Growing Up, I looked at the Incan empire with obsessive eyes, trying to decipher the language, Quechua, and the local culture as if I was one of the many European explorers that I later grew to loathe. In retrospect, it was probably the colors of the Quechuan culture that really attracted me. I don’t remember much of what I actually learned. I just remember having the Cuzco flag above my bed, next to a picture of Machu Picchu and some Andean child affectingly kissing a sheep.
However, far from solely being attracted to its colors, the significance of Peru grew on me as I started approaching the philosophy of Egalitarianism that would later shape my political and social worldviews. I considered Peru, with all the symbolism involved, as being one of the places where many cultures, notably the Incas, were almost completely eradicated by another culture, that of the Conquistadors. I speak not simply of the historical fact, but also of the symbolic interpretation of that fact, and what it meant to Today’s World.
It would seem odd at first that anything less than utter condemnation isn’t the prevalent view on the traditional Native vs Non-Native conflicts debate. That justifications such as ‘The White Man’s Burden” and its neo-forms were actually taken seriously was beyond me. The positions taken by Mark Train, Carnegie and other members of the American Anti-Imperialism League against Kipling’s support of the 1899 Annexation and Invasion of the Philippines were self-evident to me. That was all mere sentimentalism on my part and it was only later that I replaced it with reason.
My position that all men are equal never changed; it was just later backed by sound arguments and my own personal experiences. In fact, I would now consider it a fallacy to say that all men are equal. They matter of factually are not. Many men are born into an inferior position, others into a superior position. It is more accurate to say that all men are not equal, that all men should be equal. Saying and believing that all men are equal might bring a satisfaction that ought not to exist. What ought to exist is the reality that one wants present in one’s mind as one understands the mechanisms that would make it real. In this case, it remained important for me to maintain that all men should be equal and that the inherent injustices that come with today’s more and more interconnected systems have to be analyzed, and then, perhaps, abolished for good.
It is important for me to stress on the fact that I do not regard Peru or its ancient empire in any idealized way whatsoever. the Incan empire was as far from being an Egalitarian society as the empire that brought it to its murdered knees. I make no illusions for myself and I do not side with the few, and yet too many, idealists from the Far Left that would not be satisfied in siding with the oppressed people in the name of justice, that would instead idealize the tortured Man and bring Him to a level he never occupied. Needless to say, I do not side either with those of the Far Right who would whitewash and glorify murder in an all too obvious fashion. What I’m trying to do is to see as many worlds as I can as best I can, partly for the sake of it, and partly for what I learn from it.
Going to Peru, it feels like the weight of what I have learned and discovered on the subject of cross-cultural exchange (and conflict) is slowly leaving its impact on me. I’ll find, as I would in many other places of the World, people that would look ‘weird’ and others that would look ‘normal’. The difference would most likely depend on the socioeconomic status of the individual and his/her familiarity with the things we take for granted (notably technology-related).
Last year’s experience in Madagascar only brought me closer to Man and further away from the differences that separated us from each other. They felt petty and I since grew weary of them. That I was to get close to Kristiny and Sasa when the only Malagasy I ever met were, by law, inferior to me broke the Class Barrier and brought the subsequent disgust towards the system that I now feel. That all men should be equal is no longer a question I ask myself but a solid moral fact, a foundation I now use to step on and continue. Wherever that leads to, so be it. I accept it and reject everything below it.
In an odd way, I’m taking Madagascar with me to Peru. That would explain why I’m writing so much before even going there. Madagascar, it seems, will always be the catalyst that set off this uncontrollable thirst for discovering that which in many cases seems to hide on purpose.
Peru is what it is and my childhood would have to be put aside if I am to make the most of it. I’ve read enough on the Old and Modern Peru to expect the same miseries and joys I see everywhere, albeit perhaps to different extents. The challenge now is not to expect but to experience and see. Unlike Madagascar, I prepared a more or less organized plan as to the places I want to visit and typed it below for traveling lovers.
Note that the information was stolen from Lonely Planet (mostly) and Wikipedia, though I added a few things as well.
What I’m going to do there:
Lima. 12th of August.
First, I arrive on the 12th of September in Lima, 3:50 PM local time (11:50 PM Lebanese Time) and I have to wait there for my flight to Cuzco which is on the 13th at 10:20 AM local time (6:20 PM Lebanese Time). I’ll sleep in a hotel.
Cuzco and around Cuzco. 13th of August to 15th of August, 18th to 20th of August, 15th to 20th of September.
Museums, Cathedrals and Exhibitions:
La Catedral, Plaza de Armas: Started in 1559, this church was built on the site of Viracocha Inca’s palace using blocks from Sacsaywamán. It contains Cuzco’s oldest surviving painting, 1650, depicting the entire city during the great earthquake of that same year. Next to it is Iglesia del Triunfo, Cuzco’s oldest church, 1536. It contains the remains of the famous Inca chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega.
Iglesia de la compañia de Jesús, Plaza de Armas: this church was built on the palace of Huyana Cápac, the last Inca to rule an undivided, unconquered empire. It was built by the Jesuits in 1571 and rebuilt after the earthquake in 1650.
Museo Irq’i Yachay*, Teatro 344: this exhibition shows art and textile from local children. It is the product of a great NGO’s work to ‘give opportunities for cognitive development to kids in remote communities’.
Museo Histórico Regional*, Calle Garcilaso at Heladeros: housed in the house of Garcilaso de la Vega himself, it shows a chronologically arranged collection from the Preceramic Period up to the Wari, Pukara and Inca culture. It also has a Nazca mummy.
Museo de Arte Precolombino*, Plazoleta Nazarenas 231: showing artifacts dating from 1250 BC to 1532 AD, that’s about 2,782 years of history in one place.
Museo Inka*, Tucuman at Ataud: “best museum in town for those interested in the Inca”. The museum rests on Inca foundations and contains metalwork, goldwork, jewelry, pottery, textiles, mummies, models and the world’s largest collection of queros (Andean drinking vessels)
Museo de Arte Religioso, cnr Hatunrumiyoc & Herrajes: Originally the palace of Inca Roca, it was converted into a colonial residence. It is notable for showing the interactions between the indigenous peoples and the Spanish conquistadors.
Museo de Arte Popular, Av El Sol 103: Mainly going there for the display of photographs by Martin Chambi from the 1900s to the 1950s.
Ruins and Historical Sites
Qorikancha, Plazoleta Santo Domingo: Once the richest temple in the Inca empire, all that remains today is the masterful stonework. Quechua for “Golden Courtyard”, this temple was dedicated to Inti, the Incan Sun God and was literally covered with gold. The temple walls were lined with some 700 solid-gold, each weighing about 2kg. When the Spanish required the Inca to raise a ransom in gold for the life of the leader Atahualpa, most of the gold was collected from Coricancha and everything was then taken by the Conquistadors. More
Museo Del Sitio De Qorikancha, Plazoleta Santo Domingo: Underground museum located next to Qorikancha. It houses archeological displays interpreting Inca and pre-Inca cultures.
Sacsaywamán. It means ‘Satisfied Falcon’ in Quechua but most tourists would read it as ‘Sexy Woman’. Probably the most famous site around Cuzco after Machu Picchu, this walled complex is only 20% of what it originally was before the Spanish conquest. The conquistadors used many of its walls to build their own houses in Cuzco. It was used as a base by Manco Inca to fight the Conquistadors in Cuzco in 1536. It is said that Manco Inca almost succeeded in defeating Pizarro’s army but the latter’s superior weapons prevailed as well as the germs that came with them from the Old World (notably smallpox).
Q’enqo. It means Zigzag in Quechua. It is a large limestone rock riddles with niches, steps and extraordinary symbolic carvings, including the zigzaging channels that probably gave the site its name. No one knows what Q’enqo was used for though speculations suggest channels used for the ritual sacrifice of chicha (local corn beer) or llama blood.
Pukapukara. It means ‘Red Fort’ in Quechua for its pinkish-looking rocks. It was probably a hunting lodge, a guard post and a stopping point for travelers.
Tambomachay. Popularly known as el Baño del Inca (The Bath of the Inca), It consists of a series of aqueducts, canals a
nd waterfalls that run through the terraced rocks. The function of the site is uncertain: it may have served as a military outpost guarding the approaches to Cusco, as a spa resort for the Incan political elite, or both.
Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu: 16th and 17th of August
Aguas Calientes is a town on the Urbamba River and the closest access point to Machu Picchu (6km away). I’ll be sleeping there and leaving early next morning for Machu Picchu.
Probably the highlight of my visits there, Machu Picchu is simply a childhood dream. It is a 15th century Incan site located 2,430 meters above sea level. It is situated above the Urubamba valley, about 80 km North-West of Cuzco and through which the Urubamba river flows. It is by far the most famous icon of the Inca World and one of the most famous, if not the most famous, site of Latin America. The Incas started building it around 1400 and mysteriously abandoned it less than two hundred years later. Its beautifully preserved infrastructures may be attributed to the fact that it was unknown by the Spanish during the conquest. It’s three primary structures are Intihuatana (Hitching post of the Sun), the Temple of the Sun (Tintin fans might know this one) and the Room of the Three Windows.
The sad thing is that this jewel of the Ancient World is threatened by tourists like me. Needless to say that I intend on being as respectful as humanly possible but the problem remains the growing number of tourists visiting Machu Picchu. The local Quechuan people always knew of its existence but the outside world found out about it 101 years ago with Hiram Bingham’s ‘discovery’ – even though evidence of a German getting there 50 years earlier was later put forward. Since then it was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and was voted one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 in a worldwide internet poll. An example of the threats I was talking about can be represented by the infamous Yale controversy. Bingham took thousands of excavated treasures from Machu Picchu to Yale —ceramic vessels, silver statues, jewelry, and human bones – in 1914, supposedly for 18 months to study them. But Yale kept them and refused to return them. It was only in November 2010 that Yale accepted to return them to Peru.
Huayna Picchu or Wayna Picchu, “Young Peak” is a mountain about 360m above Machu Picchu at 2,720m. The number of daily visitors to Huayna Picchu is restricted to 400, which is a good thing. Highlights of this Trek are the Temple of the Moon and the breath-taking panoramic view you get a the top.
Sacred Valley, Chinchero: 20th of August to 3rd of September
I’ll be staying in a small village about 30 min drive from Chinchero village in the Sacred Valley and about 1.5 hours drive from Cuzco. The village has a population of just 60 people who are kind enough to host me for two weeks. Their native language is Quechua and Spanish is spoken as a second language. I’ve been in love with Quechua since I was eleven so you can imagine my excitement. I don’t speak it, I just memorized some handy words and sentences (Hello, How Are you? Where can I? etc. ) but they all speak Spanish so language won’t be a problem. What I’ll be doing there is basically learning as much as possible and helping in any way I can in whatever field they want me to help. I’ll participate in planting, harvesting, storing and transporting crops such as Quinoa and Potatoes, help in construction work (if needed), learn the traditional weaving skills that the women turn into textile products to sell at local markets and help out in the local school (if needed). I’m expected to take part in local festivities and community gatherings, assuming there are any during my stay, so this should be an amazing experience. Week-ends are off so I’ll be vising the region as much as possible.
Amazon Rainforest: 3rd to 15th of September
I’ll be working in a conservation project outside of the Cuzco area. I’ll be based in Cuzco, the Sacred Valley or in the surrounding Jungle. There, I’ll be working depending on the current needs of the project. The two primary work areas are reforestation and wildlife inventories. Working in reforestation includes planting trees, shrubs and orchids as well as removing non-native and invasive species of bamboo. Wildlife inventories include observing and counting various species of birds and primates. Week-ends are off as well so I’ll be visiting the region as much as possible.
Before traveling, I forced myself to read quite a lot of books. The list:
Bold = taking it with me
History of the Conquest of Peru by William Hickling Prescott (extracts)
The Last Days of the Inca by Kim McQuarrie
Lonely Planet: Peru (I tore off the Cuzco part and taking it with me)
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
The Incas: New Perspectives by Gordon Francis McEwan (extracts)
The Conquest of the Incas by John Hemming
Lost City of the Incas by Hiram Bingham (extracts)
The Bang-Bang Club by Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow
An Inca Account of the Conquest of Peru by Titu Cusi Yupanqui and Ralph Bauer
The Royal Commentaries of the Incas and General History of Peru by GarciLaso De la Vega (extracts)
Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent by Eduardo Galeano
The Ancient Civilizations of Peru by J. Alden Mason (extracts)
Diarios de Motocicleta (The Motorcycle Diaries) by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
Con El Che Por Sudamerica (Traveling With Che Guevara) by Alberto Granado (extracts)
How To Change The World by Eric Hobsbawm
Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
Collected Poems and Prose by Harold Pinter
Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Twenty love poems and song of despair) by Pablo Neruda
The Complete Poetry by Cesar Vallejo
The Collected Poems by Frederico Garcia Lorca
And this is what I’m taking with me:
- An old notebook with lots of pencils
– Nixon D5100 camera + 3 lenses (SIGMA DC 18-200 mm 1:3.5-6.3, AF-S NIKKOR 55-200 mm 1:4-5.6G ED, AF-S NIKKOR 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6G) + 3 batteries
– 1 bandana
– Contact lenses and a pair of glasses
– 1TB Hard disk
– Tiny laptop (mainly to put photos on the Hard Disk)
– iPod and cell phone
– First-aid kit with medicines
– Swiss Knife
– Tiny mirror
– Hygiene-related stuff
– Passport and official crap
I will probably isolate myself from my world and try to adapt in the new one – another Malagasy effect; I still remember literally forgetting Lebanon and everything about it for about two weeks. By far, the oddest experience I’ve lived so far. So here’s to Peru being another Madagascar.