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Powerful Learning Tools Discovered at the Ruins

map of the incan empire
At the height of their power, the Incas controlled a vast territory that encompassed extremely rugged terrain and disparate climates. The territory was inhabited by more than six million people. Those lands were home to people from dozens of different ethnic groups who spoke numerous languages. Incan architecture is famous for its finely crafted stones, and the highest concentration of high quality Inca stone work is in and around Cuzco. I got to see four of these sites in one morning (thanks to the speed of my horse) and I found that they are all different from one another. The Inca developed an advanced system of keeping track of the sun's movement and they built impressive structures to serve the sun and monitor its activity.

map of the ruins around and in Cuzco
From afar, the ruin of Quenko looks like one large limestone rock, but it is really much more. I would not have been able to appreciate it had it not been for my very knowledgeable guide Alexander, who was only twelve years old! He explained everything to us in Spanish and fortunately he spoke clearly and slowly - one of the reasons I enjoy talking to kids in Spanish. As we walked around the great rock structure, we slipped into a narrow, cold and barely lit tunnel. The tunnel led deep into the center of the temple, where we began to see clearly a great stone platform that was used for offerings to the sun. Overlooking the platform was a hole in the rock that allowed the sunlight to enter from above. As we exited the other end of the tunnel, we noticed a series of small, irregularly shaped footholds ascending up the face of the rock, much like naturally formed steps. As we climbed, we saw many shapes carved into the rock, some of them resembling important animals, such as the condor, llama, or the puma. At the very top, there was what looked like a meaningless formation of stone with two round knobs protruding from the top of a rounded base. However, for the Inca, this had an important significance, since only they knew how the sun would hit the temple during the beginning of the new solar year. This date in the Southern Hemisphere, the winter solstice of June 21, would bring about the awakening of the puma. As the sun hit the rock formation, a shadow, distinctly that of a puma's face, would clearly project down onto the surface of the temple.

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Do you think I can make this corridor at the Temple of the Moon just a little wider?
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Don't look at me - look closely at the beautiful stonework of Puca Pucara!
The second ruin we visited was called the Temple of the Moon. Like Quenko, it was made out of a huge rock. It was lesser-known, even though it was larger than Quenko. It has a corridor that cuts right through the center of the rock and is, at times, very narrow. As we left the tunnel we again climbed up the face of the rock only to discover another tunnel, that was only about twelve-feet long because it was never finished before the Spanish arrived. Although it was much harder to climb to the top of the temple because it was so steep, we could see for miles around once we did.

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Here I am striking a pose in front of Tambo Machay and its ceremonial bath.
The next ruin we saw was named Puca Pucara (red fort). It rests on a large hill overlooking the valley and it really does resemble a small fort. The stonework of the Inca walls is polygonal. Somehow they're cut in such a way that they all fit together to form a solid wall. Between the walls are small grass lots that were once enclosed quarters with stone doorways leading to the next quarter. As I stood in one of these doorways I kept wondering what it must have been like to walk through this doorway 500 years ago, covered by a roof and surrounded by the continent's strongest military forces. The Incas used two methods to subjugate the people of these lands. The first was military conquest, facilitated by their army, which was composed of thousands of people from different provinces. The second tactic was diplomacy, in which the Incas offered the elite of the region the choice of submitting peacefully to the commands of Cuzco, and thus gaining favor and prestige. Of course, the diplomatic option was always backed by the threat of armed conquest.

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Little Helena is very proud of this photo with her new friend!
The last of the four ruins we visited, Tambo Machay, was my favorite. It was just down the road from Puca Pucara and it is famous for its ceremonial bath, which still has running water. The water is cold and very clean. It runs out of the hill that the site is built on, falling from a series of spouts into various pools as it makes its descent towards the base of the ruin. Steep steps lead to the top of the ruin. On the mountainsides in many regions, the Inca built elaborate terraces to increase food production.

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Taking a little rest on the Temple of the Moon
Wandering around with me at Tambo Machay was a little six-year-old campesinita (farm girl). She was too shy to tell me her name at first but she seemed very interested in the fact that I was taking pictures. She wouldn't stop looking at me until I had a photo taken of the two of us. After that, she told me her name was Helena. She lives with her mother and her older brother just behind the ruin of Tambo Machay, and she comes to the site because it is as familiar and comfortable to her as her own home. No doubt her ancestors would have wanted it that way.


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