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Latin America Kevin Dispatch


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Temple O' Temple! Make Our Garden Grow!

Normally when you use something that's not yours you must first ask permission. But what if you want to use something that doesn't belong to a person or company, but to something far greater? What if you want to make use of land, water, sun, and air? According to the Inca way of thinking, you had better seek permission, and always remember to offer something in return!

Just north of Cuzco, the Inca capital, lies a valley rich with natural resources. The fertile earth allows for harvesting of everything from potatoes, corn, squash, cherries, apples, to oranges. The Urubamba River runs through this valley and is also abundant with salmon and trout. Since the Inca considered the blessing of natural wealth in resources very sacred, they referred to this place as the Sacred Valley. The capital of this valley is Urubamba, and only ten miles away is the amazing village of Ollantaytambo, a place that is truly worthy of honor in this gorgeous valley.

If you were to ask a shaman from the Sacred Valley about the value of today's technology (cameras, TV, video etc.), he would probably answer in the following way: "If an item of technology is made with care and to last a long time, then it too has a spiritual element to it. If not, then it only contributes to commercialism and consumerism and is therefore worth nothing spiritually speaking."
In the time of the Incan Empire, Ollantaytambo was the site of a lively market place where traders would exchange goods, coming from all over the valley. These goods included: crops, livestock, medicinal plants, growing in abundance, close to Macchu Pichu, and valuable shells from the sea. Several salt mines existed in the area and were widely exploited because salt was used to preserve meat during the warmer seasons. Gold was also traded, but not for its monetary value; it was valued instead for its mythical importance. An interesting legend considers liquid gold to be the product of the Earth's first menstrual period and, therefore, a symbol of life in the natural world.

Steps leading to the top of the temple. Hey! Where's the elevator?
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Ollantaytambo was originally used as an Inca temple, which today allows us to learn about Inca religion and philosophy. As I climbed up to the top, I passed numerous terraces as well as living quarters built from small rocks for shamans found on the mountain. The temple on top of Ollantaytambo was built to bring harmony between all elements of nature. It is a large structure made of six gigantic stone parts divided by thin stone slabs, perhaps used only for decoration. However, the nearest place the Inca could obtain red granite was from the top of another mountain called Kichikata, located two miles away on the other side of the valley and the Urubamba river. Initially the rocks were cut but not finished. This was often dangerous work, and there are many tombs honoring those that died at the quarry. The Inca then built a series of ramps in a zigzag formation down the side of Kichikata to transport the rocks down to the river. When this, too, caused many deaths, the rocks were usually left next to the ramps in honor of the dead workers. Ironically, the Inca, in acknowledgment of removing these rocks in the first place, built yet another temple on top of Kichikata. Then, when faced with crossing the river, the Inca discovered that the many small stones in the water made the water shallow and algae made them slippery. Today, it is still possible to see the single long ramp leading up the backside of Ollantaytambo used to drag the boulders, some weighing over 20 tons, up to the top of the mountain.

Kevin shows off his cool shades, and a cool tool of the Inca: hematite.
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At the top of Ollantaytambo, workers shaped and carved the rocks to fit perfectly together using common tools, mainly hand-held pieces of hematite, strong enough to do the job. Some of the rocks were even smoothed out using sand. All of this stone work took years to carve, but the daily work of these people, who were not dependent on earning a salary or worried about time, made it possible. When the Spanish asked the Inca how long it took for them to complete this work, they rarely got straight answers because the people simply never kept track of the time. I have wondered why the Inca insisted on going to such great lengths to create magnificent structures in the most difficult places. The Inca would probably have explained that, "If nature works so hard to give us everything we need, then why should we not work hard in return?"

Another principle guiding Inca engineering is that, "Technology without spirituality is worthless." As I stared at one of the walls of the temple I noticed that large sturdy polygonal rocks were utilized. The wall itself leans into the mountain, and the other walls lean into each other. The doorways are trapezoidal, as are the little niches in the wall, where small offerings were made to the gods. All of these factors were designed to make the temple resistant to earthquakes and to last for a very long time. That was the technology employed.

The Inca worshiped the power and beauty of nature.
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An Inca legend tells of a great puma, living on the top of the mountains, who drinks a special water and then transforms into a flying birdlike creature, still with a puma body but with the tail of a serpent. As the creature flies, it shakes its tail in the sky, creating both thunder and lightening which bring rain and fertility to the valley below. And so, when I look again at the wall (with the help of my guide Juan Carlos), even I can clearly see the form of this creature in the shape of the rocks within the wall. I see his head, legs, feet, body, and his great tail, so even the technology is mixed with spiritual symbols. The Inca observed that nature works in cycles. For example, rain falls on the mountain, water flows down the river, emptying into a lake, evaporating into the sky, and the clouds again rain on the mountain. They also speculated that time was also cyclical and that led them to believe strongly in reincarnation. People who died were often buried in the fetal position, ready to enter the world again. The feet of their mummies were adorned with the same shells once traded at the Ollantaytambo market. The Inca believed in three separate worlds: the world above, below, and the one we now live in. When someone died, it was believed that the condor carried the person's soul on its back to the next world. Geometric symbols representing the three worlds are carved into the temple rock.

The Inca believed that gods existed in everything--even in frogs!
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Spirituality was a driving force for many great creations of the Inca. They believed that they were set on Earth to care for the creation of the creator, and nothing more. They saw God existing within everything; themselves, the mountains, water, animals. This is why they sought to care for all. When the Spanish penetrated the Inca Empire, they were surprised to find little in the way of poverty. Although there was a distinction between the nobility and those under their rule, nearly everyone had food, clothes, and shoes. Few people lived on the streets, a noticeable difference in comparison to Spain at the time. The distribution of the "wealth" (mostly food and textiles), ensuring a happy society, was a high priority for the Inca. Prosperous people were more readily available for work, and above all they were free to invest in their own spirituality, observing natural laws, and seeking answers to questions about their own existence.

Even today, many people of the Sacred Valley come to Ollantaytambo to use it for its original purpose-as a temple, celebrating the gifts of the natural world around them. They usually wait until the tourists have left. Before leaving, I found myself caught at the top of Ollantaytambo in a very heavy rainstorm. Although my camera and clothes were wet, I suddenly realized that all of the fields around me were now soaking wet. These fields of the Sacred Valley could now continue to provide us with the same prosperity the Inca enjoyed hundreds of years ago.

Kevin

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