And the Sa­cred Val­ley of the Incas

DRIFT Travel magazine - - Inside This Issue -

The mag­nif­i­cence of Machu Pic­chu.

“YOU MAY THINK OF ME AS A SNARKY BAS­TARD, but here I don’t have a lot to say. The word beau­ti­ful re­ally does not de­scribe, does it? IT’S IN­AD­E­QUATE.” An­thony Bour­dain on Machu Pic­chu

Tuckedin the lush jun­gle near the Urubamba Val­ley, sur­rounded by the sa­cred heights of the An­des Moun­tains is the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal trea­sure-trove of Cusco. There are nu­mer­ous ro­man­tic tales of the cities beginnings. Won­drous sto­ries of magic, love, Chil­dren of the Sun and godly hu­mans. While they make the city a lit­tle more whim­si­cal the only known fact about Cusco’s great le­gacy is that the found­ing Inca’s (roy­als) and their great em­pire was one of the most highly ad­vanced civ­i­liza­tions in hu­man his­tory. Many of the Inca’s struc­tures are still in use and tremen­dous con­di­tion af­ter thou­sands of years, mak­ing Cusco not only a World Her­itage Site, but also a land of end­less in­spi­ra­tion for his­to­ri­ans, ar­chae­ol­o­gists, ar­chi­tects and dream­ers.

Cusco was merely the cap­i­tal city of the mas­sive Inca Em­pire, which at its height had eight mil­lion peo­ple un­der its con­trol and stretched along the An­des from southern Colom­bia all the way to north­ern Ar­gentina. Cusco was the sa­cred and cer­e­mo­nial cap­i­tal city where the di­rect blood de­scen­dants of the royal Incas resided along with all of the great trea­sure and wealth of the area at the time. Span­ning ap­prox­i­mately a mile long and a quar­ter of a mile wide the an­cient city lines were built to re­sem­ble the sa­cred an­i­mal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of earth, the puma, from an aerial per­spec­tive. The city was an an­cient day nir­vana, where all of na­ture’s finest glo­ries in­ter­twined in a beau­ti­ful har­mony un­der a land ruled by a bril­liant and re­spected royal fam­ily - un­til the 16th cen­tury when they were over­thrown by the Span­ish who car­ried for­eign dis­ease and un­fa­mil­iar weapons.

Fly­ing into Cusco will be an ex­pe­ri­ence within it­self. As you look down over the val­ley with the city and its beau­ti­ful burnt or­ange roofs you will un­der­stand why it was named Cusco (de­riv­ing from the word Qu­osqo) mean­ing The Naval of the World. It re­ally is the cen­ter of its own realm at 11,000 feet above sea level mak­ing it one of the high­est in the world. You will need to plan a few hours good rest upon ar­rival at your ho­tel; you can guar­an­tee that your body will feel the se­vere el­e­va­tion. The lo­cals will of­ten en­cour­age you to sip on an an­cient rem­edy called Mate de Coca to ward off the altitude sick­ness. Mate de Coca is a strong and very bit­ter tea made from the same lofty green leaves that co­caine is pro­duced from.

When you fi­nally ven­ture out into the cob­ble stone streets you will be struck by the beauty of its peo­ple with their long black hair, beaten feet pad­ding in san­dals, and col­or­ful wo­ven clothes. The sense of their com­mu­nity and the sim­plic­ity of their lives and their hap­pi­ness is re­mark­able. The city is a unique com­bi­na­tion of old and new. The Inca walls hold up or­nate colo­nial build­ings in which you’ll find shops, cafes and fine restau­rants of­fer­ing cuy (guinea pig) and al­paca steaks. The com­bi­na­tion of the Inca’s im­pe­rial tastes and Span­ish colo­nial pieces are very ap­par­ent and quite a strik­ing and unique com­bi­na­tion in the city.

There is no short­age of im­pres­sive sights and his­tor­i­cal won­ders to ad­mire. The Plaza de Ar­mas (‘Square of the War­rior’) is the heart of the city, also the best place to start your visit and get fa­mil­iar with your sur­round­ings. En­joy a pic­nic on the lawn with splen­did views of the grand Cat­e­dral and Igle­sia de la Com­pañía de Jesús and watch the bus­tle of the area. The Plaza was at the pre­cise cen­ter of the Inca Em­pire, which was called Tawantin­suyo, mean­ing The Four Cor­ners of the Earth. It has been the most lively part of the city since it was built thou­sands of years ago.

Down­hill from the plaza is the more mod­ern part of the city, in­clud­ing the busi­ness district at Avenida El Sol, here you will also find the strik­ing Qorikan­cha tem­ple (con­sid­ered THE at­trac­tion of Cusco). Tales say that the bar­ren stone walls of Qorikan­cha, mean­ing ‘Court of Gold’, were once plated with gold and in the cen­ter was an enor­mous golden disc to re­flect the sun and bask the tem­ple in its holy rays. The gar­dens were filled with beau­ti­ful wa­ter­falls and flow­ers all made from the rarest jewels.

Up­hill from the Plaza de Ar­mas are the older neigh­bor­hoods and their in­tri­cate pedes­trian only walk­ways in the no­table San Blas district. The streets are steep but an af­ter­noon in San Blas is a must. It’s the ar­ti­san, trendy neigh­bor­hood of the city with some of the best restau­rants and finest gal­leries. To the left of the plaza towering above the city in the dis­tance is Sac­say­hua­man. While the ru­ins of Sac­say­hua­man (lo­cals pro­nounce this as “sexy hu­man”) are vis­i­ble from the streets of Cusco you will need a half day trip to get there and prop­erly en­joy. The ru­ins make up the head of the great puma of Cusco. Sac­say­hua­man is the most ob­vi­ous Inca struc­ture stand­ing, it was

con­structed with some 20,000 men in the 1400’s as a pro­tec­tive fortress for the city.

Spend at least two days in Cusco be­fore ven­tur­ing to the sur­round­ing ar­eas. The mo­ment you de­part the city you will feel the change from a cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence to a more spir­i­tual and re­lax­ing jour­ney of self.

There are nu­mer­ous small vil­lages with spec­tac­u­lar his­tor­i­cal sites through­out the Sa­cred Val­ley of the Incas on your way to Machu Pic­chu. Re­mem­ber: the Sa­cred Val­ley was where the Inca em­per­ors went to un­wind, this should be a time of com­plete re­lax­ation and to­tal awe for you. Your first stop, about 33km out of Cusco, is the col­or­ful town of Pisac with a mar­ket that can’t be missed. Pisac is one of Peru’s most charm­ing towns. From Pisac catch a bus to Ol­lan­tay­tambo (fondly called Olly by lo­cals and lovers of the town) and ex­plore the an­cient ru­ins. Ol­lan­tay­tambo is where those brave souls will head off on the Inca Trail, a four day trek to the base of Machu Pic­chu. For those more in­ter­ested in en­joy­ing the sights in a com­fort­able seat over a bev­er­age, the train may be the best bet. But – those are your only two op­tions, there are no roads. Ei­ther way you will end up in the boisterous cloud for­est town of, Aguas Calientes at the base of the great Machu Pic­chu. Bus or walk to the top (takes about an hour). You have never seen a view un­til you have gazed off of Mac­chu Piccu.

Machu Pic­chu, The Lost City of the Incas, was dis­cov­ered by ex­plor­ers in 1911 – although the Peru­vian res­i­dents kept its ex­is­tence a very well hid­den se­cret for sev­eral hun­dred years. Never found by the Span­ish, it was un­touched for thou­sands of years. What ex­actly the ru­ins on Mac­chu Pic­chu are is still de­bat­able. The most com­mon be­lief is that the city in the sky was an Inca em­peror’s coun­try estate. Re­gard­less, sit­ting atop Mac­chu Pic­chu with its godly views will be a deeply pro­found and spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ence.

Open your­self to the sights, tastes and sounds of Cusco and in­vite the growth and change into your life that wind­ing through the Sa­cred Val­ley of Urubamba ex­plor­ing its many won­ders will of­fer. Cusco changes ev­ery­one, in one way or an­other, its color, vi­tal­ity, sim­plic­ity, peo­ple and his­tory will leave a won­der­ful mark on you for­ever and in­spire your days to come with a new per­spec­tive.

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