I waited to catch my breath, so I could mutter curses under it.

The objects of my ire were the Incas. In particular, their obsession with high places. And building their cities, temples, fortresses, etc. at the tops of mountains.

Humans have long connected heights with spirituality. The ancient Greeks believed their gods resided atop Mount Olympus. Incas had similar beliefs about their gods living on the peaks of the Andes. Two civilizations, half a world away, yet connected by a shared opinion of where to find the houses of the gods.

Christians, too, have heaven above.

I’m making my way through the Sacred Valley of the Incas on sort of my own personal Inca Trail. The difference is that I’m sticking to the roads and sleeping in beds; not hiking through the mountains and pitching tents.

Pisac was the first stop. A rather unremarkable town, Pisac is a crossroads between the road over the mountains to Cusco, and the road through the valley. The town center is one big, colorful crafts market.


Looking up from the main road, I could see the trademark Inca terracing. A road from the main plaza leads to a staircase. The stairs go up.


The terraces were impressive. And still in use by cows and goats.

Lungs burning, legs like jello, I began to wonder what, exactly, I was doing here. But I kept going, and eventually reached the top.


I’ll give the Incas this: it’s hard to beat the view.

Viewing Inca ruins gives me the feeling of walking into the aftermath of a really great party. The Inca version of Pisac–Pisaq’a–is little more than a series of foundations on an outcropping. The foundations hint at what the place must have looked like hundreds of years ago.

Further above is the Intihuatana–the “hitching post of the sun.” In English, it might be called a sundial. Historians suggest the Incas used these to tell the seasons–more like calendars than clocks.

I planned my route poorly, going up, then down, then up some more. So I never reached the Qallaqasa. Frankly, I’m out of shape.

Supposedly there are holes in the hillside across the valley that used to be Inca tombs. I’m sure they are there, but I’m not sure that I saw them.

It’s a little late to be preparing for these hikes, but I’m hoping that a few days’ more of this will get me ready for Machu Picchu.

Not just physically, but mentally. I have an irrational fear of heights. When I approach a ledge, I have to battle my own mind, to convince myself that a gust of wind is not going to blow me over, or the rocks aren’t going to tumble away beneath my feet. Falling from a great height is bad. But not falling is the more likely outcome.

As much as this is about conquering the Inca Empire, it’s even more about conquering myself.


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