Photography: Peru 2006
In January 2006, I went to Cusco in Peru. I stayed there for three weeks, and then did a two-week tour of the country. Cusco is the ancient capital of the Inca empire. From a small mountain valley, the Inca Empire spread in only a few generations to cover much of present day Peru, Chile and Ecuador.
Sites around Cusco
The pre-Inca settlement of Pittycara is situated above the valley to the south of Cusco. The first view above is a ruined wall in Pittycara, and the second is the view of the main valley from just above the settlement. Despite an ingenious aquaduct designed to carry water to the town, the settlement probably died when the water supply failed.
The photo above shows Tipon in the Cusco valley, which was built by the greatest of the Inca Emperors, Pachacutek (literally "Turner of Worlds"). It is a site dedicated to the worship of water, and each of the levels is ringed by a remarkable series of irrigation ditches.
The site of Qenko is again a site centred around the worship of water and the mother Earth. Offerings would be placed in one of the trapezoidal windows ringing the site. Under the natural rock which forms the centrepiece of the site, there was once a spring which never ran dry. The site was destroyed by the Spanish during the conquest. In the photo above, the lovely July poses for her photo in front of the rock.
Pisac is the first of the great Sacred Valley sites. This site served multiple purposes, but was primarily dedicated to agriculture. The Incas used an elaborate system of terraces and irrigation to extend their agriculture up the steep hillsides. The cultivation of crops at different altitudes allowed them to produce an almost impossibly wide variety of products in a very localised space.
The first photo shows the incredible extent of the terracing system at Pisac, covering as it does a whole slope of the steep mountain. The second photo shows the top of the mountain, with the primary settlement (originally a pre-Inca town). The third photo is on the far side of the mountain, showing the sacred valley and the modern-day settlement of Pisac. July stands in the window of the temple building, giving some sense of the scale of the view. The last photo is the complex of the temple of the Sun at Pisac. July stands in the doorway of the temple.
Lake Titicaca is said by the locals to be the highest navigable lake in the world. While the precise definition of this claim is hard to pin down, it is quite shockingly high, some 3800 meters above sea level. After my stay in Cusco, I went to Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, then spent two days visiting the islands on the lake, both real and man-made.
The first two photos show the pier and the shore of Taquile island. The third shows the terraced farming, active since pre-Inca times, and still carried out according to ancient practices of irrigation and crop rotation little changed since the arrival of the Spanish. The locals still live by the old Inca traditions, which take the place of more modern government and law enforcement on the island.
The floating islands or Uros have also been on the lake since before the Spanish conquest. These islands consist of rafts made from the reeds that grow abundantly in the shallows and which are, curiously enough, edible. The techniques of construction of the islands, the huts and the boats have changed little over the years; although an understandably larger portion of their economic activity today comes from tourism, as opposed to traditional fishing and trading, they have retained much of their way of life, including their native language.
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
The city of Machu Picchu (discovered by Hieram Bingham in 1911 while searching for the last capital of the Inca Empire) is one of the best-preserved and most widely known examples of Inca architecture still in existence. Its justifiable fame comes from several facts. Firstly, the Spanish and the post-colonials never discovered its location, situated as it is at the summit of a hill in the high rainforest. Secondly it was abandoned intact, in the process of construction. Lastly, its location at the top of a natural saddle surrounded by the impressive Urubamba river gorge on three sides makes it one of the most stunning and unlikely locations of any city in the world.
The Incas built no fewer than eight roads to Machu Picchu. These roads were often paved with specially tailored stones, and carved across the faces of the steep mountains and through almost impenetrable jungle. In particular, the most famous of these trails is open to the public, and consists of a four day hike over the mountains to Machu Picchu. This route, passing as it does many Inca sites in its progress (both small watch posts and complete towns in these isolated valleys), is justifiably one of the most famous walks in the world.
Starting at 2700 meters in altitude, the first day's walking consists of a short and easy trek up to the first camp site. Itineraries differ depending on the allocation of places at the camp sites, but we walked until perhaps four O'clock (with a 1 hour stop for lunch on the way) to our campsite at 3350 meters above sea level. These two photos are of the hanging valley along which the trail proceeds before starting the climb towards the campsite and the infamous "Dead Woman's Pass"
The second day of the walk was by far the hardest. Consisting of 1300 meters of ascent and 1100 meters of descent in total, it would have been a hard itinerary at any altitude. The top of the Dead Woman's Pass, however, is some 4200 meters above sea level. The first two photos above show the view in opposite directions from the top of the dead woman's pass. After lunch, we headed up the next pass on the itinerary, which is at 3950 meters. On the way up, one finds the ruins of an ancient Inca watchtower. In the third photo above, the watchtower is in the foreground, with the Dead Woman's Pass visible behind.
Our camp on the second night, from where the above shot was taken, was in the cloud forest. When the prevailing easterly wind, after crossing the Amazon basin, hits the high Andes, the moisture it contains condenses to form almost permanent fog, and frequent rain. Much of the vegetation here is adapted to get its moisture directly from these clouds, hence the term "cloud forest". At dawn, as the sun begins to warm the forest, the first clouds of the day are just starting to form in the valleys.
The last day of the Inca trail consists of a short walk to Machu Picchu, which one hopes to manage before the sun hits the site and the clouds condense. Under normal circumstances, at the beginning of February, the entire region suffers from very heavy and sustained rain for the entire month. I can only say that we were lucky in having almost perfect weather for the entire trail, and for our arrival at Machu Picchu.
The city of Machu Picchu is one of the most recognisable and most photographed sites in the world. I couldn't resist jumping on the bandwagon myself.
In the event, we had a perfect day. One guide I heard said to his group that it was a 99.9% impossibility that weather like we had could happen at this time of year. Nevertheless... Later on, some of us decided to climb the impossibly steep trail up Waynapicchu (the mountain behind Machu Picchu in the photos), to see the Inca site perched precariously atop this moutain.
Before leaving Peru for good, we had a couple of days in the Amazon rainforest. Although I had a hard time of it with the heat and humidity (neither of which I appreciate), I was able to get some photos before leaving.
The first photo shows the an Oxbow lake. The second two were taken on the river at sunrise.