Our group arrived in Cusco two days ago and made home at Yuré's house to adjust to the altitude and rest. Yesterday was our first full day in the city and it was quite eventful to say the least! We woke up to a rich breakfast of eggs and ham, fried bananas, toasted bread, and coca tea to fuel us for a trip to various Incan ruins. After breakfast, we took a bus to Saqsaywaman, a large site high in the mountains that served as a religious temple dedicated to nature for the Incas, where we had our first up-close encounter with some alpacas! Our first stop in Saqsaywaman was a short trip through a narrow dark cave that led to a round area that had once been a sacred lake for the Incas. Nearby was a large area of stone constructed temples dedicated to nature. The stones used to build these temples are extremely large and fit together like a puzzle. The way the Incas shaped these rocks, like artwork, is unbelievable.
Our group at Saqsaywaman:
The Large Stones of the temples in Saqsaywaman:
After our visiting Saqsaywaman, we rode the bus to another Incan site called Q'enqo, Q'enqo literally means labrynth, due to the two natural caves that run through this large rock site. The main rock at this site is extremely significant as the shadows on its top form from alignment with other mountains during the winter and summer solstices. On June 21st, the shadow that forms is referred to as the Awakening of the Puma by the Incas, and December 22nd is called the Pirate Puma. Underneath the Q'enqo rock was a small cave with a large stone table in which Incan kings were mummified and other sacrifices were made.
Following Q'enqo we went to Tambomachay, another Incan ruin site. This cite was very interesting and holds many important meanings. For example, a spring fountain runs through the rock-constructed site; this water is considered sacred and was used by Incas for religious ceremonies. It is also considered to be a type of fountain of youth. Various other features of this site demonstrate the Incan emphasis on the importance of two genders of male and female, the three stages of life (in the womb, life, and death), and the four powers of life (characterized by North, South, East, and West). At this site, we were able to climb high up a mountain side to get some practice for our trek coming up!
Part of Tambomachay showing the sacred fountain:
Near Tambomachay, we stopped at Pukapukara, a circular fortress that served as a resting place for travelers on their way to Cusco, during the times of the Incan empire, There were various square rooms and the architecture, especially the circular wall, was very interesting. We enjoyed the view from the top of the fortress.
Traveler Rooms at Pukapukara:
After a fun-filled morning of exploring Inca cites, we returned to the main plaza in Cusco to visit the Qoricancha. This name literally means "gold" and it served as the sun temple for the Incas. Today, this cite consists of original Incan rooms and temples with a Spanish church built on top. During the Spanish conquest of Peru, this Incan temple was taken over and largerly modified to better fit the Cathtolic religion of the Spanish Conquisatores and is a good representation of the way in which the Incan culture and religion was supressed and altered by the Spanish. After visiting Qoricancha, we saw some other places with Incan stone walls close to the center of the city. Overall, it was a great intoduction to the Incan architecture and way of life.
Inside the courtyard of the Qoricancha:
On another note, Monday marked the beginning of the Holy Week (Semana Santa) in Peru, and the people of Cusco celebrated with a grand procession through the streets in which large crowds of people gather to watch and follow the statute of the Black Jesus (Cristo Moreno). The procession lasts about four hours. It was amazing to see the community of people come together to celebrate this religious holiday. It seems as though the citizens here are very committed to the catholic religion. It was a great experience for our group to witness an important part of the Peruvian culture in action! After witnessing the beginning of the procession, we ate dinner at Chez Maggy, a Peruvian Italian Restaurant, where we enjoyed some delcious pizza, Unfortunately, we got caught in a large crowd at the end of the Holy Week procession after dinner and it took us almost 3 hours to get back to our homestay. It was quite a unique experience. Welcome to Peru!
The beginning of the procession for Semana Santa: