Inti Raymi and the Sacred Valley

Trip Start Jun 20, 2003
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Trip End Mar 01, 2004


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Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Hola from Cusco! We have finally arrived in the former capital of the Incan empire, nestled in the Andes mountains. We arrived on the morning of the Incan festival known as Inti Raymi, or the Festival of the Sun, which occurs at Peru's winter solstice on June 24. It's apparently the most important festival in Cusco and across Peru, and one of the biggest celebrations in South America. We had thought it would be a great way to kick off the trip, and we were right.

Part of the festival takes place in the Plaza de Armas in the center of the city, and we had a great view of the Sun God entering the Plaza and of the dancers accompanying him. They had on these amazingly bright and colorful costumes, and twirled around the Sun God. The procession was an all day thing where they paraded through the city and ended in Sacsayhuaman (an Incan ruin overlooking Cusco that is apparently pronounced "Sexy Woman"), where they did a fake sacrificial llama offering. Apparently the Incas had HUNDREDS of real llama sacrifices when this festival originally occurred in the 15th century. The next day it was like the festival just continued; in fact, there was a procession virtually every day and night in Cusco, even though the 24th was supposed to be the big event.

We had given ourselves three days to see the city and acclimatize to the altitude before we started our four day hike up the Inca Tail to Machu Picchu. So we spent the time by taking city tours and the like. Cusco is a beautiful city with a lot of history. It is the former capital of the Incan empire, which stretched from north of Quito, Ecuador to south of Santiago, Chile, i.e., virtually all of the western side of South America, and was a thriving city up to the day the Spanish came in and conquered it. But the Incan foundations are still evident throughout the city, particularly in the walls and doorways in many of the buildings. Aside from the Incan architecture, there's also definitely some animosity towards the Spanish left over. Each of our tour guides would frequently say things like "This temple door was made of gold and silver, but the Spanish ransacked the temple and took EVERYTHING."

At this point, we were looking very forward to starting the Inca Trail. At the last possible second before we were to leave, however, Sharad developed a bad sinus infection. So we scrambled to get onto another group going to Machu Picchu about a week away. As a result, we had a few more days to kill before our 4 day rafting trip was to begin, so we spent the next few days wandering through the Sacred Valley.

The Sacred Valley of the Incas is a long valley filled with holy mountains and historic ruins. We spent a day wandering through Pisac's Sunday market and did a brief two hour hike up to the ruins at top of the mountain overlooking the city. The next day we went to a city called Ollytamtambo and checked out the ruins there. We can officially report we are starting to get "ruined-out", but we hope Machu Picchu will stun us back to our senses. Anyways, after a few relaxing days on our own, we headed back to Cusco, and started to get ready for our rafting trip!
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