on September 3, 2010
We started our tour of Cuzco and the nearby Inca ruins promptly at 9.00 a.m, and our guide decided that he would reverse the itinerary in order to avoid the crowds. We head for the hills and at the highest point of our tour we visit Tambomachay, the Temple of the Water. Here, at 3765 metres above sea level the Incas had built a temple with three waterfalls, with three terraces and large niches. To this day no-one knows where this water originates from and it is recorded that even in periods of extreme drought the water keeps flowing. Indeed there’s still some uncertainty about the status that was here. The preferred option is that it is an important temple where the Incas conducted ritualistic ceremonies for the worship of water, but others speculate that it was the remains of a bathhouse used by Inca nobility. For sure it was an important construction because of the craftsmanship of the brick work and the lack of mortar between the large slabs of carefully cut stone. It’s here that we begin to appreciate the incredible workmanship that had gone into the building of these temples and also remind ourselves that the Incas were dealing with primitive tools even as late as the mid 1500’s, when Europe and the civilised world had progressed so much further with their technology. Just as we are heading back down we are surrounded by a large group of children from the school at Cuzco. All were carrying kites and we were told this is a "serious pastime" for the locals. The children seemed fascinated by us and simply had to check us out with the less timid approaching us and risking a few words or pretending to pose for the camera.Next we’re off to to Q'enqo (also known as Kenko) with its temple dedicated to Mother Earth and is believed to be a unique centre of worship and for ritualistic ceremonies in the Inca period. Indeed, as an aside, it is still an important site for today’s farmer, who leave offerings for the Gods on the original ceremonial slab. On route we see one of the look out towers known as Puca Pucara (Red rock) because, unsurprisingly for the colour of the rock. Check points were established every 13 kms on this trail (the distance a packed llama could walk in a day) in order that visitors to the sacred temples could be "policed". It was, after all only certain "classes of Inca" that were allowed access to these important places of worship.As we descend to Kenko our guide informs us that the large rock at the entrance to the site was one an elaborate carving, which was desecrated by the Spanish in their attempt to remove all signs of Paganism from Peru. Today it’s hard to recognise this as anything more than a rocky limestone outcrop. As we move around the site the natural formation of the rock had to be used to descend down to "mother earth". The Incas had hewn a zig-zag passageway down to the ceremonial chamber. The site is not unusual in Peru as this type of natural site was often adapted for religious purposes. They were known as Huaca and their positioning on hill tops allowed the Gods to see the efforts that were been made to please them. The belief in reciprocity would mean that the Incas would be rewarded with ideal weather for their crops. This was never a residential site and the views down to the town of Cuzco (once in the shape of a Puma) are enhanced by the series of small platforms, amphitheatres and platforms. Remember to check out the symbolism of the snake and the crude carving on route to the ceremonial slab, but if you view kenko from the road you’ll be above it and get a much better perspective of the site.Our third and final visit to the temples was to Sacsayhuaman, Sexy Woman as it has famously become known. This was believed by the invading Spaniards to be a fortress and much has been written about the cunning zig-zag of the walls leaving any attackers vulnerable if they tried to scale the building. But in reality this belief was drawn from the Spanish chroniclers who found the Incas walled up in this mighty building. The truth is that "Sexy Woman" was built as the finest of buildings to worship the greatest of all – The Sun. It was built using finely hewn blocks of limestone in the shape of the supreme puma’s head and teeth with the shape of the body down in the mighty city (the centre of the Inca Civilisation) of Cuzco. The boulders are massive and the largest of all has been estimated to weigh 128 metric tons. Imagine hauling that over cobbled causeways from the quarry over 30 kilometres away. We were "blown away" by the fine cuts and intriguing angles of the rocks that had to be carefully lowered into position. We learnt that a mould was made out of mud and when it had finally dried in position it was removed and then used to mark the cuts on the limestone boulder. And what an exact science this proved to be. This is an absolutely fascinating site and to my mind is a must visit before you head for Macchu Picchu. As my friend said we have entered Sexy Woman at one entrance and departed from another before heading back to Cuzco. However, before starting the second stage of our tour of Cuzco we agree an extra visit to a local "clothing factory" selling knitwear made from the wool of the baby Alpaca and from Vicuana. Vicuana is a rare wild animal which sports hair less than half the diameter of the finest sheep’s wool. Its wool is essential for its survival because it lives at the high altitude of between 12,000 and 18,000 feet on the slopes of the Andes Mountains. It needs good insulation because up there the days are beautifully sunny but at night the temperatures plummets to many degrees below zero. Other areas of the Andes – especially on the western side – are dry deserts with such inhospitable conditions that it’s incredible the vicuna survives at all. Anyway i won’t rattle on any more about this deer-like creature because you can check it out for yourself if you want to know more. Suffice it to say that the wool is so soft to the touch that once you’ve handled it you’ll never again think that sheep’s wool is gentle to the touch.
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