(August 20 – written by Dave)
Today our goal was visiting a Cusco local Inca site called Sacsayhuamán. It’s a hard name to pronounce and many locals use the name “sexy woman”. In fact, when a local pronounces the name correctly, it still sounds like they are saying “sexy woman”. The trick in reaching the site is to set out from your hotel uninhibited in using the local name. Say “sexy woman” and you’ll be pointed in the right direction.
The lower entrance to the site was noted in google maps as 11 minutes walking from our hotel. So, not visiting it would really be a shame. We’ve had some afternoon rains the last few days but decided to visit today – and even got a little bit of blue sky for the effort. We took lunch with us and ate sitting at the Cusco city viewpoint which is on the Sacsayhuamán site.
So what about Sacsayhuamán? We didn’t really know what it was or what to expect. In fact, it would be fair to say we had low expectations.
Sacsayhuamán is a very impressive fortified site where the Inca’s had their last stand against the Spanish. The site is actually pre-Inca in age but the Inca are given credit for turning it into the citadel that it became. While the Spanish pilfered many of the site’s stones for building their homes and buildings in Cusco, the massive outside walls were made of stones simply too big to move and were left alone. There are many theories on how the Inca carved and moved these massive stones to the site but since the Inca had no written language, much of what is known is speculative.
We spent a good couple hours wandering the site and enjoying the Inca stonework. It really is mind blowing how they did this work without metal tools and with no wheel (they had neither). Clearly they were skilled and persistent, and had lots of slaves to pull long ropes tied to rocks. The site is at the top of mountain and it is believed that many of the stones were sourced well down in the valley at a river bottom site.
Visiting the site made us more aware of how much of old-town Cusco is actually Inca stone as well. When you first arrive here in Cusco, you can’t help but think today’s architects and builders make Inca-looking buildings and walls – for sure there is some of that. But we now also realize that much of what you see in Cusco is actually 500 to 1000 year old Inca carved stone. The Spanish either built on top of Inca foundations or they left walls in place because they served useful purposes already.
Prior to this trip I’d read about a famous 12 sided Inca stone. Other travellers often had a photo of it in their blogs. Well, it turns out that that stone is only a short walk from our hostel, in a wall that was originally part of an Inca palace. Today is part of a wall of the palace of the Archbishop of Cuzco. I snapped a photo of this famous stone the other day, on probably the fifth time we walked past it. On earlier passes, we didn’t even know why people were stopping – we were just walking past to get somewhere.
So we’ve had another interesting and informative day. Our somewhat low expectations were easily exceeded and we are now pretty excited to visit Machu Picchu starting tomorrow morning. Since we get to take the train up there (and not a bus) we are both actually looking forward to the journey, as well as the site visit. It’s now time for another difficult dinner decision – last night we had Italian so at least we can cross that off the list. I’m leaning towards Indian tonight because isn’t that what you eat in South America? (Senior Editor’s vote is still pending).