Friday, 9 April 2010

Something the Incas and I have in common

Peru is the land of the Incas - everything here is about them: Inca Kola, Incafé, Incabar, Incalaundry, IncaPharma, post-Inca, pre-Inca and so on. So I thought I should further investigate this civilisation which seems to be prevailing the region.

Turns out the Inca empire lasted only from 1438 to 1533...barely a hundred years. The Incas are seen as a Great civilisation who built the Machu Picchu and who worshiped the Sun until the mean Spanish conquistadores destroyed them and interrupted them in their rise to the top. Well it's not as simple as that.

The Incas were actually the local version of the Spanish conquistadores; they were the bad guys of the Andes. They use to hike through the mountains and conquer every single civilisation on their way and Incafy them. These civilisations include the Aymara and the Tiwanaku - which are pre-Inca cultures that got converted to Incaism.

So I decided to go and discover some of these pre-Inca civilisations who also built great temples and had interesting cultures. First stop, La Paz - Bolivia - where an ancient Tiwanaku city use to be (2hrs away from the Bolivian capital). La Paz is the highest capital of the world at 3'700 meters above sea level - the airport is at 4'100 meters above sea level. Needless to say the air is not only thin, but almost anorexic in that city, making it hard to breath and to walk around its steep streets.

The city is in some sort of a canyon or valley where the rich live in the lower part (better climate) and the poor up in the mountains - I personally don't like poor people looking down on me, but that doesn't seem to be a problem in La Paz.

The city is lovely and is home to many beautiful colonial and European style buildings. It has almost no Western influence - except maybe the Burger King - and people still live in a very traditional way. I was there during the Easter weekend which also happened to be the mayor's elections day. The authorities had forbidden the sale of alcohol, to open shops and even to drive - La Paz was a very sober ghost town but I was high on altitude and enjoyed it anyway.

After having visited the city at a very slow pace and having encountered some unusual ingredients at the Witches' Market, I went along with my quest of discovering the non-Inca civilisations of the region.

These are llama fetuses displayed for sale at the Witches' Market - yum 

The Tiwanaku had the same religion as the Incas - they worshiped the Sun and the Pachamama (mother nature in Quechua). They existed for much longer than the Incas (thousands of years) and seemed to be less aggressive as they were expanding peacefully in the region rather than conquering others. 

La Paz being close to the Titicaca - and a rather boring place after two days - the lake was an obvious next step. The lake is at 3'800 meters above sea level and is the highest navigable lake in the world. It is 8'500 Km2 - almost as big as Lebanon (10'500 Km2) - and is shared by Bolivia (40%) and Peru (60%). It is also there that the Incas are said to have emerged - yes, everything still revolves around the Incas! 

My first stop was Copacabana - no, not the Brazilian one, the Bolivian version. I like to think of it as the Incas' beach resort where they went to tan - or in other words: to have an intense and intimate relationship with their God: the Sun.

Copacabana is a quiet beach town - you can't really swim as the water is on average 9C in the lake - and hosts many tourists who go and explore some islands a few kilometers from the village. Lake Titicaca is big, very big and there are many traditional boats sailing between the islands with local people trading goods or visiting friends.

Unlike Brazil's Copacabana, the weather is not always hot and sunny and the women do have big breasts, but not the kind you'd like. The temperatures significantly drop at night whereas the days could be rather warm.

Titicaca is so gay!

The following day, I went to the Peruvian side and the capital is called Puno (it's a shit-hole). 

I took a tour to the Uros Islands - the floating islands. They are about 50 floating islands hosting some 2'000 native people. They are quite spectacular but the excessively-touristy-planned-scenario makes everything so fake and unexciting. 

Upon arrival, a bunch of traditionally dressed ladies welcome you to the island by talking in Aymara dialect - Camisa Raki (hello) - and we were supposed to say something like Milayké (i'm fine) - words that our guide had taught us on the boat on the way there. I had no problem with this performance, as I am an actor, but I overheard other tourists mixing up their words - losers!

Hot stuff!!

After stepping down from the boat and acting, we walked on the floor of this weird island, and the feeling was very pleasant - as if you are walking on a water mattress. The guide gathers us around the main "square" and explains how the islands were built - very interesting, but I will keep this information confidential. And then the guide puts an enormous pressure on us to buy souvenirs from these people. He said that tourism is what allowed the kids to go to school and it also provides the locals with other activities than fishing - in other words if we don't buy anything the children would be illiterate and the lake would be depleted from its fish.

I feel like I have dome so much by buying this expensive crap. It's the first time that consumption is actually good for something (or is it really?). But then of course, they make you pay for everything on the island, for example I had to pay this old lady after taking her picture. I don't know why I like taking pictures of old ladies, maybe it's because I know they're going to die soon and I'll be the last one to have taken their picture.

So after they dressed us up in their ridiculous outfits for the picture, spoke a very bad Spanish (which I suspect is acted, I'm sure it sells more if they pretend not to speak Spanish), emptied our wallets, they sang and danced for us! It really was the cherry on top and it was absolutely ridiculous. They sang in Aymara, English, Spanish....and French (sur le pont d'Avignon)!!!

We gladly left these well-trained, brainwashed people to reach the shores of lake Titicaca in Puno (which is still a shit-hole) - but it wasn't over - as we were departing, another cherry-on-the-top event occurred; they all said "Hasta la vista Baby" all together. God that was pathetic (but I laughed...I am only human) - oh well, at least it keeps them busy on these islands, because it can be extremely boring to live there!

In the afternoon, I followed my anti-Inca investigation and went to a pre-Inca cemetery 30 Km away from the city. It is located in a very beautiful place that kind of looks like Scotland.

This is not the Titicaca lake, it is another - rather big one - called lake Umayo and the town where the cemetery is, is called Sillustani. It is a very beautiful region with vast green fields and hills surrounded by the lake.

Of course, this pre-Inca cemetery had been taken over by the Incas once they conquered the region. So they decided to make the previous civilisations feel small and un-cool in their own territory. Let me explain, here is what a regular tomb from the Aymara looks like - between 1 and 3 meters high.

And then the Incas came and built these 12 meters high tombs - which are now the most visited in the site.

Bottom line, Incas are mad attention seekers who conquered everyone and put their label on everything they won.

There is one thing, however, that is an undeniable Inca treasure which is the actual reason behind all the attention they get: the Machu Picchu. I am going there in a few days - I will see if it deserves that much attention - just some observations as an attention seeker myself.


  1. Old lady die soon, OMG Fadi!!

  2. Very nice and interesting trip! Makes me feel like visiting La Paz. But man, those breasts are almost at the hip level!

  3. Very nice (and very recent for me) memories, but the correct answer would have been "Waliki" (wah-lee-kee). So, who's been mixing up the words? LOL
    On the other hand, I felt no such big pressure to buy things at Uros. I bought very little and felt really welcome. And people at the island I visited would not ask or take money for a picture. The same does not hold true for Taquille Island ...

    Armando Frazão