Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wandering the Inca Ruins

Another day in Cuzco, and while the Olympic games did seem inviting, I figured I'd b est go out and explore just what this city has to offer.

Cusco is surrounded by Inca ruins. And while I'd seen my fair share of them over the last few days, it was high time I actually explored them, crawled over them, touched, them, and tried to suck all the mysterious energy from the magic stones that were there. Wait – no, that's what those hand holding people from the ruins before would have been doing. The energy could stay where it was. I just wanted a peek.

At 9:00am I grabbed a taxi with the couple from Vancouver, and together we headed up and out of the city proper to the surrounding ruins. If you're ever in Cuzco and are wondering just where these ruins are located, follow the giant Jesus. Yes, the giant Jesus sees all and might just know all – though I wouldn't count on it as giant Jesus is just an innanimate object. Still, it surveys all that transpires within the city below.

When the Spanish laid their claim to this part of the world they discovered that the local population worshiped the hills, and the mountains. Well, to the good Christian conquerers this just would not do. It would not do at all. So what did the good people of Spain do? Did they start exterminating the non-believers, in an attempt to purify these new lands? Well – yes, but they also had a less ruthless plan too.

If these people were going to worship the mountains, well then, for goodness sake, why not put a cross on all the high peaks, and a giant Jesus here and there while they're at it? This way when they were worshiping the mountains, they were also pledging their faith to the lord and saviour Jesus the Christ. Or something to that effect. Didn't stop eleven million from being slaughtered, but – you know – those were different times. I'm told you had to be there.

So, you want to see the ruins, just follow the path to god up up up and you'll get there. And then you too can see the stones that are giant, and held together without mortar. And there are caves. Caves are there too – watch your wallet.

But we didn't start at the first ruin, no, we headed up the hills to the furthest one so as we could begin our tour at the top and then walk on down.

So there we were, looking at a ruin that was said to be a place of ritual bathing. The stonework apparently proved it to be of royal use. There were alcoves for statues to be placed, and there was a fountain that allowed water to pour through at just the right height for an Inca to shower. These were tiny people. It's an odd stereotype that the average Asian person is short – I have been to Japan, I have been to Cambodia, and I have been to Thailand. The average person there was not all that much shorter than me. Here in Peru, I feel a giant when I walk through the markets. More of a friendly giant, with a pet Giraffe than an angry giant – like the early Andre the Giant. Sure he mellowed a lot, and then became quite lovable in The Princess Bride – but this was not always the case.

From that ruin we headed down the hill to the next in the series. It was said to be an old hunting lodge, perched atop the cliff, offering a view of all the surrounding lands. More of a summer cottage, we were told than a lookout fort. We were told by Rough Guides travel log, Peruvian pages ripped from the South American book and stapled together. It was at this point while I wandered through the destroyed rooms, and clambered over all the walls, sitting on ledges, and looking out at the valley below, that I started to question what I was being told. There were no written records, and the Spanish destroyed most of what they came across if it was of significance. How do we possibly know what these things were for?

Why was the last ruin a shower and not just a fountain? What makes anyone think that this would have been used as a hunting lodge amongst all other possibilities? Not having any better answers though, I simply went along with it. On to the third of four!

The third ruin was eleven kilometers away, and not wanting to walk we looked for a taxi. There were no taxis. With all the lazy tourists you'd think that this area would be littered with them, but no. The flooding and closure of Machu Picchu significantly reduced the tourists in this area, and as such all the local haunts for profiteering have fallen relatively quite. But fear not, we were not forced to do something as terrible as walking, heaven forbid. No – because moments later a local bus came barreling down the hill, screeching to a stop, and bidding us climb up on board for the low low price of one soles each.

Loud music played as we rocked along the road, local teenagers made out with much vigor, and old women clutched their bags with expertly practiced skill as each bump could have sent them flying. Cultural experience! Screeeeeee! The bus stopped and we were bid to disembark. We had reached the third ruin.

Entering this one we were stopped by a local asking us if we wanted a guide for the ruin. Our three minds all seemed to run through the possibilities that this was a scam of some sort before shrugging and saying, “sure.” Let me tell you – I recommend you pick up a guide. Who knows if what they say is true or not, but you gain so much more from the experience than you would have otherwise. Their knowledge comes from local tales and the book learnin' so it's as good as you're bound to get anyway.

This ruin was a temple of sort, a labyrinth as well. But fear not, there was no spandex clad Bowie waiting to terrify and replace your baby with changeling.

The site was comprised of three levels, a pseudo-cave, a ground level, and a rooftop. Each level had a flat table used for the terrifying practice of (read this internally with a spooky voice) sacrifice. Human as well as animal? Hard to say. But many creatures lost their lives on these tables. A llama cemetery was discovered not far from this location, however it was quickly reburied as local shamans kept taking the bones for their practices.

Purple orchids grew from between the stones, blossoming for only one month of the year; ancient thrones carved into the walls offer royal seats to the forgotten.

From here our guide led us forth to the fourth and final Inca ruin. You'll note I've not mentioned any of the names, as I forget them. I recall two things – one has a hard Q sound, and the one we were headed to sounds remarkably like Sexy Woman. Down the hill we continued, passing stuffed effigies hanging from the trees.

This ruin was by far the largest, and the most impressive. This was also the ruin closest to giant Jesus.

Our entrance was through a small cave. Stories were shared about the possible loss of entering the wrong cave, and those who go missing. It was also said that the larger of the two caves connects to the supposed tunnels that run under the Cuzco streets allowing access between these sites, and church, and the Sacred Valley far off.

We took the small cave. A child was waiting at the entrance and followed us in. In the pitch black we all held on to one another. I am pretty sure I felt tiny hands trying to rummage through my pockets, but my wallet was not kept anywhere so accessible. After a short time we were let back into the light, an artificial lagoon of old, now turned grassy fields for children to skip, play, and lie in the sun, waiting for us. I do recommend this entrance into the ruin, but stay alert – stay safe – and keep little childrens' hands away from what's yours.

We headed down to the great walls, and the steps that would take us over all three layers. As part of the main wall there was a stone that was at least three meters cubed. Why the Incas decided to trek this rock down from the mountains, rather than simply bring smaller ones as they'd done in so many other places is beyond me. In front of this rock a rope prevents people from getting too close. White stains this monolith, destroyed little by little from the touch of thousands seeking the mysterious energies within said rock.

People will do what people will do.

From here we headed up under the gates, over the levels, and off to the edge of the cliff overlooking Cuzco. Cuzco is a large city, and not the small town that many people may think it is. Nope – pretty grand and sweeping, especially from overhead - - - and there's the rain drops.

Of course. Quick tip to the guide, thanks expressed, and then a hustle down the hill into the city. Let the skies open, cue torrential downpour. Good. Now the rocks that form the path are oh so slippery, and it's not so much of a race but a slide down the hill. The less said about this the better.

The rain was localized and in the city the pavement was still dry. Breaking paths with the other two who were with me I headed to Bembos for yet another most delicious hamburger.

And this hamburger experience was beyond imagining. It was the type of experience where you're grabbing fries with one hand, pulling sips of Inca Kola with the other, and all the while trying to devour your giant Hawaiian burger – a treat which somehow manages to successfully add pineapple to a meaty treat. It was heaven. The greatest meal of all times. So wonderful.

Well the second best burger – it's no Matty P pulled pork burger, but really – what is?

And with that meal devoured, and the world seeming a most perfect place in which to live, I headed back to the hotel to nap, watch Olympics, and take in the movie In Brugge. I was totally there.

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