After months of planning and several hours of travelling we finally arrive in Peru. Our first destination is Cusco, the capital of the Inca empire and a colonial treasure. The mixture of cultures is everywhere, from the Inca stones used as bases in the houses to the Churches, richly decorated with both European and indigenous traits. Cusco, situated at 3400 meters above sea level, made us all gasp a bit for air but walking slowly and stopping at the many sites made it so much easier. We split up in our four groups: Quilla, Wirachocha, Pacha Mama and Inti, and walked around the city with our guides, who shared their knowledge with us. Our students demonstrated their knowledge about the history of the Incas by participating and asking interesting questions to get to learn more.
First day of real research! Waking up early to have breakfast and then heading out in our groups to visit several sites, we got a chance to get to learn more about the history of Cusco, both from an Inca perspective but also considering the colonial heritage so visible in Cusco. Some of the places we visited were Qoricancha, Museo del Inca, and San Blas. While walking from one site to another we took advantage of every moment to soak in as much information as possible, as our guides explained the history of the streets, buildings and events that had occurred in the different places. Our groups met up at a restaurant to get some well deserved break and recover our energy. The afternoon was spent learning more about the culture, while visiting a typical market in Cusco. Once again students demonstrated their engagement by actively completing information that the guide shared or by asking relevant questions related to their research projects.
Today is the day when we leave Cusco and will visit different sites as we take advantage of every moment. Our final destination is Ollantaytambo but as we drive through the Peruvian Andes we stop at several sites, including Saqsayhuaman, Chinchero and Moray. In Saqsayhuaman we learned about how the sacred huacas of the Incas were replaced by churches, during the Spanish colonization. Huge rocks were transported from this sacred site in order to construct the churches. Today, only about 10-15% remain of the original monuments. Saqsayhuaman took about 50 years to construct and the rocks were quarried in a mine located about 25 km from the site. Rocks up to 50 kilos were carried by one person while rocks between 51-100 kilos were carried by two people. Some of the stones at this site weigh as much as 120 tons. We also got to learn about the spirituality and the three dimensions of existence that the Incas believed in. Uru Pacha is the infra world represented by the amaru, or the snake. The next dimension is the Cai Pacha, our world, which is represented by the puma, believed to be adaptable, posses courage and power. Finally, the Hanan Pacha represents the world beyond this one, comparable to heaven. This dimension is represented by the condor, which was believed to be able to communicate with the gods, as it could fly up to 7000 m up in the sky. The Incas did not believe in a beginning or an end, but that all the existence is a cycle. We also visited Quenco, a labyrinth which is believed to have been a sanctuary and sacred place for the Incas. here religious ceremonies were carried out, as well as mummification procedures. The muña, a medicinal herb was used during to mummify bodies, along with our plants, such as seeds from the zapallo. We also visited a textile production site in Chinchero, where we observed the process of coloring wool using several different natural ingredients. Perhaps what most impressed us was how the color red was extracted from lice that inhabit the cactus plant. By crushing the lice a deep red color is obtained. If mixed with lemon it becomes orange. This red color was also used as lipstick. Moray, the final stop of the day, was an impressive agricultural laboratory, created by the Incas to experiment with different altitudes and temperatures in order to determine where plants would develop best. There can be a difference up to 15 degrees Celsius between the different levels. Rocks absorbed heat during daytime to release it during night time. By creating terraces the Incas gained up to 200% more land where to plant their crops.