Bellybutton of the World

On visiting Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca, we had become familiar with the origin myths of the Incas. In one of these myths (there are several versions) Manco Capac and his sister Mama Occlo, children of the sun god Inti, were sent to earth to ground the Incan Empire and emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca. From there they traveled to Cuzco where the Golden Staff their father gave them sank into the earth and the Temple of the Sun was built. We were now following in their footsteps leaving the bright blue waters of Titicaca behind, to cross the burnt yellow plains of the Altiplano before descending through green fertile valleys to Cusco, the bellybutton of the world according to Manco. Moving beyond fiction the Incas started out small in this valley around the twelfth century before eventually extending their empire - the Tawantin suyo - into the largest in South America, covering the territory (or parts) of the six present day countries of Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

It was hard to keep focused as we navigated our way through the cobblestoned heart of Cusco. You can really appreciate the majesty of the Incan reign as well as the tragedy of their downfall wandering the city streets where beautiful unmistakeably Incan stonework is capped by Spanish white washed gabled fortresses. What a sight this city must have been at the height of Incan power. We headed up the hill to Saqsay Huaman (or sexy women as it is fondly known) in search of our campsite. We passed the huge (apparently some blocks weigh over 3 tons) polygonal blocks that make up the ramparts. The immensity of it all had obviously addled Axel's brain as we had driven straight past the entrance to the camping. Luckily we eventually found it and settled in to the homey, friendly Dutch run Quinta Lala with its lawn, pesky hens, aggressive geese and a cosy travellers hut for late night tall tales and beer swigging.

Cusco is an amazing city but the most expensive in Peru and a tourist trap with its pricey museums, so we mostly admired everything from the outside, which was impressive enough. We saved our Soles for entrances to some of  the numerous ruins in the nearby Urubamba valley or as it is more commonly known 'The Sacred Valley'. Sacred, for the Inca valued its fertility and climate, unique at  that altitude, and its importance as a trade route to the jungle. Sacred too, for archaeologists and tourists as it is a treasure chest of stunning Incan sites. Heading for the Sacred Valley we passed those fantastic building blocks of Saqsay Huaman again and the road wound through a valley that was practically cluttered with the big blue INC (Peru’s National Culture Institute) signs heralding yet another Inca ruin. It would have been impossible to take them all in so we selected three out of the many possibilities: Moray, Ollantaytambo and of course the most expensive and sought after Macchu Picchu.