My dream, as a child
As a child I used to get myself lost in the world of TinTin Comics. Wide eyed, I would follow his globetrotting adventures.
The one that particularly caught my imagination was his Andean sojourn. The picture of TinTin trudging along the cobbled streets of Cusco, along with his dog Snowy was etched onto my mind. I dreamed, perhaps one day I would wander in those streets; but childhood dreams are soon forgotten, as you grow up to face the challenges and pressures of the adult world.
The Final push
My dreams were rekindled again, when I watched the movie "Motorcycle Diaries" a few years back. The film is about Che Guevara's epic journey across Latin America on his motorbike, and how it changed his life's course from a fun loving medical student to a gun wielding guerrilla. The movie pans across the Andes, facets of Andean life and the simplicity of it's people. Work pressures caught up with me and I forgot all about Latin America It was not until, Dr.Rob came to work with me, I started brooding over South America, again. He had been to Peru three times, and had even done his electives in Cusco General Hospital. Rob told me that it was a life changing experience, and he even recommended a shot of "Pisco Sour" at Jack's Bar in Cusco. Rob gave me the final push. I was now determined to make my dream come true !!
A long 14 hour journey took us from Manchester to Sao Paulo; Brazil's biggest city and its commercial capital. We boarded the 6 hour flight from Sao Paulo to Lima. The flight across the South American Continent from it's east to west coast offers stunning views of nature. When I had the first glimpse of Pacific Ocean from the airplane window, I knew that we will be soon landing in Lima.
Rome of the South
Lima's colonial Spanish past has earned it the nick name “Rome of the South”. The splendid Spanish and French styled colonial buildings held their heads in pride in the center of Lima , the notables of which are Plaza De Armas, San Francisco Church , the Arch Bishop's Palace & Presidential palace. A guided tour of San Francisco Cathedral is like a journey back in history. The Spanish conquest, followed by inquisition, defeat of native Indians, the missionary zeal of Franciscan missionaries and their religious domination over the Incas, were all resurrected back from the past. Surprisingly there are signs of Moorish (Islamic) influence inside the cathedral like the Moorish style balconies, and the dome shaped roofs. It was evident that the Arabs were in Lima before the Spanish. The cathedral tour takes you to the underground catacombs, where the bones of the dead are displayed in artistic designs.
Night life in Lima is colorful. Our hotel was located in the posh Miraflores locality, which is surrounded by Shopping malls (Lacomar), and the famous Parque Kennedy. Kennedy Park comes alive in night with it's illuminated fountains, market fairs, street vendors, performing musicians, and casinos. We ended the day with a glass of "Pisco Sour " (Grape brandy cocktail).
The next day we took the flight to Cusco. It took us about an hour and a half to get to Cusco. Most of the flight was over the majestically poised Andean mountains. You wouldn’t see the runway, till a small landing strip - the size of a cricket pitch appears right in the center of the mountains! Most of the people on landing Cusco will suffer from Mountain sickness. We explored most of Cusco on feet, and I walked along those cobbled streets and felt again like a 12 year old boy.
The History behind
In Cusco town you have a square court - Plaze de Armas and also the statue of Inca warrior king, Pachacuteq. No visit to Cusco is complete without going uphill (we took a taxi) to see the magnificent Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman(pronounced as "sexy woman") which were the guarding city walls of the great Incan empire, the mightiest in the American Continents. The empire was founded by Manco Capac, saw the pinnacle of its glory in 1438 with the ascension of Pachacuteq to the throne and then began the onset of their great expansion. This continued till the time of Huayana Capac, Pachacuteq's grandson. Before he died Huayana Capac divided his kingdom between his warring sons - Atahualpa and Huscar. After his death, the sons kept fighting resulting in a civil war. The colonial Spaniards were now waiting for their opportunity to strike. Atahualpa’s forces finally succeeded in subduing Huscar. By this time, Francisco Pizarro with just 2 dozen Spanish soldiers massacred thousands of Incas and captured Atahualpa. Pizarro was now in control of the Incan empire. Atahualpa was now taken prisoner, and was promised freedom, if he could fill the famous ransom room of Cajamarca with gold. Caravans over laden with the precious metal arrived from the Incan world and within 6 months the room was filled. Pizarro brought Atahualpa, to trial in July 1523, a mockery of justice in which he was given a "free choice";- to be burned alive as a Pagan or strangled to death as a Christian! They baptized him and then killed him by strangulation! (Reference - Dilwyn Jenkins - Peru)
Amber glow of the sunrise
A beautiful morning in Cusco, we were woken up by the cooing of the roosters. Steaming pancakes served with maple syrup for breakfast. Exotic fruits of the jungle like Granadilla and Durazno were also served along with the freshly whipped up Lucuma (egg fruit) milk shake. Our guide came in his 7 seater to drive us to Ollantaytambo - a valley town at the basin of Urubamba river. Apparently there has been a landslide and part of the railway track from Cusco to Machu Picchu was closed. So after our driver dropped us at Ollantaytambo station, we boarded a rail - replacement bus, which to our amazement drove over the train tracks till we reached Km82. From KM82 we took the legendary "Vistadome" train with its glass domed roof and large viewing windows. The train snuggled along the course of the Urubamba river. The vegetation gets more greener as you head towards Machu Picchu.You will see wild orchids with pink & yellow flowers growing atop the sprawling jungle trees. Arriving in Machu Picchu town, we were soon transferred to our hotel. The small tourist town has sprawling shops selling souvenirs, Alpaca wool goods and Inca Silver jewelry. We heard Hindi Songs played in a Peruvian restaurant. Amitab Bachan & Sharukh Khan are icons in this part of the world!
The evening rays
In the evening, we met up with our guide- Francisco to plan the next day's trek to Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. As my wife was still reeling under mountain sickness, we decided to do the last leg of the trek from the dense jungles of Winay Wayna.The trek was exhilarating and we reached the ruins in the morning around 10:00 am when crowds were just building up. Francisco took us around the ruins and explained the significance of Inca sites. Ancient Incas worshiped the sun(Inthi) and earth (Pachamama) and gave offerings. The circular style of architecture of the sun temple is reminiscent of our own Konark temple.The beautifully manicured agricultural terraces on one side and the well planned urban terraces on the other side are marvels of ancient civil engineering & town planning. There were beautifully designed water channels to serve for cooking, ablutions and farming. Incas kept their time and yearly calendar with the help of the "Sun Disc". The east facing sun disc has a pillar like protrusion, which the Incas symbolized as a "Hitching Post " to tie the sun, as they thought that the sun went away at night !You will end your tour at the Condor Temple and burial chambers.
The Spanish conquest liquidated the Inca's ancient culture, their religion and celebrations. Our Mestizo (Spanish- Inca mixed breed) guide Francisco, who was proud of his Inca roots, opened his heart about the raw deal meted out to the natives by the Spaniards and the missionaries. Francisco dreamed of the return of the glory of Incas one day. We spent the evening watching the traditional "Huayna” masked dances to the accompaniment of soul stirring Andean music.
We flew back to Lima the next day, spent our time shopping for souvenirs, before heading back home. We ended our Peruvian sojourn with firm hopes of returning back to the Andes, again in the future.
By Dr. M.S. Jayasekhar MS, MCh, FRCS
Consultant Plastic Surgeon,
Suvarna Aesthetics, Sasthamangalam, Trivandrum-10