What do you do when you visit something spectacular, at least according to the rest of the world, and well, you are sort of not sure if it's worth all the hype it gets? I guess from that opening you can tell where I am going. And for sure I am wrong. Or just overly analytical about things. Failing to see the beauty, they will say he is. I do see it! It is beautiful! It's just that it might not be as beautiful as they say it is. Or it may not be as beautiful as so many of the other things that are beautiful. Any way you cut it, I will probably get myself in trouble with respect to my opinion about Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas. I don't want to mislead you though. I would have always come here. I would have always had to see it. It is after all probably the best preserved pre colonial culture in the Americas, arguably. The Incas were certainly developed to a certain degree. They were warlike. They were expansionary. But what I fail to see is the level of technical development that is usually assigned to them, and the fervour with which the guides speak of the supposedly massive technical advancements the Inca had achieved. See if you agree or disagree with me...
To me, the achievements of the Inca seem rather uncomplicated, and perhaps more artistic or craftsmanship in nature. Their special expertise is very obviously, and it is very easily demonstrated with what remains today; namely the art of joinery. Joining stones to one and other was done masterfully by the Inca. They were able to make multisided, complicated joints between rocks perfectly by sanding and polishing the usually basaltic stones with river sand. The resulting walls and brickwork are artistic in themselves, and this is where I can see a high degree of expertise. However, this is only a very small part of what the guides talk about. They also talk about ingenious engineering whereby the Inca lean their walls about 12 degrees for stability against earthquakes, and use trapezoidal shaped doors (similar to how the human body stands) to help stability. In addition, the corners use "big rocks" to further strengthen buildings. Seems a little elementary to me.
On the subject of astronomical tools, I was expecting complicated arrangements of rocks and stones that could track the movements of numerous celestial bodies and a very complex understanding of the solar system, however, all they really had were sundial and spatial type tools to identify solstices and equinoxes. These have existed for thousands of years, and quite frankly, would be easy to understand in the context of a lifetime of watching the seasons. The sun moves around! Duhh.
Hydraulic engineering gets the same treatment by me. I was told that they were great hydraulic engineers when really all they were doing is building diversion channels higher upstream to bring water to another place above the river, along with various types and flow diversion tactics. When I asked if they had invented anything as simple as a rudimentary pelton wheel to generate power for the grinding of grains and corn, the answer was "No, they didn't have that." What? How can that be? Tonnes of channels and the use of gravity, but no water wheel?
I started to think that they were a little bit dense, these Incas. They didn't even have the wheel. Well, I can see they wouldn't really need it with all the steep terrain and using donkeys and all that... But who am I to judge? One of the mysteries is that there is no written history found anywhere at any of the sites. But there is evidence of a sort of rope knot system of communicating. Seems a little primitive. Very un-Egyptian. Very un-Mesopotamian. I can't understand this though, because the Spanish were with them. They were right beside them! Yes they were busy slaughtering them, but could they not have spoken to them a bit to figure out what they were all about? They Jesuits were around to translate. I just don't understand. It's a recent culture that had good contact with people who had the ability to write things down. Something doesn't add up. It's just like when the first moon landing was filmed on Universal's back lot in LA under the direction of the CIA. The whole thing stinks.
I think what they really were, and here is a new term I am going to invent right here today, are "Enginartists¨". Sort of engineers who were simply technical artists. Not really that technical, but not really that artistic either. Just a little of both. That's the Inca.
But come to Machu Picchu. Come to the Sacred Valley. Take the train, it's fun. Go for a dip in the hot springs at Aguas Calientes (We did!). Climb up and marvel at the beautiful site that the ruins are, and don't forget the surrounding mountains and the mighty Urubamba too. See them farming the enormous terraces in your minds eye. Dream of a much simpler time. A time when harvesting over 4000 types of potatoes and 2000 kinds of corn was the real expertise.
That's it! They were genetic engineers. And no one knew it.