Peru 2012: Day 5

Today also started at a good time: 7:30. After getting ready, watching a bit of TV (Parental Control), and eating breakfast at Mandela’s (the hotel restaurant), we met our guide at 8:30. First, we drove for a bit to get to our first destination, Awana Kancha (also, Awana Wasi). I will talk about that shortly.

Though we had gotten an introduction to Cuzco yesterday from the representative from CAT, our tour guide, Mario, talked specifically about the parts of the city that we drove through. First was San Francisco Square. It was named by the Spanish during the Colonial era of Peru.

Next, we passed through Cusicio Square, which is adjacent to the City Hall and Chicha Restaurant, which employs the chef that Mario claims is the best chef in all of Peru. As we worked our way up out of the Cuzco valley, Mario continued to explain to us the various interesting things we saw. For example, on one side of the valley, imprinted on a hill, is the phrase “Viva el Peru,” which means, literally, “Live Peru.”. During the 1940s, the symbol of a Peruvian terrorist group was imprinted on the hill instead. The government later erased this and rewrote the current message.

Under that which I mentioned is a number, which is the number of a battalion during the war between Peru and Chile in the 19th century.

At this point, we asked Mario what the fireworks we had heard the previous night were for. He responded by saying that there’s some celebration or another every day in Cuzco. Specifically, though, August 4th is the anniversary of a revolutionary group, Fuerza Cuzco.

On that point, Mario told us that, interestingly, Peru is now smaller than it was during the colonial era. Even so, it is now full of immigrants from all over the world. For example, one of the groups to immigrate here during the colonial era to join the textile trade was Muslims from
the Middle East. Since much of the newly colonized city was Catholic, the general population wanted them to leave. Eventually, to appease their enemies, this group gifted a white statue of Jesus Christ which now stands over the city near Sacsayhuman. While the Muslim
families of Cuzco are no longer a significant presence, there are other immigrant groups that still exist. Central Peru is full of Germans and Austrians. South Peru has many Africans. And, of course, all of Peru has Japanese people. Many people came here in the late 19th and early 20th century to escape from Japan’s struggling countryside economy. In fact, one of Peru’s presidents, Alberto Fujimoro, was Japanese.

As we passed through a residential area outside of Cuzco, Mario told us about what the displays on the roofs of houses mean. A cross signals that the indicated family is Catholic. Two bulls are commonly placed near the cross to bring good luck. In front of the house are placed two bowls. One is filled with holy water, and the other with Chicha. The purpose of these is to keep evil spirits away. Furthermore, Chicha represents fertility. A possible reason for this is that it is good for keeping men’s prostates healthy, and for producing milk in pregnant women.

Soon, we passed another Inca ruin, Puca Pucara. Pucaras were built by the Incas every 20 kilometers to store weapons and provide a safe place to rest along the Inca Trail. 20 km is the distance a llama can walk in a single day. Puca means red, so Puca Pucara is made mostly of red rock. Along with Pucaras, Inca cities are located every 50 km along the Inca Trail from La Paz, Bolivia to Quito, Ecuador, and other important Inca sites every 100 km.

Before long, we reached the highest point of our time in Cuzco, 3700 m, or 12,225 ft. At this height, much of the land is used for farming. The best altitude to grow potatoes in Peru is between 3500 and 4200 meters, with the very best coming from above 4000 meters. If you’re interested, National Geographic had a fantastic article about Peruvian potatoes a few months ago.

At this point, we arrived at Awana Kancha. To start off, we learnt a bit about the types of llamas and alpacas there. The llama family contains two types of llamas as well as the Guanaco. The alpaca family contains two types of alpacas, one of which is called the Alpaca Suri, along with the Vecuña, which is wild and only has fur on its chest. Furthermore, we learned that the name llama was given to the animal by the Incas because the Spaniards asked them what the name of the animal was by asking “¿Cómo se llama?”. Since the Incas couldn’t understand Spanish, they thought the Spaniards were calling the animal “llama.”

After learning about the different types of Peruvian camelids, Mario gave us some grass to feed the camelids. It was tons of fun, as feeding them allowed us to get a close to them as we wanted. It’s fun to be able to pet llamas and alpacas. There were even a few babies, which were especially cute. We even got the chance to see a couple vecuñas in the surrounding mountains. Sahil and I found the way the llamas reached out their lips to grab food to be very entertaining. After passing through the alpaca and llama corrals, we reached the true Awana Wasi.

This organization has set up a place to teach women (and some men) from all over the country how to weave in the traditional, 100% natural, Inca style. The reason this is so important is that, about 20 years ago, this style of weaving almost went extinct. Synthetic materials were (and still are) so cheap that products could be made much more easily in a modern style. Awana Kancha, once they have finished teaching the women what they can learn, sends them back to their village, where they can weave to make money for their families and villages. The products that they make, specifically while at the Awana Kancha, are sold in a store adjacent to the school area. Here, it is possible to buy everything from sweaters, to blankets, to gloves, to slippers, all made from alpaca and llama wool. Every piece made in the area is labeled with the name and a description of the woman (or occasionally, man) who made it. My parents bought some things for themselves and friends, but I did not.

As well as all this, there was also a display of various local foods, especially the wide varieties of corn and potatoes. One of the potatoes that Mami took a special interest in was called the Hachi huachachi. In Quechua, this means “to make the bride cry.”. It is a very small and oddly shaped potato with all kinds of odd bulges and indents. It is given by the groom’s mother to the bride before a wedding as a test to see whether she is capable of being a good wife. If she is able to peel the potato well, she is allowed to marry the groom, but if she is not, she is deemed not yet capable of being a successful housewife.

Once we left the Awana Kancha, we headed for our next destination, Pisaq. The old Inca city is built on terraces carved into a mountain, which are used to grow maize. The reason for this is that the flat ground of the sacred valley was the best place to grow most crops. Thus, it was easier for the Incas to live in the hills. The especially interesting thing about Pisaq, though, is that it is in the shape of a condor, a large, scavenging bird that we saw a statue of at Awana Kancha that can fly up to 30,000 feet high, which is higher than most airplanes. It used to be found all across the Americas, but is now in such danger of extinction that it can only be found rarely in parts of Peru. For the Incas, the condor represented divinity, and was sacred. As seen in one of the temples at Machu Picchu, it can represent the sun, the main Inca deity. This is just like how the Puma represents life on Earth, or the main Earthly deity, water. Finally, the snake represents the ground, the inner world, Pacha Mama (mother Earth). The phrase Pacha Mama would later confuse us because shopkeepers use it to describe turquoise, the jewel.

Unfortunately, when the Spaniards conquered Pisaq, they brought the people down to a city in the valley, so that they could use the people for work. Around this time, the Incas brought a tree from the jungle which they planted in the middle of the city. According to Spanish chronicles, this tree was used by the Spanish conqueror of Pisaq to tie his horse to nearly 500 years ago. That makes the tree almost 600 years old. It is the only visible vegetation in the city from above. As we worked our way down into the valley, we stopped at a viewpoint overlooking the Urubamba River, the sacred river of the Incas. There were a couple local salespeople selling various goods. I bought a really cool whistle which can be filled with water and blown into to create a really cool bird-like sound.

While we were at this viewpoint, I learned that our driver spoke Quechua, so he taught me how to say a few words: brother is “Waiqi,” sister is “Panay,” and tomorrow is “Paqarin.”

At the entrance of Pisaq is a statue of a barallo, one of the leaders of the various communities within the city. Before long, we reached a market, which Mario gave us a short tour of. He told us about a few of the unique fruits there, and even bought a few peppers for the Casa Hacienda where we would later have lunch.

Before Mario left us to shop for an hour or so, he told us to buy a cup of Purple Corn Juice, or Chicha Morada. The vendor mixed our first cup with orange juice, which made it sweeter. It was delicious, though Seona later thought that is what could have made her sick.

We spent the next hour or so buying things from the market. It was fun to help my parents bargain by translating for them. Around 12:15, we began our drive to the restaurant where we would have our lunch. The drive was fairly long, but I spent it sleeping, so it was fine.

When we reached the Huayocary Hacienda restaurant, we had a bit of trouble communicating what we could and couldn’t eat to the waiter through Mario. For appetizer, only three of us ended up having the normal appetizer, causa. Everybody else had salad. The same went for soup, which was corn with egg and cheese. Both were pretty good. Finally, for the main course, I had Lomo Saltado, a Chinese Peruvian dish made by cooking beef in soy sauce. It was pretty good, though I once again didn’t eat the onions. Mama really enjoyed her boiled potato, but Mami hated the fish that she got. We were almost all too full to eat dessert, but we tried anyways.

After finishing lunch, Mario showed us around the museum at the hacienda. The first room was full of various pottery from the Wari and Inca eras. The next was full of Inca weapons. It was surprising to see how unsophisticated Inca weapons were compared to those of the Spaniards, as they lived in an era of peace that focused on development of things such as architecture and art.

The drive from the Hacienda was nearly an hour, again. This time, though, our destination was the Inca city of Ollantaytambo, via Urubamba, the biggest city of the sacred valley.

Upon our arrival to Ollantaytambo, Mario told us about its history. It began its history as a Wari city, which was conquered in the mid-1400s by Pachacutec. Having done so, he built a royal palace there. The story that resulted in the name, according to Mario, was that it was the resting place (tambo) for an Inca general named Ollantay. He was in love with the king’s daughter, so Ollantaytambo served as his sanctuary from the wrath of the Inca nobility.

During the Spanish conquest of Peru, it was used by the Inca king Yupanqui as a hiding place once again. To start off our tour, we saw the sacred fountain where a ritual took place every Summer Solstice. The sun would shine through a small opening and illuminate the express place on the fountain where the ritual was to take place. Having introduced this, Mario took us to another fountain in the shape of the Inca cross. The Inca cross has three levels in every direction, representing the snake, the puma, and the condor, as well as the ideas that they represent.

Before climbing up to the spiritual area of Ollantaytambo, we toured the gardens. The gardens themselves are mostly gone, but the architecture is interesting to observe. There is an area that allows people to talk to large groups, and an altar area that is shaped like a Condor.

We didn’t pause our hike up Ollantaytambo until we had nearly reached the top. There, we talked about how the temple was built. The granite was mined at a quarry about 3 km away. They were attached by ropes to many men (the Incas employed all men between 15 and 55 within their empire), and dragged to the area where they would be placed. Unlike the Egyptians during their construction of the pyramids, wheels weren’t used. The reason for this is that the rocks were generally dragged uphill, so wheels would have made it harder. Instead, to decrease friction, the ground was lined with pebbles.

Once the rocks are brought to the construction site, they are lifted upwards onto support. Then, a plumb bob system is used to trace the side of the rock into the place where it is to be inserted. It was also very important to have keystones to hold the walls together. They are easily recognizable because of their unique shape. Near the top is a moon temple, which is an open area looking over a cliff. The most important part, though, is the temple of the six obelisks. It is likely that it is dedicated to the sun deity. Furthermore, it has an Inca cross carved into each obelisk.

To put this in scale, it is first important to see that one of these obelisks weighs 70 metric tons. In the 1940s, the mayor of a certain nearby town attempted to use the same Inca style of transportation to move a rock out of the center of his town. The rock weighed 10 tons, but took 100 people to move. On that proportion, it would take 700 people to move one of those obelisks. Yet 700 people couldn’t have fit at the top of Ollantaytambo. Thus, the Inca people must have been very strong.

This was the final thing we saw before returning to Cuzco. We asked Mario to make reservations for us at a restaurant that he recommended, Inka Grill, but by the time we got there, I was so sick from lunch that we just returned to the hotel. Everybody else had dinner, but I just went to sleep.

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