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As I briefly talked about in my last post, we had a magical day on Saturday hiking around the ancient Incan ruins that surround the city of Cusco. After a semi-late night on Halloween, we woke up early to meet our new friend, Aiman, and took off (or should I say up) to the first ruin above Cusco, Saqsaywaman.

Adam, Meg and Aiman at Saqsaywaman

Adam, Meg and Aiman at Saqsaywaman

Saqsaywaman is only a mile from the center of Cusco, but it’s a mile that goes straight up. And since we’re at 3300 meters (about 11,000 feet for you metrically challenged people), we got our first taste of what our Inca Trail hike is going to be like. We arrived at the first ruin, and we met Hector, a local Cusqueno, who offered to show us around Saqsaywaman for a nominal tip (20 soles per person, which is less than $7 per person). Luckily for us we had Aiman with us, who speaks fluent Spanish, because Hector did not speak English. So Aiman served as a translator for us. I was a little skeptical at first because of the language barrier, but after the three hours we spent with Hector, I was SOOOO glad that we decided to use his services. We learned so much about the ruins, the history of them, and so many interesting facts about the Incas, the Spanish takeover of the Incas, and everything that went into the building of everything we were seeing.

The thing that amazed me most was the fact that EVERYTHING was so well thought out. Not only from an architectural standpoint, because obviously that was very impressive being that these huge walls were still standing after 500+ years with absolutely no mortar, but the fact that everything had some type of symbolic meaning. As an English teacher, I love symbolism. I love when there is a deeper meaning behind something. That’s the thing I love most about reading and books and teaching literature. Symbolism (even though my students aren’t huge fans) is something that just fascinates me. And the Incas were all about symbolism. For instance, many of the altars and rock carvings made by the Incas were done in threes, which was symbolic of the three worlds the Incans believed in. These three worlds were represented by three important animals (which coincidentally, were kept as domesticated animals by the Incas), the snake, puma, and condor. The snake represented the underworld and was associated with intellect, knowledge and the past. It was also associated with water sources. The puma signified life in the present and represented courage and internal strength. They also believed it could communicate with spirits and forces within the earth. The condor represented the hereafter, the world above. It was associated with balance, the future and life in another dimension. Check out the following pictures to see how many of the things they built were done in threes.

Three staggered Zig Zag walls of Saqsaywaman

Three staggered Zig Zag walls of Saqsaywaman

Three-tiered solstice altar at Saqsaywaman

Three-tiered solstice altar at Saqsaywaman

After leaving the Saqsaywaman, we kept heading up, as there were three more ruins that we wanted to see, with Saqsaywaman being by far the largest. About a mile up the road was Q’enqo, which was a sacred sanctuary of worship to fertility. This was used to host many important ceremonies in Incan times.

Q'enqo monolith and amphitheatre

Qenqo monolith and amphitheater

After leaving Q’enqo, we had our toughest part of the hike, about two miles (again, straight up, along a road, not a hiking path), to our next ruin, Puka Pukara. This was close to the final ruin we planned to visit, Tambomachay, which is where the Inca (which is what the supreme ruler was called) lodged regularly. Puka Pukara was used as a lookout and military headquarter. When the Inca would go to Tambomachay, his people who accompanied him usually stayed at Puka Pukara.

Puka Pukara viewed from Tambo Machay

Puka Pukara viewed from Tambo Machay

It was a really small place, but the views from Puka Pukara were absolutely stunning. We could see parts of Cusco in the distance, and the Andes were everywhere around us. It was truly a magical place to visit, and I know my inner hippie is coming out here, but I could feel the energy coming from this place. At one point I sat by myself just looking out at the views and taking everything in, and I was truly at peace. And for the first time on this journey, it really hit me how lucky we are to be able to do this and have these magical experiences. The first couple weeks have been great, but homesickness has been a real and hard thing we’ve been dealing with on an almost daily basis. But this day seemed to “cure” me in a sense. Don’t get me wrong, I still miss home and everyone there, but seeing and experiencing everything on this day completely changed my attitude, and I really felt at peace and convince we were doing the right thing. And believe me, I’ve personally had some doubts over these first several weeks.

Adam meditating on the view from Puka Pukara

Adam meditating on the view from Puka Pukara

Next was a short walk to Tambomachay, which as I said before, is where the Inca lodged when coming here. Tambomachay is also known as “The Baths of the Princess” and literally means “resort”. There are still two aqueducts that provide spring water year round. It has a ritual fountain and three terraces built with the typical huge stones fit together with no mortar whatsoever. And these walls don’t look like they’re going anywhere any time soon.

Tambomachay

Tambomachay

Before leaving Tambomachay, we were near a small group of native Peruvians. They were high school kids from Lima, and they were taking pictures of each other. When they saw us, they began talking to us, asking where we were from. Then they wanted to get their pictures taken with us. It was really cute and fun, and they were full of energy like all high school kids (when they aren’t in class of course). It got thinking about my job, and it was another cool experience and a chance to interact with locals, who have all been very nice.

By this time, we realized it was 4pm and we had quite a walk back, and it gets dark here by about 5:30, so we started our long walk back to Cusco. We luckily were back at Saqsaywaman as the sun was starting to set, and we got some great pics of the ruins with Cusco in the background.

View of Saqsaywaman as sun was setting

View of Saqsaywaman as sun was setting

All in all, it was magical day, and I think the magnitude of this trip, what we’re doing, what we’ve seen, what we’re going to see and experience, all hit us like a ton of bricks. Tomorrow morning we will begin our Inca Trail hike, and we will have been gone for 22 days, which is two days longer than the longest trip we’ve taken. It’s insane to think that we will be gone for 330+ more days, but we’re starting to be OK with that. We know it’s going to continue to be hard to be away from our loved ones and our homes for so long, but those ruins somehow made it easier, at least for me.

We obviously won’t be online for the next four days. We’ll return to Cusco on Saturday night and most likely stay here for a few more days, and then probably head to Bolivia. We’ll update everyone on the next big adventure, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which has been a cornerstone of this trip since the trip’s inception, sometime soon after we return.

Until then, we miss you all and love you all very much…

~Adam

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