Day 5 — Greenhouse of the Incas

Tuesday — April 7

The road to our next destination was mostly deserted — a vehicle or two traveling in the opposite direction from us; cyclists in a hurry to reach their next sightseeing stop; kids herding farm animals — mostly sheep; jennies (as female donkeys are affectionately known) and their foals browsing near a creek; panchitas (pigs) rolling in the mud. We made a few stops along the way, mostly so that Vidal could dole out more gifts.

The small of any animal is cute.

Gifts distributed, Vidal and the girls share a moment of laughter.

One of the things that we’ve been struck by is the seemingly ever-present smile on the faces of the kids. No matter that life is not easy; no matter that many of them have to walk long distances to go to school; no matter that they have to spend every spare moment helping out at home instead of playing with carefree enthusiasm. It was, therefore, all the more striking when we came across three boys, one of whom had a deep scowl on his face. As usual, we stopped so Vidal could chat with the kids. He handed the two younger boys notebooks and pencils, and then turned to talk to the frowning boy. After a few minutes, he handed the boy a couple of pencils, shook his hand, and rejoined us. It was obvious that he was moved by the boy’s story. When we asked him why the boy seemed so unhappy, Vidal explained that he doesn’t go to school. The boy's answer, when Vidal asked him why: “My mother’s an alcoholic; I have to work the field.” Heartbreaking when a kid has to deal with such things — no matter where in the world it might be.

Eventually, the unpaved road led us to Moray. There were very few people here, which was perfect. Our first glimpse of the concentric terraces was one of awe. We had seen photos of the place, but to see it in person was a very special experience. I was especially struck by the beauty of the undulating lines of the retaining walls.

The main depression at Moray is known as Quechuyoc (warm being); it has 15 levels of terraces.

Undulating lines of retaining walls and floating stairs.

Of all the places we have seen in Perú to date, I have to say that Moray — the “Greenhouse of the Incas” — is the most unique. Archeological discoveries here indicate the presence of the Wari, a pre-Inca culture (approximately 1000 AD) — but the terraces, especially the higher ones, were definitely built by the Incas.

Here’s how Peter Frost describes Moray in his book, Exploring Cusco: “… The ancient peoples of the region took four huge natural depressions in the landscape and sculpted them into levels of agricultural terraces that served, hundreds of years ago, as an experimental agricultural station for the development of different crop strains.”

Frost continues “… Long ago, the ancient Peruvians made a curious discovery here. The deep natural bowls caught sunlight and shade in such a way as to create drastic variations of temperature within a very small area. In the thirty or so meters [~98 feet] between the bottom and top levels of Moray’s main depression one scientist, John Earls, has recorded a full 15 degrees Celsius difference in temperature. That is about equal to the difference between the mean annual temperatures of London and Bombay.” Simply fascinating.

The people at the bottom provide perspective for the depth of the depression.

This temperature differential in a relatively small area enabled the locals to plant crops at the bottom and progressively move them to higher terraces, thus developing crop strains that could then be grown at higher altitudes. They were especially successful in doing this with maize. This achievement allowed people to settle high-altitude communities that would not have otherwise been possible.

Alas, we didn’t have time to go down into any of the muyus (the Quechua word for the depressions); nor did we have time to climb part way up one of the mountains for a view of all four. But we did walk around to see two of the three smaller depressions further back at the site. Our timing was perfect; at one of the depressions, preparations were underway for a spiritual ceremony.

We watched as a group of six slowly walked down the trail leading into the muyu. They were holding onto each other, and it looked like they had their eyes closed. (In fact, at first we thought they might be blind.) They were led by a man dressed in white. As they made their way down, a shaman in the center of the bowl, played a few notes on various instruments. At the bottom of the trail, the chain was broken, and the group made its way down to a narrow path leading into the center of the muyu. Here, the man dressed in white cleansed each person's spirit by waving a condor feather around the individual. The people in the group then entered the final circle, removed their shoes, and formed a ring around a blanket placed on the grass by the shaman.

The ceremony site in the bowl of the muyu.
(The shaman is sitting at the end of the upper-most terrace on the left side of the photo.)

Waving a condor feather, the man in white cleanses each individual.

The group forms a circle with the shaman.

It sure would have been interesting to see the outcome of the ceremony. However, we had to take our leave at this point. We had one more stop to make and miles to go before reaching our final destination for the day.

Next Up: Day 5 — Salineras

No comments:

Post a Comment