Inca ruins, ayahuasca and meditation

Yesterday, I decided it was about time I applied myself to viewing some of the many historic sites on offer in Cusco. To that end, I purchased the astronomically priced tourist ticket that permitted entrance to a number of sites, both in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Of course, it does not include any of the churches for which there is a separate ‘boleto religioso’ or religious ticket!

No sitting on the walls!
No sitting on the walls!

I started with the Temple of the Sun and the Santa Domingo church, which, needless to say, was not included in the ticket. The Temple of the Sun or Qorikancha was originally an Inca temple, whose altar was completely covered in gold. However, when the Spaniards arrived in Cusco, they destroyed all the temples, having first looted the gold and silver, and then built churches on the sites. Consequently, there are approximately 14 churches in the historic centre, all of which stand on top of Inca ruins. There is little to see of the Temple of the Sun today, and the site has been in the control of the Dominicans since Pizarro gave it to the Order in the 16th century.

On the second floor of the building, however, there was a temporary exhibition of the most magnificent textile art, which was very brightly coloured and contained an incredible amount of detailed work. As it happened, as I was strolling though San Blas later, I came upon the studio of the artist, Maximo Laura, so was able to view more of his work, as well as see photographs of how he constructed the tapestries. It is unbelievable, at least to me, how he could have the vision to create such works of art.

Exhibition of tapestries at Qorikancha
Exhibition of Maximo Laura tapestries at Qorikancha
King Pachacutec on top of his monument
King Pachacutec on top of his monument

Afterwards, I visited the Museum of Qorikancha, which, I would have to say, was not worth the entrance fee. It housed various ceramics, tapestries and skulls of Inca and pre-Inca cultures but was poorly presented and very limited. I had seen a better display in the museum in Ica.

Aiming to get as much value out of my ticket as possible, I then walked all the way down the Avenida de Sol to the Museum of Pachacutec, which is housed in a circular tower-like monument in the middle of the road. Ascending the spiral staircase, I was able to read the story of this Inca king, who was responsible for the expansion of the empire as far south as Chile and as far north as Colombia.

View towards the mountains from Pachacutec's Monument
View towards the mountains from Pachacutec’s Monument
Door in San Blas
Door in San Blas

It was back to the centre after this for a fruit juice in the market and then coffee and cake at my latest favourite cafe overlooking the Plaza de Armas. I can see this afternoon stop becoming a habit. The coffee is made exactly how I like it and the places that do this are so few and far between that I have to make the most of it!

Pedestrian street in San Blas
Pedestrian street in San Blas

Today turned into quite an unusual day. I was in the kitchen and on my way out when I met another resident whom I hadn’t seen before. He is English and used to work for the Mirror newspaper in London. However, since then he has spent some time travelling and recently spent 3 months in the jungle learning about ayahuasca. (Why does this keep popping up?) Consequently, I spent half an hour or so learning about the difference between the San Pedro cactus ceremony and ayahuasca, as well as all the benefits of taking part in the ceremony. Chris was off to Pisac tonight for a full moon ceremony, in which it was likely that 200 people would participate. To me, it sounded highly unsafe and with great potential to be very messy especially if you were a first time participant (when vomiting is a feature of the experience). The whole idea is actually to have a shaman looking after you whilst you are under the influence and if that many people were taking part, I didn’t see how this could happen.

Having increased my education about hallucinatory drugs, I then walked up the very steep steps to Sacsayhuaman, which is a very large Inca archaeological site on the hill above Cusco. I declined the services of a guide and wandered around on my own, in the sun. The most well known aspect of the site are the zig zag walls, which are quite unusual and whose purpose is not totally clear (not just to me, but the archaelogists, as well).

Zig zag  walls at Sacsayhuaman
Zig zag walls at Sacsayhuaman
Sacsayhuaman
Sacsayhuaman
One of the four types of Inca architecture
One of the four types of Inca architecture

Having walked for a while, I decided to rest on the edge of a large stone circle and contemplate the view. As there were no explanatory boards, I was puzzling over both this amphitheatre like structure as well as the niches in some of the rocks, when along came a spiritual man! He spoke entirely in Spanish and explained that the water came down from the mountains, was channelled through drains, which the Incas were experts at constructing, and then went into this amphitheatre, which wasn’t an amphitheatre at all but some sort of reservoir. He told me that the place had very good energy and the niches were where people sat to meditate. He then encouraged me to sit in one of these niches and tried to teach me how to do this. (I’ve never been able to switch my mind off long enough to meditate successfully!) I was, of course, highly suspicious of his motives and was very wary but he seemed reasonably genuine. And, naturally, he had something to sell but, as it was a Machu Picchu serpentine necklace in the shape of the chakana, which I wanted anyway, I got away very lightly. (A chakana is a cross with 12 steps that represent Inca beliefs.)

Niches in the rock were apparently used for meditation
Niches in the rock were apparently used for meditation
Glacial rocks at Sacsayhuaman Inca site
Glacial rocks at Sacsayhuaman Inca site

Once I had parted company with him, I sat for a while, not quite meditating but contemplating, and then walked slowly back to town. It was well after lunch time and I picked a restaurant with a daily menu as usual. Unfortunately, it was the first bad meal I have had and the waitress was very aware that the meal she served was not good enough. I should have sent it back but, of course, I didn’t.

Preparing for Corpus Christi celebrations
Preparing for Corpus Christi celebrations
This one isn't looking entirely stable!
This one isn’t looking entirely stable!

After lunch, I spent an hour or so in the Regional Museum, which had a slightly odd collection of ceramics, religious paintings and sculptures and other seemingly random bits of information about the Cusco area. Then it was off to the cafe for coffee before going to the supermarket and wending my way slowly back up the hill to my room.

On the way, I was delayed by a procession and then had to stop to watch some men lifting an extremely heavy religious sculpture up the path at the side of the San Blas church and back again for no apparent reason. I could only think that they were practising carrying it in readiness for tomorrow’s Corpus Christi parade, for which preparations were well underway in the various plazas in town.

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