We began our first full day in Cusco with an 8:30 am tour accompanied by our friendly guide Angela. We walked through the steep streets that were formed in the shape of a geometric puma. The capital of the Incan Empire, Cusco was shaped to represent the strength, ferocity, and courage of the puma, qualities that the Incan possessed and used to construct one of the largest empires in the world. In addition to the puma, the condor and the snake also bear significance, particularly in the Incan religion, representing earth, the world of the gods, and the underworld respectively. The Incan believed that if your body was preserved with mummification, you would continue to live, something greatly desired. A lot of the city was destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors, but parts that remained were incorporated into more recent buildings. When we walked through the streets, we were amazed to see the transition between the Incan and the Spanish: the bottom halves were constructed with the impeccable Incan architecture, and the top halves were built with a Spanish-colonial style.
We visited the breathtaking structure of Saqsaywaman to learn more about Incan architecture. It served to discourage and intimidate the Spanish, who could not believe that the Inca Empire could construct such a structure, attributing its existence to aliens. The Incan were able to build structures with rocks weighing hundreds of tons despite lacking wheels, pack animals, cement, or clay. The rocks were cut with such precision and accuracy that they fit together like Legos, ensuring that Saqsaywaman remained intact. The excellent condition of the six hundred year old site demonstrates the architectural skill that the Inca possessed.
After leaving Saqsaywaman, we took our bus to my favorite place of the day: Balcón del Inca, a place where women made fabrics and clothing by hand using alpaca fiber and sheep wool. We were able to watch them manipulate the fur into yarn, dye it, and transform it into fabric. We entered a small room with open windows and greeted two women dressed in traditional native clothing. They passed out cups of tea and told us about how what they do. They explained that each color is created only through natural substances: we "ooed" and "awed" as the yarn was magically transformed. What was most profound to me was the beauty displayed in the ceremony. The women sang in Quechua (the Inca language) as they spun their yarn, but it was as if they were playing an instrument, their fingers dancing intricately across the yarn. I could tell that, though humble, they were proud of their ancestry and excited to share a part of their lives with us. We sat, sipping tea and laughing at their jokes, and marveled at their way of life.
It was then that I realized how far we had all progressed in only a few days. If we were placed in that room at the start of the trip, our experience would not have been what it was. I know I would have hoped and prayed for them to present in English, and I would have been trying too hard to understand what they said, missing the beauty of their craft.
After the presentation, we bought hand-made products and talked casually with them. We put on traditional clothing, took pictures with my new favorite animal (Poncho the Alpaca), and danced! When we left, they hugged and kissed us and thanked us for visiting. Just as we were leaving, two of them ran onto the bus and sung us their song once more, this time in Spanish. Overall I would say that today was one of many favorite days in Peru.