I’ve been in Cusco for one week and I love it here! The town is so cute and there are so many things to do. It’s really beautiful here. The Plaza des Armas is gorgeous and the streets are all cobblestone. I was really surprised by the weather though! Cusco is at 11,200 feet elevation so the sun is really, really strong during the day. But at night it drops to 35 degrees! The cooler air reminds me of fall though so it’s a refreshing change.
The new volunteer project is going amazingly well. I’m working at the home for teen moms called Casa Mantay. It’s clean and well-managed and there’s no major illnesses. I am so happy and grateful to be working there under those conditions. They only speak Spanish in the home so my espanol is improving at a muy rapido pace. I am still new though and just learning the ropes so I’ll take some pictures this week and write more about that later. But so far, so bueno
Other than that, I’ve just been enjoying the plethora of Incan things around Cusco. My favorites so far are:
Qorikancha was the richest temple in the Inca empire. However, sadly, all that remains today is the base stonework. When the Spanish arrived, they built the Santo Domingo church right over it.
Qorikancha means “Golden Courtyard” and the entire temple used to be covered in gold. Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire so this place was like the Inca Mecca. The only remaining gold thing I saw was this, which had some Inca art engraved on it:
There is a 6m high Incan wall that remains as the base structure. It has withstood numerous violent earthquakes. The way all these Inca things are constructed is truly incredible. There were small mini-temples here that were dedicated to the moon, stars, thunder and the rainbow. Another interesting thing was that they used to keep Incan mummies here and bring them out into the sunlight every day and offer them food & drink. Obviously, the mummies couldn’t accept either so they’d burn the offerings daily. The Incan priests also used this place to monitor celestial activity.
But then the Spanish came, looted it and built their own church right on top of it. Below you can see the colonial art plastered right on top of the Inca stonework. The Spanish looting and destroying of Inca things is a very common theme down here in Cusco.
Sacsaywaman, Q’enqo, Pukapukara, and Tambomachay
Although most people come to Cusco en route to Macchu Picchu, there are four significant Inca ruins right outside of town. I hiked up to Sacsaywaman from the town center and that was a real lung-burner. 1.5 miles straight uphill. Once I got up there, I could not wrap my head around HOW in Pachamama’s name the Incas got these ginormous stones to the top of this hill. The largest one weighs 70 tons!
I’ve started researching conspiracy theories because I just do not see how it was physically possible for them to lug these huge rocks up that hill. I barely made it with my purse that just had a guidebook and some sunscreen in it.
Only 20% of the original stones remain at Sacsaywaman because, once again, the Spanish took what they wanted to build their own homes and churches in town. One very interesting thing about these ruins is that they were the site of one of the most brutal battles between the Incas and the Spaniards. Two years after the conquistadors arrived, Manco Inca led a rebellion and was able to recapture Sacsaywaman from the Spanish. Things could have been quite different in Cusco because the Incas almost beat the Spanish here.
But the Incas lost and now tourists like me get to enjoy paying soles to come look at their old rocks. The view was quite beautiful and the cross is a reminder, just in case anyone forgot, of who won the battle for Sacsaywaman. It’s interesting because as a Catholic from the US, the cross has always been a symbol of religion and faith to me. But down here, it almost seems like a property claim, especially when it’s on Incan things.
The other 3 ruins are all beautiful as well. One was used for animal sacrifice (they did human sacrifice up on the mountain peaks), one was a guard post & stopping point for travellers, and the third was El Bano del Inca (a bathhouse for the Incas). Below is an Incan bedroom from Q’enqo. Looks cozy!
It’s really cool to learn about the history of South America and be able to check out these ancient things first-hand. It seems like there is a reverence and a fascination here with the native people. Tourists come from all over the world to scope out Macchu Picchu – which I’m so excited about visiting! But it’s just very different from North America in regards to the attitude towards the natives. I guess there really are no “ruins” in Illinois to serve as a present-day reminder. But we do have some casinos to show for it. Just a little something I thought about while touring around these things.
All the ruins are super impressive. It’s almost creepy how well made they are. I’m really grateful that I’ve gotten the opportunity to see them. And I’m very happy to be in beautiful Cusco!