After a long day in Pisac on Tuesday, we decided to stay local on Wednesday, dealing with some logistical issues in the morning (more on that in another post), and then setting off on foot for the Sacsayhuaman ruins (known affectionately by many a gringo as Sexy Woman) above Cuzco.
We knew that we’d be returning to Sacsayhuaman the following day, for the Inti Raymi Festival, but wanted to be able to explore the ruins before 50,000 people flocked to the site.
As we hiked up, I wondered whether these ruins would be similar to Pisac’s, whether I’d feel like, “well, seen one ruins, seen ’em all.” But when we reached the top of the hill, I was blown away by what we encountered.
While Pisac was more of a residential village, Sacsay was a fortress, with tunnels and towers, all utilizing the natural geological features available.
After fending off the enterprising Peruvians offering us “free entry” into the site and a tour on horseback, we walked in and climbed over, around, and through the rock structures. At one point, a small group of older locals invited us to follow them through a deep tunnel. We went in behind them and found ourselves in utter blackness. We couldn’t see our hands in front of us, let alone the curviture of the rock. We clawed our way along the walls, slowly but steadily, until we saw a faint hint of light.
“Gringos! Donde estan, Gringos?” we heard as we made our way out. When we finally reached the other end, we were greeted by laughter and cheers from our Peruvian guides.
We parted ways at that point and made our way to the other side of the ruins, the site of the following day’s ceremonies. We found a large faux-stone stage erected in the center of a field – the ancient parade grounds – surrounded by multi-layered rock walls. We began to explore on our own, but were quickly befriended by two fellow Americans, Whitey and Jennifer, in town for the celebration.
Whitey had been in Peru several times before, and became our de facto tourguide for the rest of the evening. He explained the detail of the architecture, the spiritual significance of the layout, and the historical roots of the Incan Empire. We left the ruins an hour later filled with new information, and joined our new friends for dinner at a local restaurant. We ate and drank for hours, sharing life stories, travel adventures, political and religious musings, and movie reviews. Everyone but me tried the alpaca. After several meals of vegetable soup and cheese sandwiches, I opted to go with the pancake, a thick crepe stuffed with fresh fruit and strawberry jam. One of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
The next morning, we awoke and readied ourselves for the main event. Inti Raymi, or the Festival of the Sun, celebrates Incan culture and history with massive parades in the streets of Cuzco, culminating in a reenactment of the sacred Incan ritual at Sacsayhuaman. It brings together people from all over the world, and especially from the countries with deep Incan roots.
We climbed up to the ruins at 11 AM, under the impression that the events began at noon, and secured seats on the far hill overlooking the parade grounds. Initially, we had ample room, but within an hour we were surrounded on all sides by Peruvians, eager to catch a glimpse of the ceremony.
When the festivities finally began at 2 PM, we were sunburnt, cramped, and claustrophobic, but we were excited to see what was in store.
The ritual began with a carefully choreographed parade of colors entering the grounds, dancing and singing as they ushered in the Incan king.
It was a poignant mix of sacred solemnity on the stage, and irreverance on the hills. Men and women walked through the crowds selling programs, balloons, ice cream, and popcorn. People plowed over us with careless abandon, but when someone would stand up, others would throw oranges and water bottles at him in protest.
But then came the main event. The crowds quieted as the soldiers carried the llama over to the king – small, plump, and as black as black can be, according to tradition. The king blessed the young animal, and then, with a silver knife, slit its throat, and ripped out its heart.
He held the heart up for everyone to see, and then took out its entrails. His hands filled, he walked over to the sacred fire, paused, and then threw the organs into the flames. Everyone watched, silent.
Dehydrated and hungry, we left soon after the sacrifice. We joined the crowds making their way back down the hill to Cuzco. The city was quiet, empty. We walked back to our guest house, took a nap, and then headed out for dinner.
Everyone avoided the alpaca on the menu that night.
All images were found online, as I haven’t downloaded our pictures from the last couple days yet.