I had been warned that Cusco would take my breath away and that it did. Although I do feel like I dodged the altitude bullet with my only symptoms being breathlessness when tackling steps. I did have visions of a much harder time, but luck was on my side. Having said that, I have a new respect for Hillary and Tenzing who were twice as high, with no oxygen, all those years ago.
I’m a fan of an old city. Perhaps it’s because I’m from such a young country, but a place that was built in around the 900’s blows my mind, and Cusco is one of these places.
Aside from being so old, it’s also a place built by the Inca’s, who were absolute masters of their craft. What they couldn’t do with a terrace, cannot possibly be done.
So with its severely narrow cobbled streets and steps galore, Cusco is a shining light close to the sun.
Pre-tourism, Cusco was all about agriculture. Potatoes, corn and Quinoa. In fact the world’s first ever Quinoa conference was on while I was there. (perhaps I’ll give it another go now)
Post the modern discovery of Macchu Picchu in 1911, tourism has well and truly taken over as the leading industry in the Inca capital. Not everyone is happy about that, but I think every industry has its good and bad aspects. And this is a town that caters for the tourist very well, with most people being super friendly and completely welcoming.
In many ways it’s correct to describe Macchu Picchu as the star of the area. With 80% of the ruins intact, the site of Macchu Picchu in person is much more impressive than any photo or television programme will every convey.
That an average of 15.000 people worked consistently for 80 years to build such an awe-inspiring citadel in the name of faith is truly remarkable.
The accuracy of their work is phenomenal, the precision and attention to detail is extraordinary. There is a trench that runs top to bottom with nothing in it. It turns out said trench is along a fault so they built nothing on it. (HOW DID THEY KNOW)
As well as Macchu Picchu, the area has other sites that deserve equal recognition.
Ollantaytambo has micro-climated terraces for food production in harsh conditions, and its food preserving storage sheds carved into rock half way up a mountain was a stroke of genius on the part of their designers all those years ago. Along with a sun temple and a design that looks suspiciously like a llama, if you get shown the picture, Ollantaytambo is impressive in its own right.
Saqsaywaman is a massive temple overlooking Cusco where you can’t help but feel like a very small player in the big scheme of things… and all these ‘ruins’ were completed a millennium ago.
And then the Spanish came…
But that’s another blog