In The Center of the Belly Button

Once through the basics, our guides started off by telling us we are all saying Cusco wrong. The correct word, Cosco, is actually an old Incan word in the Quechuan language, meaning umbilicus. This reflects that Cosco was the center of the Incan empire and was viewed as the center of the world. So here we are, in the center of the world.

Yes – today we finally met with the group with whom we will be hiking the Inca Trail. Meeting my co-trekkers has given me a bit more confidence as I now feel that my overall fitness stacks up well in comparison to the group. This is a much needed boost, as I had recently read a blog in which a couple failed at the Inca Trail Trek.

I can do this!

We also met with our guides A and M. A has been working with REI for 7 years now, and prior to that was a freelancer. M is assistant guide, and this is his first trek with REI. He seems very excited to be working with REI, and I suspect that, in the world of guides, this is a pretty decent gig. At least I hope that REI is treating them well.

After meeting everybody, we headed across the street to Qoricancha and Santo Domingo. Qoricancha was an Incan Temple of the Sun, and was considered the spiritual center of Cosco. When the Spanish conquered the Inca Empire, they built the church of Santo Domingo on the foundations of the original temple.

When earthquakes hit this area in 1650 and 1950, the Spanish buildings didn’t do well, but the Incan structures did, as they were built using a cantilevered design, without mortar. This is an architectural scheme they had devised in the wake of other earthquakes. The precision with which the blocks are shaped and pieced together is mind boggling.

This picture shows how the Incans viewed the cosmos. The oval structure in the middle represents Wiracocha, the god of everything. The round structure to the left represents the earth. Our guide points out that the Incans knew the Earth was round, which I find to be fantastic.

Here is the Incan view of the Milky Way. Do you see the serpent? And the llama? There are also a partridge, a toad, a fox, a shepherd, and a baby llama. In an era in which half of our lives were spent in the dark and staring at the stars, the development of astronomy and astrology seems unavoidable.

Next we took a bus up into the hills above Cusco. The trip involved, as expected, a great deal of traffic, but the drivers are fearless. I think at one point we and another bus passed a mere 1-2 inches apart.

We arrive at an Incan ruin, Saksaywaman. As I stated yesterday, one of the sacred animals of the Incas was the feline. The Incan history is that this massive stone complex was built as the head of a cat, while the city of Cusco was the body. This story sounds good, but Wikipedia points out that the structure predates the Incan Empire (900 AD).

The massive walls are simply astounding. Some of these stones weigh 130 tons, and it is almost beyond imagination that a people with no written language were able to build this, and to do so over 3 generations.

I thought the guide told us that this was a temple, but according to other sources, the purpose remains unclear even today.

Still it is a remarkable structure, and reminds me of some of the other ruins I have seen, such as those in Phaistos. And all of this serves to settle a question – if there really was one- there really was a great people here once, well before the European settlers came.

After this we head back to town where we visit some of the churches. I am most intrigued by some of the ways in which the local artists incorporated their own heritage into the art on display. For example, there is a depiction of the Last Supper painted by a local artist. It features corn and a main course of guinea pig, neither of which would have been on the table in Israel. The guinea pig, being a creature of the New World, is certainly not mentioned in the Torah. (Sorry, photographs of Christ, the Apostles, and the guinea pig were forbidden).

With that our group broke up going our own ways for dinner. I hardly know them, but the week ahead is sure to be revealing, and I’m here to reveal it all. And if I have a chance, I’ll let you know what I think of guinea pig.

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