In Which We Don’t Mind Some Traffic

We have been gawking at adorables alpacas ever since we arrived in Cusco, and today we got to feed some at an alpaca petting zoo. The sign explains that all of the members of the camel family originated in North America and migrated out from there, including the dromedary.

There is one family member still left in the wild, the vicuña, the national animal of Peru, which is a protected species. The fur is the softest of any member of the family, and only becomes available on the rare occasion when one dies of natural causes. From my point of view, this process seems ripe for corruption.

Mostly the zoo has a lot of alpacas. In Peru, alpacas serve as as sources of wool and meat, and there are different breeds for each. I’ve had alpaca meat on a couple of occasions already. I think I already mentioned that it reminds me of lamb, although another member of our group though it was more like elk.

The alpacas are just fantastic. I can certainly see the resemblance to their cousins in Morocco.

From here we went to Pisac, where we find the ruins of a city, ceremonial center, agricultural center, and probably a military complex. Here we began the first of our true preparatory hikes.

We exited the van well away from the entrance due to the congestion, and hiked up the hill the rest of the way. While other visitors continued upward, our group veered left toward the terraces.

In the high mountains, the Incan people frequently used terraced farming, as it creates microclimates that allowed them to produce crops that otherwise wouldn’t be viable here. The stone absorbs heat from the sun during the day and radiates it out during the night.

Interesting point: potato farming was big, and at one point the Incan people had 4,000 varieties, although that number is now down to 1,000.

As we climb ever further into the complex, parts of the group lag behind. We are at high altitude and the air is thin. Even the couple from Colorado comments that this is more challenging than they expected, and they live at 9,000 feet.

At times the crowds of other tourists get too thick and we must pause. We just stand there sucking at the air. None of us complains, instead pretending to listen as our guide explains things that we will never remember.

The reward for our climb is this spectacular view. We pause and our guide describes what we are seeing. Frankly, I’m too in awe to pay much attention. If the workout wasn’t breathtaking, then the view certainly was.

On our way down, we look to the hill at our back, across a ravine. It is pocked with hundreds of holes, and we are informed that this was a cemetery. The Incans mummified their dead and buried them here in side of the hill.

Finally, at the bottom, we are shown a fountain. There are a rainy season and a dry season here, and in order to produce crops throughout the year, the Incans had to devise a system to store water from the rainy months and utilize it in the dry months. This was part of that system.

We continued down the hill, taking in the many amazing views around us. Eventually we boarded our van and headed to the modern town of Pisac. Here we placed our orders and headed out into the market to see the wares available. It wasn’t quite as bad as Marrakech, but on at least one occasion I found myself unintentionally starting to negotiate. Haggling is certainly permitted here, but I wasn’t nearly as aggressive as I was in Morocco – the people here are much more impoverished overall. Frankly, I don’t enjoy the aggressive haggling. A little quick banter is nice.

In the afternoon, we visited the town of Ollantaytambo. Here were more terraces and a bit of a climb.

We stood on a ledge under the bright sun as the guide again taught us who his ancestors were. In this photo we can see the face of Wiracocha carved into the cliff across the valley.

We continued to climb further to reach the Temple of the Sun, where we first gazed out, while catching our breath, across the floor of the Sacred Valley below us. Here I finally had a sense of the massiveness and the structure of this valley, the fingers of the mountains interlocking in an unheard prayer, and I can understand why it bears the title “sacred.”

At last we turned into the Temple of the Sun. Little remains, but this precisely constructed wall. Again, the finely cut and mated stone is baffling. And again there was no mortar used. As I continue to link the Old and New Worlds, the guide informed us that ground here was leveled by the Incans. I mentally finish his sentence, thinking “much the way the ground on the Acropolis in Athens was leveled by the Greeks.”

We explore a bit more before at last descending toward the floor of the valley and our van back to the hotel. I muse as we go that we just don’t know nearly enough about the vibrant culture that was here, and I include myself in this. I reflect on the number of times I’ve compared things here to other places I’ve visited, and I’m feeling some things that I didn’t quite expect.

It’s a connection to the people I’m meeting, and a sadness, bordering on anger, at the loss of the greatness that was here. I understand that this has been the way of the world since human history began, but guess I want something different for these people. They feel so vulnerable, but the truth is I’m already late to the game. So I’m left with a hope for us all to remember them, because that is how they will continue to live. And that seems to be their best chance now.

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