In July, the thin, cold air of the Peruvian Andes settles lightly over the city of Cusco, the beating heart of the once powerful empire of the Inca. Unlike its coastal counterpart, Lima, whose atmosphere is noticably European, Cusco embodies a rare coexistence between the traditions of Peru’s Spanish conquerors, and those of the native cultures that inhabited the region long before the arrival of Europeans. As the Inca empire expanded, it adopted many of the customs and beliefs of the societies it absorbed, forming a rich culture that is still visible today, albeit more so in the outlying regions of Cusco than in its center.
In these areas outside the city, I was given the opportunity to immerse myself in the lifestyle of the Inca’s decendents, as part of a student delgation to Peru and Chile. Though we spent time elsewhere in the two nations during our trip, it was in Cusco that I experienced a culture and a people that would transform me irrevocably into a citizen of the world.
The first of our explorations in Cusco was not of a humanitarian nature, but of historical importance; we climbed among the ruins of an Incan ceremonial site by the name of Saqsayhuaman, which was used for both religious and military activity. The site was composed of mound of terraces overlooking the city, and was defined by a large arrangement of stones in the shape of a Puma’s paw, the Inca symbol of earthly power. Though the days of of Incan domination across the Andes have past, their legacy is as tangible as the stone paw in the ruins, as was evident during our visit to the village of Chinchero. In this community on the outskirts of Cusco, we experienced the ways in which rural Peruvians survive in a beautiful, yet harsh land. The people of Chinchero sustain an income based on agriculture and weaving, the latter of which has been made famous by the bright colors and intricate patterns first used by the Inca, and kept alive by their ancestors. By using dyes extracted from natural sources, such as plants–or in the case of red dye, a parasite attached to cacti–they are able to supplement through tourism and sales what would otherwise be an economy based on subsistence agriculture.
Through the venues of both history and cultural exploration, I attained a clearer understanding of my relationship with the whole of humanity; I am but one piece of the world’s complex puzzle.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.