The Belly-button of the Inca Nation
I finally made it! After twenty-one hours of travel, I am in Cuzco, the capital of the Inca Empire and the oldest continuously-inhabited city in South America. It's grand. Some people call it the navel of the Inca nation. I never thought I'd be in the belly-button of a nation!
The scenery on the way here was fantastic. There were llamas, sheep, mountains, lakes, rivers, children playing, and clouds hanging low in a clear blue sky. The llamas, in particular, look just like you would imagine in a postcard of Peru. Right now I'm waiting for the rest of my teammates to arrive.
We gained altitude to get here, and on the train I drank about six cups of mate de coca, a type of tea that helps stave off symptoms of altitude sickness (like Ginger Ale does for motion sickness). In Cuzco, we are at 3326 meters (almost 10,000 feet) above sea level. While I was walking to the hostel with my heavy backpack, I had to stop every couple of steps to catch my breath. I'm no Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I'm not in that bad of shape! It's the altitude, I tell you.
Cuzco currently has 300,000 inhabitants and is the capital of the department. Its history is a long and proud one and you can still feel elements of this history as you walk around town. The streets, for example, are narrow and filled with huge stones, dating back more than 4000 years, which have withstood the region's many earthquakes. Also, many of the people here speak Quechua, a reminder of the vastness and richness of the Inca Empire.
In 1438, Pachacutec, the ninth Inca, took twenty-five years to conquer the central Peruvian Andes and create a great kingdom. He diverted rivers into channels to create a source of fresh water for the city of Cuzco, and also built the city in the shape of a puma (like a mountain lion). One of his legacies is the Coricancha, or Golden Courtyard (named so because it was once covered in gold sheeting) that lies in the central Plaza de Armas. How would you like bask in the sunshine, surrounded by gold?
The historic significance and beauty of Cuzco helps me to understand why it's called the navel of the Inca nation. In your opinion, where is the belly-button of the United States?
Quechua is also called Runasimi, or Mouth of the People and originated in southern or central Peru. The Inca Empire stretched throughout much of South America, from Ecuador in the north to parts of Chile and Argentina in the south. Quechua became the official language of this empire during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries AD
The Spaniards, wanting to control indigenous populations, outlawed Quechua in 1780. Also, Simon Bolivar, from 1820 onwards, encouraged Spanish rather than Quechua to be the main language. However, the language survived and was made an official language of Peru, along with Aymara and Spanish, during President Juan Velasco´s term, just thirty years ago.
As of modern day, around ten million people speak Quechua, about half the population of the Andean highlands, although many people are bilingual Spanish and Quechua. The written form of the language exists in a system of knots on cords, called khipu.
Here are a few phrases for you to learn in Quechua:
Runasimita rimankichu? Do you speak Quechua?
Allillanchu? How are you?
Allillanmi. I´m fine.
Tupananchiskama. Until next time we meet.
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