Monday, February 14, 2011

Ten Days - Friday

The Boleto Touristico - the tourist ticket - allows you to visit 16 archeological sites and museums in the Cusco area, but limits entrance to one 10-day period. We thought about the timing of our purchase, and selected a Friday in order to squeeze two weekends into our 10 days. Coincidentally, on Friday "llueve cubos" - it rained buckets! But our faithful guide Israel, a masters student in archeology at the Cusco university, wearing an ill-advised outfit consisting of white jeans, white tennis shoes and a green windbeaker, met us at the Plaza de Armas in the center of town.

He managed to lead us through our first archeological site, Saqsayhuaman, for three hours in the mud-inducing downpour without one shiver, grimace or stain on his seemingly supernatural attire. His clothes must have been made by Edna Mode. Perhaps all Cuscenians have an 'Mr. Incredible' gene, because most make their way thorugh the alternately drenching and frigid weather without the benfit of lycra or gortex. It is not uncommon to look out our dining room window and see young men walking to work in a downpour with nothing more protective than a polo shirt and slacks, but through some optical illusion, they appear dry. Drops of water run down their faces and their shirts must be saturated throughout to maintain that consistent color scheme from shoulders to waist, but to the casual observer, these guys could be walking down the sunny sidewalks of a balmy beach town. Maybe this speaks to their abilty to persevere without complaint, or to a lifetime of living without unnecessary baggage and articles of clothes.

Throughout our archeological visits, however, the Hastie family was well prepared for our climate-adaptive inadequacies. We lugged along with us a backpack full of gloves, raincoats, extra socks, food, water, and of course, books. Starting with the wet Saqsayhuaman with its collasal, man-made assembly grounds and 130-ton foundation cornerstones for ceremonial builidings designed as resting spots for the sun, we set out to see what Cusco had to offer its visitors. Israel walked us through pitch-black tunnels and across a courtyard big enough to play five NFL football games simultaneously. He showed us roads and doorways that purposefully dropped off into thin air (they were built for luminary beings greater than us - the sun has no use for stairs) and terraces where crops were made to bloom out of the rocks - a promise the great Inca Yupanqi made to his people if they would accept him as their leader. Israel knew where to find "the most beautiful Incan artifact in all of Peru": in a cracked and dusty greenhouse in the basement of the site administrator's office. The artifact is a stone circle of about 3 feet diameter, wrapped with a lounging, smiling 'feline' - Israel's word for the puma, one of the three main spiritual icons found repeatedly in Incan artwork. The other two are the anaconda and the condor.

This site, along with numerous others near Cucsco, was built surprisingly fast during Inca Yupanqi's (and another ruler's) 77 year rule with the labor of 360 extended families (adding up to a pool of millions of people). It was left unfinished when the Spaniards invaded in the early 1500s. The foreigners destroyed everything they could in their greedy quest to steal and melt down the multitude of gold and silver adornments they saw in the Incan ceremonial buildings, and later, to rid Cusco of all signs of non-Catholic belief systems and culture. Needless to say, words cannot do justice to the grandeur and mystery of this site and all it represents.

At the end of the day Friday, drippy, happy and tired, we walked back to town: Saqsayhuaman is less than a mile from the city center.

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