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Day 12 – Omissionist History (A Sacred Valley Tour)

October 22, 2010

Location: Sacred Valley, Peru

Date: Friday, October 22, 2010

I avoid group tours. They rush you through beautiful sites just so you can say you’ve been there. They tell you when you’re finished with a place when, dammit, I’m not. They have a schedule. I hate schedules. Group tours are for tourists.

Me, I want to marinate in a place; give it a chance to seep into my soul. I want to “linger” and “meditate,” concepts unfamiliar to most guides. I want to hear the wind whip between walls and rustle the grass, impossibilities when surrounded by chattering guides and their guided. Forget tourism, I want to be a traveler.

Whereas a tourist is fine with the sampler appetizer that is a guided group tour, I prefer the more lingering, substantial main course that is wandering a site without a babysitter. If I want to spend 10 minutes running my fingers along the joints in a rock wall or sitting on a rock soaking in a view, I don’t want to be interrupted by someone screaming, “Grupo de Javier! Grupo de Javier!”

That said, I don’t’ mind a tour every once in a while. You usually learn something. For example, guides can point out details and tell you things you haven’t read. Better still, guides can tell you more than they intend. For example, today on a Sacred Valley tour our guide taught me that Peruvians would rather not talk about the Spanish, at least not any of the parts other than those where they destroyed Incan treasures.

Rob and Ashley had told me about their tour to Saqsaywaman and how their guide had failed to mention the great battle that happened there with the Spanish (except, of course, the Spanish plundering rocks from the site to build their homes and Catholic churches). On that tour, their guide only described the wonders of Incan architecture and the religious significance of the site.

Today on our tour of the Sacred Valley I got a taste of that revisionist—or, more accurately, “omissionist”—history. At Pisac, our guide talked about the agriculture terraces, the religious site at the top of the mountain, and the Inca tombs that were looted by treasure hunters. He mentioned that the Spanish forced the inhabitants of this hilltop site to move to the valley floor, but he didn’t say that they probably did this because Pisac also served as a fort that guarded the valley and a nearby mountain pass to the jungle.

Same went for our visit to Ollantaytambo. Our guide pointed out a carving of a human profile high on a distant mountain that, during the solstice, casts a beam of sunlight onto a sacred rock at the peak of the religious site and, behind that, onto a specially marked spot on the valley floor. He talked about how the site was only 40% complete and that you can still find giant rocks strewn across the valley below—these piedras cansada (“tired stones”) were abandoned in transit to Ollataytambo by the Incas because of the Spanish invaders. I learned that the Incans stored grain on the mountain opposite Ollantaytambo because of the more favorable temperature and wind conditions.

The guide, however, omitted that this was one of the few sites were the Incas scored a victory over the Spanish. Manco Inca, the 20-year-old “rebel” emperor, with the help of a brilliant general, drew Pizarro up into the flatlands below this fort and released dammed up canals to flood the plains and hamper the Spanish cavalry. Thousands of Inca warriors drove the Spanish through the water back to Cusco.

While it didn’t take long for the Spanish to return, rout the temple/fort, and drive Manco Inca into exile, it was a high point for the defending Incas. Can’t say that it was a highlight for our guide, though; he never brought it up.

I can’t tell you whether our guide did the same on our visit to Chincero and its Catholic church built on the foundation of Incan foundations. Chincero didn’t make the history that I read. I’m pretty sure, however, that the visit to the artisanal fabric dye facility didn’t have any Spanish omissions.

On our tour I also learned that: Peruvians love American 80’s music (in one stretch on the bus we heard Milli Vanilli, Bon Jovi, and NKOTB); if Rob could go back 7 years and tell himself something he learned about women it’d include: “You don’t have to be that smooth”; and if you’re on a bus sitting next to Ashley on a winding mountain road at 3,500 meters, she is the politest, quietest puker on the planet (“Can you hand me a sixth plastic bag, please?” followed by zero sounds of retching).

So there you have it. Group tours aren’t so bad, especially with friends. And, with little to no effort, you can learn something.

GALLERY: A hoard of bonus pictures today, including a picture of the old woman smiling, a child who is bored of listening to the repeated lectures on fabric dye, and a picture of Ashley in one of her better moments.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Sally permalink
    November 1, 2010 12:34 pm

    Judging from all those stairs, you will have a nice tight ass when you get back.

    • November 2, 2010 10:54 pm

      You mean a “tighter” ass, don’t you? Don’t you?

      • Sally permalink
        November 3, 2010 10:00 am

        Yes, you’re right. I actually meant “tighter badonkadonk.”

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