Lost city and Disappointment
Trip Start Oct 15, 2006
48Trip End May 01, 2007
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Before I get into my reasons for this disappointment, a little history lesson, which interestingly still impacts of much of what you see and hear in this area. You probably all know that the Spanish conquered the Aztec empire in the mid-16th Century, led by Frances Pissaro (who the Pacific is named after). What you probably don't know is that this conquest was, by and large, won by 150 men, 20 horses and a goat, against an Empire of around 2 million people (I'm exaggerating about the goat!). Admittedly, the victory was achieved at a time when the Inca's were still recovering from a civil war, but in the main, it was won as the Inca's were a) incredibly superstitious and b) incredibly stupid. The superstitious part basically accounted for their ruler, Attawalpa. When the Spaniards first appeared from over the mountains, the Inca's believed them to be God's, on the basis that they wore shiny armour and had long beards. Obviously if a God appears at your front door, you tend to invite him in and then get him to meet with your head of household, which the Inca's did. The Spanish, not quite believing their luck, kidnapped the king and held him ransom for an unfeasibly large amount of gold. Once the ransom had been paid, the Spaniards went back on their word and executed the king. And here's the second part of the superstition that did for the Inca's. As they believed that the king was a re-incarnation of the Sun God, they assumed that come sunrise the next morning, the king would be reborn. He wasn't, the Inca's panicked, nearly all surrendered to the 150 Spaniards and that was pretty much that.
Inevitably their were pockets of resistance, but by this time the Spaniards had called up some re-enforcements, so the fighting should have been a bit fairer. Except the Spaniards cheated by using these things called guns. The final stronghold of the Inca's, Ollantaytambo,
The Spaniards weren't the most considerate of conquering armies. Mainly driven by our old friend greed and religion they set about destroying the Inca culture. This area has its fair share of pretty big churches and you can be pretty much assured that underneath each one lies the remains of either an Inca temple or palace. Yet somehow the Inca traditions managed to survive, through some pretty ingenious and subtle means. One great example are paintings of Christ. In the locally produced fresco's he's pictured with a crown that resembles the sun. To the Inca's this was pretty important as it meant when they went to church, they were still worshipping their Sun God, rather than the Christian faith. Additionally, many of the services were conducted in the Inca language, Quechua, which still survives to this day. Christian festivals were merged into Inca ones and between the two cultures some form of understanding was achieved that carries on to this day. One of the more ghoulish practices to survive is that of animal sacrifices on the 24th June - Lama's
are taken from Machu Pichu and slaughtered in the traditional manner, including the priest eating the still beating raw heart........... The Catholic church, ever the pragmatist, allowed and continues to allow these practices, on the basis that the Inca's made pretty hefty contributions to the collecting plate!
Yet, there still exists a definite feeling of significant resentment towards the Spanish, certainly in this region. In South America, as a whole, the indigenous population represents around 20% of the total. In Peru this number is nearer 60% - in the Cusco region, it's nearly 90%. The common name for the invaders is Conquistadors - in my time here, two guides have referred to them as Destroyers. Feelings run deep.
Cusco, as a town, is pleasant enough, but it really is tourist central. I've done a bit of travelling in the past few months and I haven't come across anywhere that's so orientated towards tourists than this place. In the main square, every shop seems to be related to the industry, be it money exchanges, travel shops or restaurants. When you arrive, you're bounced into buying any one of the numerous tours that are offered - I was pretty determined to strike out on my own, but the hotels and agents seem to put numerous obstacles in front of you if you want to. In the end, for ease of travel, I booked onto a tour around Cusco and the surrounding area and then a tour at Machu Pichu. I suspect that the organisation of these tours have contributed towards my general feeling of disappointment here. Once we'd reached Machu Pichu, we were put into a tour group of around 40 people, so after a few minutes, I wandered off with a Dutch family to try and explore by ourselves. I suspect it was more fun that way, but the lack of decent guide books adds to more frustration and the most informative source of information we had was my Rough Guide to South America!
As for Machu Pichu itself, yes it is fantastically located
I'd been assured that one of the best ways to see Machu Pichu was at dawn - so up I got nice and early on my second day to find the place socked in by cloud and heavy rain. The first couple of buses didn't run as the road up was a bit treacherous in the rain, so I went back to bed. As I sit here writing this over lunch, it's now been raining all morning and since I didn't fancy spending another £30 to get wet in a place I didn't find that interesting, I've been making coffee last a long time, watching the wet tourists go by.
One thing that has been fun is this week is carnival week.
PS Have just experienced the most surreal sight on this trip. On the train back from Machu Pichu to Cusco, we were treated to a fashion show from the crew, complete with music and catwalking down the aisle!