A Visit to Machu Picchu

The Surreal Killer key location Machu Picchu

Roger and Suzanne Mysteries

The most popular (and best selling book) thus far in my South American mystery series featuring Roger Bowman and Suzanne Foster, a husband-wife detective team, is “The Surreal Killer”. This suspenseful E-novel available from Amazon Kindle has been awarded the prestigious Indie Book of the Day prize. The Surreal Killer takes place in Peru and Chile, with a key chapter set in Macchu Pichu, the sacred city of the Incas high in the Peruvian Andes. It’s a very, very special place.

Nazca Mummies

Mummies and Artefacts

Hiram Bingham III was appointed as a lecturer in South American History at Yale University in 1907. He traveled through South America, including Peru, in 1908 and returned with Yale-sponsored expeditions to Peru in 1911, 1912, and 1915. Since The Panama Canal wasn't opened until 1914, Bingham's first three visits to Peru involved difficult trips either overland or around Cape Horn and were far from being as simple as it is nowadays.

Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones

A local native of Peru, Melchor Arteaga, led the first Bingham expedition in 1911 to Machu Picchu, which had until then been largely ignored by the non-indigenous people. With the casual racism and arrogance characteristic of the times, Bingham claimed to have discovered Machu Picchu (that it hadn't been lost to the locals and that other European explorers had been there before him apparently didn't count) and proceeded to loot the ruins, bringing back something like 40,000 different artefacts to Yale. These mummies, ceramics, bones, and other artifacts were supposed to be returned to Peru by Yale a few years ago after prolonged litigation. The switchback-filled road for tourist buses that runs from the Urubamba River to Machu Picchu is now called the Hiram Bingham Highway. Bingham himself has been suggested to be the basis for the "Indiana Jones" character in Steven Spielberg's blockbuster movies.

History of the Incas

The decision to colonize the Andean Altiplano by indigenous tribes tens of thousands of years ago was a choice of a difficult life style due to the harsh conditions of weather and altitude. Living at high altitude avoided constant exposure to the vector-borne diseases of the lowland jungles and swamps like malaria and dengue fever, poisonous snakes and insects, and other human predators like crocodiles, piranha, and jungle cats. Initially the highlanders followed the camelids (llamas, alpacas, etc.) and mountain goats and were hunter-gatherers. They learned the tricks of survival in this harsh terrain and later became farmers as well. The Incas conquered most of the other indigenous tribes in the 15th and 16th centuries to create the Incan Empire, which lasted for less than 100 years until the Spanish conquest in the 16th Century. The Incas brought not only spears and arrows, but also sophisticated irrigated agriculture and designs for huge granaries with them as an inducement to join their culture and religion.

The Sacred Site of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu (which can be seen as the cover picture on my novel The Surreal Killer) is amazing. It’s not just the engineering scope and scale, the artistry of the architecture and the remote and inaccessible location. It's the serenity and spirituality of the place. That's why Machu Picchu is at the top of most lists for international visits by New Age enthusiasts and affluent hippies. Almost five hundred years after the conquest of the Incas, a visitor can still feel this religiosity emotionally and consciously, even though it’s a different religion than that of 99.9% of the tourists who visit there. Just standing on the mountaintop, silently looking at the ruins of the Temple of the Sun or the Temple of Three Windows, makes it impossible not to be embraced by the spirituality of Machu Picchu. Chile's greatest poet and writer Pablo Neruda said it all in his work, "The Heights of Machu Picchu". "Machu Picchu is a trip to the serenity of the soul, to the eternal fusion with the cosmos, where we feel our fragility." Perhaps the strongest statement made by tourists is the long silences as they look at the ancient Incan ruins and think their private thoughts..

Incan Religion

The Incas had a highly developed and sophisticated religion, which had several sacred places---Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca are perhaps the most familiar sites to tourists nowadays. The early Incas had to adjust to their life high in the Andes, an area of steep cliffs, huge boulders, and mountainous terrain. They made unique stone formations into special objects for worship by imbuing them with spiritual properties. These rocks were thought to possess their own spiritual forces so they were truly "gifts from the gods". The puma and other sacred animals like the condor or eagle are a recurring theme in all of the religious places found in this area. The most sacred structures feature the puma image. The puma represents the Incan god responsible for our world and was worshiped by all of the Incas. A carved rock in the Machu Picchu ruins called Q’enko has a puma carving and zigzag channels carved into the top to allow the flow of llama blood after sacrifice of the animals during religious rituals. The puma also appears in Cuzco, where the historic city is supposed to be laid out in the shape of the puma, with the fortress of Sacsayhuaman as its head.

Mayas Aztecs Incas

Inca Beliefs

The condor represents the gods of the upper world, which included the sun, moon, stars, lightning, and rainbows. The third kind of animal the Incas deified was the snake, which represented the lower world, or inner earth. That was where the ancestors of the Incas, their great dead heroes, and the most important of their gods Pachamama, Mother of the Earth, lived.

There are ceremonial showers at Machu Picchu (e.g., Tambomachay) where the nobility bathed in preparation for rituals. Apparently the nobles and the priests both participated in the important ceremonies, some of which included sacrifices of animals or humans. Human sacrifice was rare. It happened only during the most special occasions, like the crowning of a new King of the Incas or to try to get the gods to intervene in famines or epidemics of disease. Animal sacrifice, especially of llama, was more common. The most common sacrifice was a small amount of food crops at the time of harvest to ensure a good yield for the next crop. Archeologists tell us that some of these religious practices continued at Machu Picchu long after the time of the Spanish conquest, so Incan spiritualism outlived secular Incan government, probably until the era of modern Peru, if not longer..

Building Machu Picchu: Incan construction techniques such as those used at Machu Picchu are fascinating. They used huge rocks, some dragged many miles up and down mountains at altitudes as high as 12,000 feet, using only human labor to move, grind, and polish boulders weighing tens of tons. The Incas did not have cement, so the rocks were shaped to fit together like giant pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and held in place by gravity. They hadn't invented the wheel, so primitive rollers made from logs and fiber ropes were used to transport the rocks. The Peruvian altiplano is a major earthquake zone, but many of the walls have survived more or less intact for over 600 years.

Quirky Factoid About the Book: Despite The Surreal Killer being a work of fiction, it has been a top-100 seller (top 20 for almost 2 years) in Amazon’s non-fiction category of Travel-South America-Peru since it was published.

To see more of Jerold Last's work, click the link to his website or scroll down to the bottom of the page to view his member details Visit Roger and Suzanne Mysteries.

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The most popular (and best selling book) thus far in my South American mystery series featuring Roger Bowman and Suzanne Foster, a husband-wife detective team, is “The Surreal Killer”. This suspenseful E-novel...

The Surreal Killer by Jerold Last

A serial killer is leaving a trail of dead women across Chile, Peru, and Bolivia. The gruesome corpses all seem to have died in exactly the same macabre way. There may be a link to a small group of scientists who meet annually in different locations in the region. Roger Bowman and Suzanne Foster are asked by the local police to attend this year’s meeting of the group in Lima, Peru to try to find out who was present at the previous meetings when the murders occurred. And the reader is...

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