I now strongly believe that every day should start with pancakes, fresh fruit and dulce de leche. Our first trip in Cusco was to visit two significant archaeological sites built by two different civilisations. When we arrived at the terminal for buses to Urcos it looked more like a builders yard than a transport hub, but the fare out to Tipon was only 2.50 Soles so no great surprise.
We leapt from the bus as it literally rolled through Tipon, a town 20km east of Cusco. From here we started the hour-long walk up the valley wall towards the archaeological site.
The rainy season continues to impress here as crops grow tall and healthy and the hills are carpeted with wildflowers.
While these two sites are outside the main 'Sacred Valley' region, they are included on the tourist ticket that you need to buy when visiting Cusco, so we thought why not? These two sites were interesting to us because they demonstrate the contrasting design approaches of the Huari and the Inca civilisations.
The clean, ordered lines of the terraces at Tipon are situated within a depression high on the valley side. The high location helped to assert the ruling Inca's power and status over those that they protected and provided for. It also served as a defensive measure akin to fortresses the world over as well as linking the site to the purest and 'most sacred' of water supplies.
The palace and gardens at Tipon have an advanced irrigation system that has been the subject of much academic and archaeological interest.
The main point of visiting these two sites was to see how the Inca learnt from preceding civilisations and developed technologies to suit their own needs. The common misconception is to credit the Inca with devising their agricultural and infrastructure from scratch, when in fact they were refining and perfecting pre-existing technologies.
Tipon's water was carried in the aqueduct/canal pictured above from the foothills of the high mountains above the site. While in modern terms it is a small channel on top of a long wall, the planning and labour required to build this single canal is a testament to the architect/engineers of the Inca civilisation.
I have spoken a lot about the Spanish appropriation of indigenous customs to win over the population, but the Inca were the original masters of this practice, absorbing rival civilisations into their own was their greatest strength. Later they used this influence to amass a workforce capable of completing the gargantuan feats of engineering that we see today.
Our early start on the local bus was rewarded by enjoying the site to ourselves before the crowds descended.
We walked back down into town and were tempted to sample the local delicacy, Cuy Al Horno (roast guinea pig). Suffice to say we weren't quite hungry yet and so continued to the second site archaeological site of the day.
Piquillacta, was a Huari settlement that pre-dated the Inca. The city's mysterious abandonment has drawn speculation among academics, the dominant theory being that the advanced water supply system that the Huari designed and maintained failed to support the city when weather patterns in the region changed.
The Huari did not plan Piquillacta to sit with the lie of the land, this was something that the Inca mastered later. As a result the city's ruins have a disjointed and labyrinth-like feel. Picking your way through the strange alleyways and streets must have been a slow process when the city was once a bustling trade centre. There is some speculation that this was a defence mechanism to prevent any invading party from finding the centre of the city. I don't know if that's the reason, but if so it was very effective!
Barely a mile up the road from Piquillacta we spotted a huge aqueduct that appeared to be predominantly Huari-built with tightly packed small stonework. Some areas however bore the hallmarks of Inca masonry, with larger rocks seated perfectly on top of one another. Another example of the Inca appropriating existing infrastructure, adding to the theory that they appropriated the techniques and technologies of previous civilisations.
The aqueduct cut across the landscape in imposing fashion. The sheer volume of material that must have been transported is beyond comprehension. As if reminding us of the time the heavens opened so we turned back to the road and hitched back to Cusco after a great introduction to the rise of the Inca in the Sacred Valley.