My wife, Carol Potera, and I keenly enjoyed a recent vacation trip to Peru and the former Inca capital of Cusco, capped off by a few days visiting majestic Machu Picchu, a 15th-century carved stone citadel, and other ruins of the scientifically, agriculturally and artistically gifted Inca people in the Sacred Valley.You Can Also Visit here.
We were captivated by the country’s beauty; our hikes truly were breathtaking. Urban Cusco’s altitude of 11,152 feet is more than three times that of Great Falls, leaving us gasping the first day. But we discovered that sucking coca leaves and drinking coca tea helped us adjust.
We learned about the country’s important history and caring people through our dynamic and thoughtful guide Mario Tribeno. The highly advanced Incas came to control much of western South America from 1438 to 1533 before just 160 brutal Spaniards, armed with previously unseen guns and horses, conquered them.
But signs of the Inca culture were left behind to enjoy and ponder. They had work crews shape and move huge boulders to form walls — without mortar — that could shift and withstand earthquakes. They believed in a sun god and were able to orient building windows with distant peaks and outposts miles apart so that the sun would gleam through them during their June 21 winter solstice.
The Incas built terraced fields high in the mountains, and made sure the soil was bountiful and irrigated properly with layers of gravel, clay, sand and top soil. They tried different crops, like a Montana State agricultural experiment station.
All those achievements required engineering, astronomical and agricultural skills 600 years ago that amaze us today in our era of computers and GPS devices. The Incas also had a top-down organizational structure that required most common people to provide many months each year of farming and moving boulders.
While parts of modern Peru are booming with mining, agriculture and foreign investment, we saw a lot of poverty, too.
Many people appeared to live in half-completed, nearly roofless houses. Older women in traditional bright clothing and high hats carried small llamas, urging tourists to pay to take their pictures. Young women commonly carried their babies to work, tied to their backs with blankets. The babies stayed with them as they served food in restaurants or sold painted gourds on streets.
Our guide told us rural conditions have improved since 1969 when the Peruvian government broke up large haciendas, owned by former Spaniards and worked by poor farmers akin to share croppers after the U.S. Civil War.
Now those Peruvian “share croppers” own the small plots they once worked, and gather in work parties to help each other plant and harvest corn and potatoes. We stopped to visit one such work party high on a mountain pass during their lunch break. They they shared a cold corn beer with me and showed us how they plow up potatoes behind a cow.
We found Peruvian people hard-working and friendly — and vigorously interested in their local and national elections.
Each time we passed a prominent church wall in Cusco, we’d see a fresh set of formal and hand-scrawled political posters, proclaiming the virtues of a favored candidate and charging fraud and corruption toward others. People from all walks of life gathered to scan the latest news.
We also stumbled onto a local political debate in the meeting hall of a public building, which was well attended. More than a dozen candidates waited to speak, with one older candidate talking uninterrupted for more than 15 minutes.
A poster for the event reminded observers how important politics can be. It showed an Inca leader being drawn and quartered by the Spaniards in the 1500s — literally tied and pulled apart by horses.
Peruvians also apparently care greatly about education. No matter how long the young mothers may have worked, we’d see them leading their children to school each morning, clad in school uniforms.
Many Americans don’t bother to register or vote or are disenchanted with the choices on the election ballots. We could learn a lesson from Peruvians, who care deeply about voting and who they elect.