Here are pix from our first day in Peru. We flew directly to Cusco (via Lima), so had abruptly come up from zero to 3400 m, (11,152′). I still had a whole lot of extra red blood cells kicking around in my system, since I had been to the Himalayas only 2 and a half months before. The altitude was tougher on Dave. In any case, it’s always wise to be cautious when arriving at elevation…. so we had a casual evening, wandering around town and then having dinner and a good sleep, before venturing out the next day.
Our hike the next day was up to the archeological site of Sacsayhuaman, Inca ruins on the hill above Cusco. It’s a 300 m climb up to Sacsayhuaman (which can translate to anything between a 15 minute walk to an hour’s walk, depending upon the person). That’s not huge, but it’s not insignficant when you are not yet acclimatized. It’s the perfect thing to do on your first day in Cusco, as you acclimatize: hiking up the hill at any easy pace.
I won’t go into all the details of Sacsayhuaman – I couldn’t do it justice without writing ten or more pages. Here’s a quick summary (and if you want more details you can head over to Wikipedia’s page on Sacsayhuaman). I find it one of the most impressive Inca sites (it was my third time visiting it, and I was no less impressed than the first time!).
The size of the andesite rocks that have been carted up there to make the walls, and the precision of their fit (no mortar or anything) is mind-boggling. Many of these stones weigh 100 tonnes or more, and it is still not known today exactly how the Incas were able to move them, then carve them and fit them together so precisely.
The site consists of a central plaza, where ceremonies could take place and, on its south side, a series of three gigantic walls (more like embankments, as they go up the slope). These walls are around 400 m long, and shaped like zig-zags – possibly representing lightning bolts.
On the north side of the plaza is a fabulous outcrop of a rock that even I, with my PhD in geology, can’t explain: a mound covered in striations (lines) that appear to result from fault movement, but strangely, they are on a curved surface (faults are usually very planar). It seems to be a sort of detachment fault (a sub-horizontal fault caused by crustal extension). I just did a quick Google search to see what the thinking is here, and found this paper about the Sacsayhuaman geology – this author believes that the rocks may have been partially molten as they moved, which makes sense with me. Anyway, those striations down the north face of the outcrop make perfect natural slides! There were lots of kids playing on them… big kids, too. (Dave).
Also, on the north side, are all sorts of other ruins and workings – a huge circular area that some consider to have been a reservoir (doesn’t make sense to me, looks more like an arena). Also cool carvings in the bedrock, including some tunnels.
The ruins at Sacsayhuaman are absolutely amazing, just mind-boggling for their scale and perfection. And those Incas sure knew how to build – those walls have withstood 500 years of earthquakes, and the don’t look like they are going anywhere soon! The complex here is completely different from Machu Picchu (partly because the remains of the towers and buildings are long gone, the stones were looted by the Spaniards to build the colonial city of Cusco). But especially for the scale of the stonework.
It’s almost a pity visiting Sacsayhuaman as your first stop on a trip to the Cusco region – because nothing else will match it for the scale. Anyway, we had a great day there, and a nice wander through town on our way back to our hostel. Then we went back to pack up, because the next day we would be leaving the hustle and bustle of Cusco, to head out to my favourite little Peruvian village, Ollantaytambo.