As I travel through Ecuador and Peru, the legacy of the Incas dominates the history of the area. There are ruins along the back roads of the countryside and ruins in the largest cities. One cannot dig anywhere in the city of Cusco, the historical capital of the Incas, without running into Incan foundations and walls and other relics. The Spaniards rebuilt the city in their own image on top of the civilization of the Incas. One tends to think of the Incas as an ancient civilization yet you soon realize, as you listen to history, that they didn’t emerge until the 11th century (1200’s) and disappeared in the mid-1500’s with the advance of Pizarro and the Spaniards, smallpox, and the Incas own rivalries. The golden age of the Incas lasted only about 100 years yet they left an amazing array of cities, towns, the vast Incan trail and road system, advanced agricultural systems with irrigation, engineering that we still struggle to grasp in its entirety and so much more we have yet to uncover. They didn’t have gunpowder or much in the way of machines yet they were able to cut, shape and move vast amounts of granite rock to fit perfectly onto each other in trapezoidal form that withstands all that mother earth and much of what man can throw at it. They were able to transform the highly erodible mountainsides into wondrous terraces that were engineered to allow the water to pass and collect plus create a vast network of “raised beds” as we refer to them today that allowed them to raise an amazing array of crops. Even today scientists have not discovered how the huge rock forms could be cut with such precision and fitted so perfectly as the Incans did. Temples and sundials were created that could tell with perfect precision the astronomical changes of the seasons – they were able to plant with confidence because of this scientific knowledge. The Incans themselves did not build all that they left behind, but instead ruled because of their creativity and science. They really only represented about 10 percent of the population, so much of the labor and artisanship came from other peoples in the overall society. There is much to learn about the “Romans” of the Americas and my knowledge is very slight. Our Bike Dreams hosts offered a two day trip into the Sacred Valley culminating in a day long experience at Machu Picchu. All but a very few of our bike troupe took advantage of this opportunity including myself. The trip involved first a short run with small buses as our larger bus is too big to enter the area of Plaza de Armas in Cusco where we are staying. Then we got on the tourist bus which took us out of Cusco and down through the Sacred Valley through several towns and villages along the way. We stopped at one call Picas where we spent some time in a food market learning about different fruits and vegetables which originated in this part of the world. Some interesting ones are the tomato (wild version still available here) , potato ( a head spinning number of varieties) and the passion fruit. Many other fruits were discussed, most of which I had never experienced before. A tour of the mercantile market gave me a short tutorial about alpaca wools and the different varieties of quality. One learned to trust your “feel” for some of this knowledge. On we went for a wonderful lunch in a country restaurant where they served a lot of this traditional food. I caught Hardy and Jeannette swinging on a children’s swing set alongside the restaurant. Why not. Then it was off to Ollantaytambo where we had a guided tour of the ruins above the city there. I also had another goal in mind in this village. Kaitlyn Bohlin, our talented new Development Director at North House Folk School was previously a director of a small non-profit women’s weaving project based here and she sent along a card to deliver to Awamaki to her friends there. The basic function of this non-prof was to organize a group of women weavers in two remote villages nearby and find profitable markets both in Ollantaytamba as well as in the larger world and the internet. Offering a vehicle for these women to make a living would advance their families and improve their lifestyles without being invasive in other ways. I was anxious to see some of the wares in person and talk with some of the people involved in the project now. Unfortunately, when I first walked through the village, Awamaki was closed for lunch and when I finished my tour of the ruins I had only a couple of minutes to run in there and then rush to the train station. Mission accomplished as far as getting Kaitlyn’s card to the proper people but I was disappointed to not have more time there. I will try to attach some photos from Ollantaytambo here. The ruins here really helped me visualize the agricultural aspects of the terrace system in Incan society and also demonstrated the importance of the military location of the site in helping protect what lies beyond in the Sacred Valley. I won’t go into further details here about the ruins but would suggest a visit to Google to further your interest. If I can get the photos on you will quickly notice the precision of the cutting and fitting of the stones These people didn’t use mortar. My head is swimming with what I learned about the present day importance of Machu Picchu and the beauty of this site. For me this visit is something I never thought I would have the opportunity to see in person. Now much of what existed only in my imagination is now filled in with raw beauty and appreciation. I will work on writing about the rest of my experience this evening if I can get it accomplished. Tomorrow I am back on the bike as we head to the altiplano of Peru and Bolivia.
The uncaptioned photo is of Hardy and Jeannette on a swing set at a country restaurant on the road to Ollantaytambo