Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cusco & The Sacred Valley

From the journal of Ray Yaegle...

21 May 2009

I walked 20 miles down a road paved with glass, boulders, tires, livestock, and mobs. I walked 20 miles through red-tiled mud huts, and stinking, sopping pasture inhabited by crazy women wearing Pilgrim hats. I walked 20 miles through feet full of blisters, sunburn, dehydration, and sore shoulders. And you know what? I made it to Cusco with relatively little issue. Sure, I'm essentially lame in both legs, but we still toured most of the churches and some of the ruins in the city today.

I'm getting ahead of myself. We made it to Sammay Wassai, our hostel, at around 4:30 yesterday afternoon, took a shower, ate some recently-remembered granola bars, and went to sleep. I didn't sleep well, but Brice was out like a light within 45 minutes of sleepy small talk.

This morning, after much complaining and lancing of blisters, we went down to La Plaza de Armas and found breakfast. But, on the way, I got to hold a BABY ALPACA. I love you, baby! We washed our eggs and sausage down with Peruvian Gatorade, and walked over to the Cathedral. The Cusco Cathedral is actually a three-church megacomplex, absolutely glorious to behold. The art and architecture blends the European and Andean aesthetic perfectly. From the image of the last supper showcasing Jesus and the apostles eating a guinea pig to the Roman soldiers portrayed in the garb of Spanish conquistadors, the cultural fusion is exquisite. "The Cusco School," they call it; brilliant.

We also toured El Templo de la Compañía de Jesús, which had a hugely elaborate high altar, and climbed the bell-tower for a birds-eye-view of the plaza. I hated myself for trying the stairs, but the view made the pain worthwhile. Unfortunately, the crypts beneath El Templo were closed for rennovation, so we weren't able to visit them. Later, we toured La Iglesia de San Blas (the neigborhood of our hostel) as well. San Blas has the most impressive pulpit of all the churches in Cusco, and there is a pale white skull sitting atop it. Legend says that it's the skull of the man who carved the magnificent, highly-detailed pulpit, and that he dedicated his entire career to finishing it.

As a side note, we scored free passes to El Museo de Don Quixote, which isn't actually about the man from La Mancha, but rather full of sculptures (the most iconic of the windmill warrior and his burro) composed entirely of small animal(?) bones and teeth.

We even made our way over to La Iglesia de San Domingo and the ruins of Qorikancha, which occupy the same space. The ruins and church are indistinguishable at certain junctures, at at others it is painfully obvious that the two are totally separate entities. When the Spaniards overthrew the Incas in Cusco, they robbed away the stones from Qorikancha to build their town, but some of the larger stones and structures were too big to remove, so they became the foundations, surroundings, and adornments of the church instead. A very cool site; I'm sorry I can't say more about it. It's only 7:10 and I'm already starting to nod off.

Stocked up on ChokoSodas in local supermarket.

22 May 2009

We retrieved (Brice did) our laundry from a local washer-woman and purchased our boletas turisticos (edit: you must purchase a tourism ticket to view the major sites in and around Cusco) this morning. We took a taxi out to Sachsaywamán and enjoyed a somewhat limited self-guided tour. The biggest rock at the site tops out at 200 tons; no wonder they say that aliens helped them build it. A man named Joséf sold us a two-hour guided horseback ride of the ruins surrounding Cusco. It wasn't the wisest use of our money, depending on who you're asking, but we had an excellent time seeing more of the terrain without (Very Important) walking. My feet and legs are doing much better today, though. Our ride took us through Pukapukan - a sort of ancient Incan truck stop - and Tambomachay - a site with fully functioning fountains probably used for religious ceremonies.

I'm a bit scatterbrained. I should probably add that Sachsaywamán was the dominant Incan fortress guarding Cusco (their capitol city and the center of the Incan world) from invaders. It didn't work out so well against the Spanish... It housed the valley's army, clergymen, and nobility. When Sachsaywamán fell, so did Cusco.

After viewing the ruins nearest Cusco, we boarded a minibus (not a combi) for Pisac. We ate lunch there - nothing spectacular, and priced for rich tourists - and then hired a car to take us out to the ruins for a couple of hours. Pisac is breathtaking in its enormity; it's an entire complex of ruins, tombs, and agricultural terraces (as opposed to all of the other 'one hit wonders' we saw this morning). It has an entire mountain side of terracing, a fortress (maybe two?), Incan toilets, a ferrous cliff-face full of grave-crannies, and a breathtaking view of the valley below.

1) The Ballsy Tour

2) The small holes are tombs with bodies inserted into them.

3) The valley of Pisac

4) Part of the ruins and a glimpse of the terraces.

Brice took the 'ballsy tour' and I took the 'pussy tour.' We still met at our designated finishing spot on time, but Brice had to do a good bit of free-climbing and hill-side scrambling, while I kept to the somewhat more visible trails in an attempt to save my feet for Machu Picchu. When we finished with Pisac, we took another minibus to Urubamba, travel hub of the Sacred Valley, and then caught a cheap collectivo to Ollantaytambo.

The town of Ollanta, as it is popularly called, consists primarily of a Plaza de Armas, a quaintly cobbled side street (where we were staying at Inca Wassai hostel), a train station, and the massive Inca fortress sitting right outside my front door (literally). Tomorrow we're going to tour the ruins here, and then board a train for Aguas Calientes - the starting point for excursions to Machu Picchu. Right now Brice is trimming his nails and licking his wounds; we made paper boats to race in an ancient-looking drain after dinner, and my half-crumpled boat trounced his sleek, properly folded one in the final stretch to the shock and awe of all involved. I am the paper boat champion! You will bow down before me!


Brice said...

You loved the inside of that church thing, with its churchness, and its old temple in other parts, and that mural you were enthralled with.

Also, your boat sucked.

Ray Yaegle said...

MY BOAT WAS AWESOME. Them's fightin' words.