Cusco, ancient capital of the Inca Empire.
Cusco. 500 years ago it was the capital of the Inca Empire and now a pretty city at 3400 meters above sea level, crammed with churches and palaces the conquistadors erected using the walls built by the Incas. Walls that were raised with stones polished to perfection and that fit with enviable harmony and also the exact inclination to absorb the effects of the devastating earthquakes so abundant in this area. If right now this place is visited by hordes of tourists, imagine how many would come if Pizarro and his chaps, instead of melting all the gold in the capital, would have left the temples and palaces the way they were before their arrival…
Tahuayo, one of the thousands of tributaries of the Amazon River.
If we include the tributaries, the Amazon River covers a larger part of Peru than Brazil. From Lima we flew to Iquitos, an island surrounded by fresh water, and from there we went upriver through a tributary until we reached Tahuayo National Reservation. The lodges where we’re staying are four cabins built on posts over the river. The cabins are connected by suspension bridges and there is no electricity or warm water. The only conveniences of the place are the Hammock Room and the lunches prepared by the indigenous woman, Bichina. To be able to sleep well we’ll have to wait until we return to civilization, because the nocturnal concerts of the animals, birds and insects is a show that wasn’t included in the price.
Machu Picchu, residence of Emperor Pachacutec.
As we approach Machu Picchu we hear thousands of stories about it. Some confuse it with El Dorado, a sort of bait created by the Incas to send the greedy conquistadors to a sure death in the forest. Others, based on the fact that most of the human remains found there were female, assert that it was a temple for virgins who, abandoned there and without any chance to have children, died out. The discoverer, an American who at the beginning of the 20th Century was led by a local peasant to the remains, believed erroneously that it was a secret fort built by the last rebels that fought the españarris . Some guides, though, explain that it was the residence of its builder, the ninth and greatest of the Quechua monarchs, Pachacutec, and after whose death it was abandoned, as was the custom then.
Ollantaytambo, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Peru.
The Incas’ descendants tell that when the “españarris” entered Cusco, they mistook them for the sons and daughters of the sun. Because their skins were so light and they were so tall, wearing shiny armor and riding animals they had never seen before, you can understand the error, an error that cost them a lot. When they reached Cusco, Pizarro betrayed them by taking the son of the Sun prisoner, and he offered himself to pay for his own rescue. He would fill a whole room of gold and silver until it reached above the Emperor with his hand stretched up. Blinded by the never-ending caravans that came from all over the land to make the payment, Pizarro thought that if they were willing to give all these jewels without putting up a fight, there might be more of it hidden. Without wasting time he ordered his men to look under each stone, going after a treasure that maybe only existed in his imagination.
Lhasa, capital of Tibet
It was not until the third day after crossing the border of Nepal and Tibet that we got to the plain were the Himalaya is located. We stopped at the first crossroads to have a tea and warm up a little bit. Entering the bar we were so astonished that we looked at each other not understanding what was going on. A few kilometres from the Roof of the World, a Peruvian or maybe Bolivian family, was staring at us, as if it was normal to run into each other thousands of kilometres from our countries of origin. We were about to start speaking in Spanish. The wool of their clothes, their colourful clothing, their cute hats, their long scarves. Not only their garments, their complexion, the thickness of their hair or their features. Those Tibetans looked so much like any native American for the Andes that for a moment we thought we had been teletransported to the Titicaca high plains.
We have asked and searched everywhere and we haven’t found an answer for that extraordinary coincidence. Although it does not seem to be difficult to imagine what both people have in common: the altitude. Their garments are made with the best material to keep them warm. This material is made with the skin or wool of animals that, even being from different parts of the world, have developed the similar systems to fight low temperatures. In reality, the lamas from the Andes and the yaks from Tibet are as similar as their owners. The colours of the materials are bright in both cultures as nowhere else. There must be dozens of explanations to justify the coincidence, but we bet that the rocks or plants that you can find at this high altitude, for some reason that we don’t know, have more intense colours than the ones in the lower altitudes. Here and there their cheeks are pink and hardened form birth, probably to keep them warm during the frost that they have to bear all the time. It is the same with the wings of their noses. They are wider than usual and they are used to inhale more air and compensate the lack of oxygen that they have at an altitude of 4000 metres. Also the same with their eyelids almost closed to protect their eyes from the reflection of the sun on the snow that surrounds them.
Who knows if all these make any sense or it is just a lot of nonsense that we just made up? How beautiful history would be if it were told like that! And how easy to remember! All of us had that one teacher who went a step forward and was able to get our interest. Would it be so difficult to design an educational system like that? Maybe the difference is that when we are children we were not interested in these things at all, and now we have a passion for it. Who would have told us that one day we would be desperate to go back to school!?
Definitely this trip is changing us more than what we expected…