Today we were off on a new adventure to the town of Pisac. We had organised for Edgar (yes him again) to pick us up at 9am. He sent us a text assuring us he would be there at the agreed meeting place which was a good idea considering the debacle with the pick up the other night from the train station. So here we were waiting at the pick up point. Anyone would have thought we were ‘working for a living’ considerning how many cars crawled up to us curbside opened the windows and offered us a lift. They always toot too to get your attention. No thank you, your services are not needed. The corner where we were waiting could be described as organised chaos if you were being really kind and just chaos of not. Single lane roads coming merging with a two way road. We saw one bingle where one car decided to reverse to get out of the jam straight into another. Talk about an aggressive driver – that was the one who reversed into the the other. He moved forwards to block all the traffic especially the car that he hit, got out of the car and then proceeded to hurl abuse at the poor guy who was totally innocent. The other cars having their paths even further obstructed did what comes naturally – hands up who guessed honk the horn! (Total aside here while I remember it, we have not seen one woman driving at car during our time here!)
After this event came to a natural resolution (neither car was damaged), Val and I were talking about how despite the traffic it was quite good that there were no 4WDs. I was pacing around the intersection when a black Land Cruiser clipped the curb and nearly hit my foot. He honked at me. Ten minutes later still no Edgar, no messages and no calls. Then a guy came up to us and asked us if we had booked him from the airport. Ahh, no. Then he said “Edgar, Tipon?” Yes. So it turns out this new guy Jorge (George) was here to pick us up and take us to where we going. He said he phoned us and there were no messages or missed calls on Val’s phone. Jorge was actually Edgar’s brother and was a tour guide. We walked to his car and guess what he drove. The black Land Cruiser. Anyway we were a bit annoyed that we hadn’t been told we weren’t getting Edgar as we specifically asked for him due to his driving skills and had not been informed of change of plans. Never mind as we had changed our plans with regard to the route we wanted to take to Pisac. We wanted to go to Sachsayhuawen instead of Tipon. So we were heading up the hill out of Cusco when the Land Cruiser konks out. Jorge tries to start it. Not going to work. We were on the bend of a hill so not a good place to be broken. He slowly goes down the hill backwards and pulls over. Not telling us what was happening he rings Edgar. Then he says “OK you stay here in the car and I will be back soon.” Nah, not staying in a locked car on a hill near a corner. We got out and sat on the opposite side of the road in the sun (you need to be in the sun first thing in the morning believe me) and we waited for 15-20 minutes for him to return. Can you believe he had run out of petrol!!!!! Why wouldn’t you fill the car if you were going on a journey with paying customers (USD100 at that). Sure Pisac is only 24km from Cusco the short way but we were initially planning to go the long way. Edgar seemed a nice enough guy but maybe he was more interested in collecting green backs than the finer details of the service. Car filled and we were finally on our way.
Jorge was actually a nice guy who was reasoanbly conversant in English. The interesting thing with his English though is that there seems to be a tour guide track where his English is just spot on and he can explain things very well. Outside of the that, if you asked him a question or tried to make conversation, it was somewhat limited. And so we went to visit four historical Incan sites, the first being Sachsayhuawen and the last being Pisac. Who cares about the other two. Here I was yet again in some ruins but this time with a guide. Jorge filled us in on all sorts of details about the site that sits on the hill above Cusco and seems to have been primarily used for religious ceremonies where they honoured Mother Earth and as a guard station due to its commanding views over Cusco. Some of the information we were given was different to what you can read from reputable sources. Shock me. Yes there is no doubt that the Incan stone work that you can see up there is magnificently engineered but once you have seen it ……. For me the best thing about being up there was the view down into Cusco. The Plaza de Armas is quite distinguishable from up there and we could see there were more processions. If you had to assign a colour to Cusco the only colour you could choose is terracotta. From this view, La Catedral is on the bottom of the frame on the left and the Jesuit Cathedral that competed with the cathedral is in the middle of the frame at the bottom. See the bell tower on the middle left edge of the frame, we are staying 5 minutes walk to the left of that.
After two uninspiring stops at more ruins, we arrived at the small town of Pisac and headed straight up a winding hill to the ruins. The most spectacular thing about this place was the terraces that went down into a step valley. The qolqas (where the grain is stored) sat high above on the top of the hill. Over in the distance we could see where the Incas (remember they were the royalty and the upper administrative classes) were mummified and buried in caves on a nearby hill. Nearly all the caves have long since been pillaged by grave robbers. Jorge blamed the Spanish but I’m sure there were some opportunistic locals at some time in the past. From this point we could look down and see the some of the town and the Urumbamba River.
Now here I am now having scrambled up and down numerous stone steps, seen numerous terraces made from stone walls, seen a number of reconstructed stone storage facilities and houses and a number of sun gates which the tour guides get so excited about. I’m ruined. I don’t want to see anymore ruins! The way the Incan Empire is promoted is a somewhat romantised version of the probable reality. It sounds as though the Incans were glorious and wonderful. In truth it seems that they conquered existing agricultural communities and supplanted their own rules and customs/rituals on those they conquered. And they were very effective in what they did since their empire extended from Equador down to Chile. I read that each new Incan king could not inherit the lands of his predecessors and hence had to conquer new lands. One way of insuring your dominance continues. I had wondered after being at Machu Picchu, why they built where they did. I have decided that the Incans had three reasons for building on really steep hillsides rather than in the rich alluvial planes – a) sun exposure – they built to the north so on the hillside they maximized sun exposure for their crops, b) perhaps saved them from flooding in the rainy season and lastly c) they need to be on hills for visibility in order to protect them from attack. And on further reading, despite what the guides may tell you, life was not that peaceful under the rule of the Incas and rivalry and warfare between areas was not uncommon. The other thing that fascinates me with the way in which the Incan way of life is romantised here and seemingly revered, is that fact that all they really were good at doing was building structures that can withstand earthquakes in seemingly impossible places and subjugate others. However, they never developed an alphabet and as a consequence have no rich literary or artistic tradition. When you compare with European societies of the same time, the Incans were really quite ‘primative’. I can’t really see much about their society to romantise it. So I have had enough of hearing about the Incans and their ruins. I am ruined out.