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Peru - Part II: Cusco

Date: 20 December 2010

Day: Monday

Location: Cusco

We are now used to high altitude. We can breathe deep but no matter what, we get tired more quickly. When we first arrived in Cusco yesterday, F.’s heartbeat was down to 60 per minute and mine to 50 per minute.

This morning, we had the opportunity to try the local tastes at breakfast. Andes cheese (it is a bit like Erzurum cheese), quinoa and kiwidna, which can be put on fruit salad of papaya, pineapple and watermelon…It was very delicious.

We spent the morning hours visiting the museums exhibiting local and Inka history. It appears that the Inka were quite behind the Mediterranean and Asian civilisations until the 16th century. They were very isolated and for that reason they could preserve their almost primitive lifestyle until the colonial Spaniards arrived.

As it is Monday, streets are more populated than yesterday.

The local children and babies are incredibly cute. I guess that due to sun, wind and life on the high mountains, some of them have cheeks, which are beyond red, almost bruised.

However, today we saw a 7-8 year old boy holding a lollipop in one hand and a 20-30 year old blond white man in the other; and F. and I found this very suspicious. Since that time, I keep on thinking what I can do. If I saw a policeman at that moment, should I have notified him? I don’t think that that man adopted that child and I feel very uncomfortable. I am extremely down.

Chewing or eating coca leaves helps against altitude sickness. So I drank ice and lemon tea with coca leaves at lunch time. It was very nice. F. and I ate sandwich with avocado. I love trying tropical fruits and vegetables.

25% of the Peruvian population live under the extreme poverty line. In the 90s, the country suffered from terrorism and this made the poverty levels worse. I used to think that just like other South American countries; Peru was under the influence of Spain. I was amazed to see that local and old culture, traditions and believes continue in strength to this day.

I have also seen things that broke and bled my heart. Cusco streets are filled with hundreds of pedigree or stray dogs.

One person I asked told me that they are all stray dogs, no one feeds or loves them. Another person told me that every household has 3-4 dogs and that they are all fed. I don’t know what to believe. If I could, I would take them all home to London with me. They are very beautiful.

In the afternoon, our first visit was to the cathedral, which has been built by the Spaniards over an old Inka temple.

There are two official languages here: Spanish and the Inka language “Quechua” which is still spoken to this day. Cusco was the religious capital of the Inka Empire and there used to be 300 temples here. The first traces of human life in Peru dates back to 16 000 years B.C. and the Inka are only the last of the civilisations, which have passed through Peru. It also used to be the biggest empire on the Americas continent. Its borders would start in the south of Colombia and end in Argentina. However, this has lasted only 95 years. It has ended with the arrival of Spanish invaders who brought 60 different diseases with them.

As there is no horse, elephant or camel in this region (lamas are not used for carrying or transport), they built all the roads and temples with human power even though they did not have the concept of slavery (everyone was paid).

As gold symbolised the sun god and silver the moon god, Inkas used to use these materials in their temples and ornaments; however, they did not consider them to be valuable.

The Spanish thought otherwise. They destroyed the Inka civilisation and submitted its people to genocide for gold and silver. Of course, at the same time, they wanted to bring their religion to these infidels; however, what is being said clearly today is that the religion practiced here today and what was taught back then was not the Catholic religion but a mixture of Catholicism with the Inka’s polytheist religion. This is ongoing today.

This is clearly visible in the decorations and paintings of the main cathedral of the city. During religious festivals, the villagers come to the cathedral (their old temple) and give offerings to their old gods. The Spaniards let this happen to their Catholic religion in order to keep these lands and people under their colony and control.

Our next stop was the sun temple in the city.

Here it was possible to see the technology that the Inka have developed against earthquakes. Perhaps they were advanced as far as architecture and engineering are concerned but based on what we have seen in the museums this morning, they were quite behind the other civilisations with regards to arts and handicrafts. Moreover, they didn’t develop an alphabet. Instead, they used to colour code ropes. This was how they communicated.

By the way, they highly regarded the puma and considered it sacred because they thought it symbolised life on this Earth.

Then, we climbed up the city’s hills, up to 4200 m. Since we can handle these altitudes now, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro should not be a problem. Due to the altitude, the level of the red blood cells of the locals is very high. So they shouldn’t eat red meat, red vegetables and fruits because they thicken their blood and can kill them. So they mostly eat chicken, pork and guinea pig.

The name Andes etymologically comes from “Anden”, which means sets.

The entire country consists of sets. It was possible to see this as we climbed the hills of the city; including lamas, alpacas and villages. Lamas and their different kinds are incredibly beautiful and cute animals.

It was very interesting to see the villages. Each village house’s walls are still decorated with Inka gods.

Until 20 years ago, they still used to sacrifice animals, little children and single men. It is possible that the practice continues today in some parts. They do not use knives when they sacrifice humans. They drug them and then leave them to freeze on snowy mountains!

We saw the temples, sacrificing altars and caves on the mountains. They would go to the water temple after fasting for a few days (cleansing their soul) to be baptised.

It is not very different than some of today’s religions in this particular aspect. However, generally, even though the construction of the temples may have been clever with regards to engineering, they are not very artistically impressive; especially, when they are compared with ancient Mediterranean civilisations.

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