I arrived in Cusco and promptly got sick. I must have ate something bad because I felt awful and spent the next 24 hours in bed, with frequent trips to the bathroom, if you know what I mean. I had a wierd headache that was isolated to the left rear side of my brain. Hmmm. That must be where the common sense lobes are located.
Cusco was the imperial capital of the Inca empire. This is where the big cheese lived. It is also one of the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas, so they say. It also seems to contain the largest number of tourists. There were so many foreigners I almost forgot where I was. I heard more English in Cusco than I´ve heard in two months.
Anyway, my goal was to cycle through what the Incas called the Sacred Valley, which leads to Machu Picchu.
My first stop was the town of Pisaq, which was at the end of an exhilarating 20 km downhill ride. Pisaq was a province of Cusco back in the day. So there are some nice Inca ruins there. I loved the terraces that the Incas built. I guess they preferred to live on the side of a mountain where it is safer than in the valleys. Here are some pix of the Pisaq terraces. Can you see the people in the photos?
The next day was a nice ride through the Sacred Valley. It was gloriously flat, even downhill for the whole day. But the valley was hemmed in by steep mountains on either side.
Can you spot the person working in the field in the photo below? He (or she) is the dark speck in the lower part of the photo.
Now, can you spot the geeky-looking bicycle tourist in this photo?
I rode to Ollantaytambo, an important town because it was here, in 1536, that Manco Inca and his army defeated the conquistadors lead by Hernando Pizarro, about the only time the Spanish Conquistadors were defeated. Pizarro returned later, however, and beat the crap out of Manco. The Inca ruins tower above the village and as usual are overrun by tourists.
By the way, for all their notoriety, The Incas were only really powerful for less than 100 years. Up until year 1438 they were just one of many tribes of people living in Peru. Then one day, the Chanca, a neighboring tribe, decided they wanted more territory, so they attacked the Inca village next door. The ruling Inca of the time, Viracocha, was in no mood for fighting, so he ran away. His son, Pachacuti, though, decided to round up as many people as he could and defend their village. He managed to defeat the Chanca and at the same time must have acquired a taste for power and battle, because for the next 25 years he expanded the Inca empire 1000 fold.
But the Inca were spread too thin, and things started to deteriorate. In 1532 Huayna Capac Inca, as he was dying, split the empire between his two sons. But the sons did not want to share, so a civil war ensued. As luck would have it, that´s when the Spaniards arrived on the scene. Decimated by an overstretched empire and civil war, as well as smallpox which had crept down from Central America, it was a piece of cake for the Spaniards to clean up. Talk about being in the right place at the right time.
Anyway, after Ollantaytambo you have to take the train to the next town, Aguas Calientes and from there a bus takes you up to the Machu Picchu site. Aguas Calientes is a disaster of rampant tourism. Hostals and hotels, pizza places, internet cafes, and dozens of natives selling T shirts, shot glasses, textiles and just about every other cheesy souvenir you can think of (actually it sounds a lot like Miami Beach!) Next post: Machu Picchu.