Friday, 7 October 2016

Cusco – Days 20 to 23

Looking towards Saqsaywaman and the Plaza de Armas from Pachacutec monument

It’s our second week of our Spanish language course and we’ve decided to extend it by one week to a total of four. We are making progress, are enjoying it and want to try to learn a bit more, fully appreciating it will not make us fluent speakers, but at least we may be able to hold simple conversations, be understood and understand what is being said.

Mimi, sister of co-owner Fanni, is our grammar teacher and, although very friendly with classes punctuated with laughs, is very strict and will not let a mis-pronunciation or a missed accent over a letter go. It takes me back 40 odd years since I was last in a class and remember that same feeling of anticipation when she takes my book to look though, only to point out a missed accent or spelling.

The Pachacutec monument and museum in Cusco
Mari, who we have afterwards for conversation is more laid back and we either stay in class revising and building on the earlier work or we walk into Cusco centre to discuss local things at shops, museums, Inca buildings or churches.

The format is excellent and although we struggle to make conversation or understand fully what is being said we think we are maybe 60 or 70% of the way to fully understanding (Jackie maybe a little more). Both Mimi and Mari have very little English and I often want to ask questions to Mari about Inca history and struggle to put together a sentence, but I have a go, use as many Spanish words as I can to convey what I mean and after a couple of attempts she understands and can reply.

Looking up at Pachacutec from the walkway below
We have had four afternoons out with Mari now and have visited a church, an Inca archeological site, the museum of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega and, today the Qorikancha museum, but we have also visited a number of others on our own. It has given us a really interesting insight into Inca history, the Spanish conquest and Peruvians identity with both their Spanish and Inca histories.

Their Spanish past is unmistakable, the language and the buildings, but also are their Inca roots, the Inca Quechua language is now taught in schools and most natives of Cusco at least speak it and everywhere can be seen Inca walls and architecture peeking out under the Spanish buildings.

Looking the other way from the monument towards the airport
Cusco is the ancient heart and capital of the old Inca Empire and the native people we have spoken to here really seem to identify with the old culture. We know the original Conquistadores were adventurers whose aims were to take all the gold and silver from the country, make themselves rich and send most of it back to the king of Spain and, in the process they destroyed and killed many thousands. Those that would not be converted from their religion of worshiping the sun to Catholic Christianity were killed and the city of Cusco robbed of its fabulous buildings, many adorned with solid gold.

Following the final rebellion and capture of the last Inca, Tupac Amaru II in 1781, the Spanish sentenced him and all his relatives to death in the Plaza de Armas. He was forced to watch as his wife, child, other relatives and his captains were put to death, before having his four limbs tied to horses and being pulled apart to his death. It sparked a nationalistic spirit amongst the people and forty years later the Spanish were finally driven out and Independence was declared on July 28th 1821.

The Inca Garcilaso de la Vega museum
Our visit to the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega museum was interesting as this man was born in 1539, 8 years after the Spanish first conquered Cusco and Peru. He was the illegitimate son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca princess, was brought up as an Inca for the first 21 years of his life, then travelling to Spain after the death of his father to try to claim his inheritance. Educated in Spain, he wrote the history and culture of the Incas and published the first books to be available in Europe on the subject. He lived the remaining years of his life in Spain, not daring to return to Cusco because of his Inca lineage and the persecution there of all things and people of Inca origin, but his writings are considered to have great literacy value and are not simple historical chronicles.

Garcilaso de la Vega
This morning we visited the monument and museum of Pachacutec (several spellings possible!) and learned that he was the man that took the Incas from a small tribe occupying Cusco to the vast empire that it became, covering much of modern Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile and parts of Columbia and Argentina. He did this by negotiation with other tribes and, where this didn’t work, outright conquest. This all happened in the mid to late 1400’s, a mere 50 to 70 years before the Spanish arrived in 1531, yet Pachacutec is still revered as the father of the nation and writings in the museum appeared to encourage everyone to uphold the ancient traditions of the Incas and keep alive their customs.

When we visited a Catholic church with Mari, who is a very religious person, it became evident that, although she is Catholic, it is a Peruvian Catholicism and has become a mix with their ancient Inca religion of worship to the sun and the earth, giving thanks to the mountains, earth and sky as well as all things Christian. She told us that today no-one can claim to be 100% Inca, they are all Mestizos, of mixed race mainly Spanish and Indian and no one can lay claim to be of true Inca nobility, but she certainly seemed to be drawn to her ancient Inca roots.

Jackie and Mari outside the Qorikancha, Inca walls just visible
I asked her in my best Spanish ‘if there was a descendant of a true Inca alive today, would he be king?’ (you need a lot of Spanish to translate that and it took me about three attempts to get it across) She looked far away and through misty eyes said that in Cusco, yes and probably in many other Andean highlands, but she wasn’t so sure about the capital Lima, which was never an Inca city (that was founded by Fransisco Pizzaro shortly after the conquest).

Just the two of us!
In the Qorikancha museum today we saw a model of the citadel and sun temple in Inca times, all covered in gold and, alongside it a model of the complex today, overbuilt with Spanish churches and religious buildings and only a few of the Inca walls remaining. As we sat eating an ice cream in a shop opposite afterwards I tried to imagine, by looking at the remaining Inca walls what it must have looked like when the Spanish arrived.

Somehow I could appreciate how Mari felt about it all, yes the Inca were brutal in conquering their Empire, but the Spanish destruction and attempted obliteration of Inca history and the brutal subjugation and conversion of the people was worse. It made me glad not to be Spanish!

Of no relevance to the above at all, but this was a slice of cake I ordered the other day in a cafe (Jackie had something similar). I ate the lot and it was fabulous!

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