectly straight lines. The ruins are extensive and in fantastic condition because no one knew they existed until Hiram Bingham discovered and excavated them in the 1910s. And because UNESCO quickly named it a world heritage sight, the ruins have been kept in very good condition to this day.
So they are big, really well built, and in really good condition. But that’s not all – perhaps the most amazing stone is the Sun Dial. This one stone situated at the highest point in the park tells the time of day, but also keeps track of the months of the year, with a 6 month cycle coinciding with the solstices. The stone is also situated to tell the day when the sun passes exactly 90° above the ruins, so no shadow is produced by the stone at this day. But, to top it all off, the four corners of the stone point exactly to north, south, east, and west. If anything marks the Incas’ amazing craftsmanship and their grasp on astronomical events, this stone does.
By the end of the day, we made it back to Cusco and quickly fell asleep. The next day, we visited more ruins in Cusco. First, we went to Qoquechaka, close to the center where the Spaniards built a church on top of a Sun Temple. Again, the craftsmanship is amazing, with more stones aligned with the compass. Secondly, we visited Sacsawayman, just north of the main plaza. This ruin is impressive for its huge rocks forming the head and teeth of a puma, with the body being the rest of central Cusco. Unbelievable.
Then the next day, we headed down south to (the much much less touristy) Tipón. Tipón has ruins with running water, demonstrating the Incas’ capability of both irrigating their crops and designing beautiful geometrical fountains and facades. But I also wanted to go to Tipón because a number of Peruvians told me that Tipón has the best cuy in Cusco. So of course, I got a succulent, delicious cuy al horno, with potatoes, pasta, and a rocoto relleno. After, we headed to Andahuaylillas, to see another slice of Peru, some supposed alien skulls at their local museum, their amazing church, and to say bye to my friends from the weeks before.
In many ways, my brother and I spent the week walking in the footsteps of the Incas. But the Incas are still alive in some ways today, from their food, culture, Quechua language which nearly everyone in the valley knows, and incredible ruins that still hold testament to their amazing capabilities over 500 years ago. These were people who respected their environment, who were grateful for what they had, and who used their talents to create some of the most amazing structure in the world. I feel blessed in a way to be able to see these, to gaze upon some of the greatest human constructions and to go back in time with the Incas.
To end, a short testament to the food we ate. Which was delicious. Cuy al horno, ají de gallina, vegetarian hamburgers, picarones, chivimoya, arroz chaufa, and chincharon. Plate after plate of delicious food just made our trip to Cusco that much better. Now, a few more days in Lima before headed back to hot hot Texas. ¡Ciao Cusco!