Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Peru: Qorikancha (Santo Domingo monastery), Cusco; Saqsaywaman; Q'enqo; Puka Pukara; Tambomachay

Qorikancha (Santo Domingo monastery);
At 2:30, our tour guide came to pick us up. She took us right next door to see the Coricancha which is an Incan temple built in the 1200’s. It was covered in gold (then not now or I’m sure people would be chiseling off pieces to take home. There were small temples of the Rainbow, Thunder and Stars as well as the sun temple. The way the temples were constructed, was quite unique. The rocks are cut in a trapezoid manner and are all interlocking from the inside and the angle of the inside walls are about 7-14o so that they are earthquake resistant. There were several different kinds of rocks used but the guide was not certain how the rocks were cut. Some of them weighed about 20 tons.
Interlocking stone
The Spanish conquistadors came in the 1500’s and almost completely destroyed anything that reminded them of the Incas. They ended up removing all the gold and built a church (Santo Domingo) on top of the Incan temples. The sun temple was built and used precisely by astrological movements of the sun, moon, stars, etc.

In the monastery, you can see the first floor is Incan architecture and the second floor is colonial architecture. In fact most of the buildings in Cusco are built that way. The bottom part is giant stones in an Incan style and the top part is colonial from the Spanish when they conquered the Incas and attempted to erase a whole culture. This sounds very familiar – the colonizers attempting the erase the culture of the colonized. Apparently in the Qoricancha temple alone, there were 22 tons of gold which covered the interior walls.
QoriKancha (Santo Domingo monastery)
The Claro cell network was down so our guide had no way to communicate to the bus driver so we had to wait for about 30 minutes until she could go to a store and get a message to him. Then off we went to Saqsaywaman which was about 15-20 minutes away from Cusco.  
Saqsaywaman (Contented Falcon);

In case you have difficulty pronouncing or even remembering the name of the site, some people say it sounds like “Sexy Woman” (Saq-say-woman). The English translation is in bracket. For those who come all the way to Cusco and cannot make it to Machu Picchu, this is supposed to be a close second. I have not yet gone to MP but from pictures I’ve seen when I was researching the destination, I don’t think so. The site is impressive but I think MP will be more impressive. 

The guide explained that based on the size of the stones that were used to build the temple, that’s the importance the Incas placed on it. Well on boulder was over 120 tons! 

120 ton boulder

It took 77 years to build and the stones are well placed with razor-sharp precision in a 3-tiered formation. There is speculation that the bottom terrace represents the snake world, the second terrace represents the puma world and the third terrace represents the condor world but no one knows for sure.
Terraces in zig-zag manner
It took the Spaniards 24 years to dismantle it and use it as a quarry to build temples and houses for themselves. The guide took some of us through a stone tunnel and warned that it was dark, narrow and low so if anyone was claustrophobic, it was not a good idea to through. I had a small flashlight so I decided to brave it (I hate small spaces) but as soon as I get about 3 feet into the space, I backed out and walked around. I couldn’t do it – even with a flashlight. I harken back to the days of the Red River Ex when we walked through the haunted houses and I hated it. I don’t mind dark, I just don’t like confined spaces. What I did see and liked was a Andean slide where apparently kids have been sliding down for centuries because the rocks were smooth.

Andean slide
The area spans many acres and up to last year, archeologists discovered new sites in the surrounding area. One of the sites dates back to Pre-Inca times. Much of Cusco and the surrounding areas are now being discovered to be three civilizations built on top of each other – the Pre-Incas, the Incas and the Spanish conquistadors. We boarded the bus a bit later and headed for Q’enqo.

Q'enqo (labyrinth);
The first letter is pronounced with a “Ch” sound while clicking your tongue at the same time. I managed to do it or else the guide was being rather polite when she said I did it well. This temple was built for the worship of fertility. I didn’t know if I should go there but the guide promised that if I did not want more babies, I’d be okay just visiting. She took us into the labyrinth which was a short walk but there was lots of light so the small and narrow and low spaces didn’t seem to bother me. The temple also had the same religious symbolic elements of snake, puma and condor. Then it was off to Puka Pukara.

Puka Pukara (Red Fortress);
This is a part of the Saqsaywaman area so we did not actually visit the site but only had a chance to take pictures. This was actually a military fortress for the protection of the city of Tambomachay which we were visiting next.
Military fortress
Tambomachay ((Resort)

The elevation here is about 3700 metres and you can really feel it. I had a bit of a headache but there were some people who had bad headaches and some had to stay in the bus because they could not handle the elevation especially when we went to the Fountain of Youth which was another 100 metres uphill. I could feel myself getting winded as if I was running for a long time so the guide said the best remedy was to walk slowly and when you feel tired or out of breath, stop and rest. It worked and I made it but I was determined to do it. No amount of determination or will power however, will help with Acute Mountain Sickness. One woman said she needed oxygen at her hotel the night before. I consider that we are adjusting incredibly well.  
Tambomachay elevation

Tambomachay is also known as “The baths of the Princess” (ahem…. my kind of place for obvious reasons). It is also said to be the place where the Fountain of Youth is to be found.
Fountain of Youth
Legend has it that if you splash your face with water or bathe in it, you’ll never get old. A bit late for me but Robin dipped his hand and washed his face. If he breaks out in hives tomorrow I’ll remind him that his skin is so puffy that he won’t notice any wrinkles.
Splashing in the Fountain of Youth
Anyway, the water has high concentrations of zinc and positive ions and even when the rivers are full and the creeks are murky, that stream always has crystal clear water. Some geologists have tried to find the source – thinking that it must be an underground stream but so far, they have not been able to do so.
By the time we were done, it was 6:30 and just about pitch black. Night falls very quickly and sunrise is the same. No dusk and twilight here. It goes from light to dark and vice versa within minutes. Then it was back to the guesthouse to eat the rest of our lunch.
Busy day and we did about 12,000 steps (almost 12 kms) but it was worth every bit of it. Tomorrow we leave for Aguas Calientes on the Perurail train. The taxi will come for us at 7:30 to take us to Poroy where we board the train. I can’t wait for tomorrow morning. I sound like a kid waiting for Christmas morning but so far, each day has been like Christmas morning and it’s only been two of them.


  1. Hi Sandra,

    I hope you enjoyed Peru as much as I did. If you would like to see my photos and some more information you can visit:



    1. Hi Ron,
      I checked out your site and it is quite amazing!


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