“Peru no es solo Machu Picchu” [Peru is not just Machu Picchu] – Cristian, my tour guide
Since I didn’t do a guided tour in Machu Picchu, I took one around Cusco. My guide took me to a sacred site of the Incas. He explained an Incan belief that certain animals represented different worlds. The snake, slithering among the holes in the ground, represented the underworld. Death. The puma was of our world. And the condor, soaring above us, represented the heavens or the world of the gods. And they had built shrines to each one. The scariest being the underworld. We had to climb down a small cave and literally crawl on the dark floor to get to the serpent shrine. Where they believe sacrifices to the gods may have been made.
“What did they sacrifice?” I asked
“Llamas, alpacas… and children,” answered my guide.
It was a fascinating place, but I was relieved to climb out into the world of the puma. One other fascinating thing I learned about Incan society was their head modification. Using something like bricks, with coca as an anaesthetic, they would change the shape of certain people’s heads, making them longer and slimmer, while they were alive. My guide explained it as differentiating the superior members of society from the rest. But another idea I’ve heard is that by changing the shape of the head, they would emphasise different parts of the brain and literally change the way that person thought. Even though I only went to Peru for Machu Picchu, I was glad I got to see far more of the country, and sad that my time there only lasted two weeks.