CHAPTER VI. The Vilcanota Country and the Peruvian Highlanders
Coughs and bronchial trouble are very common among the Indians. In fact, the most common afflictions of the tableland are those of the throat and lungs. Pneumonia is the most serious and most to be dreaded of all local diseases. It is really terrifying. Due to the rarity of the air and relative scarcity of oxygen, pneumonia is usually fatal at 8000 feet and is uniformly so at 11,000 feet. Patients are frequently ill only twenty-four hours. Tuberculosis is fairly common, its prevalence undoubtedly caused by the living conditions practiced among the highlanders, who are unwilling to sleep in a room which is not tightly closed and protected against any possible intrusion of fresh air. In the warmer valleys, where bodily comfort has led the natives to use huts of thatch and open reeds, instead of the air-tight hovels of the cold, bleak plateau, tuberculosis is seldom seen. Of course, there are no "boards of health," nor are the people bothered by being obliged to conform to any sanitary regulations. Water supplies are so often contaminated that the people have learned to avoid drinking it as far as possible. Instead, they eat quantities of soup.
In the market-place of Sicuani, the largest town in the valley, and the border-line between the potato-growing uplands and lowland maize fields, we attended the famous Sunday market. Many native "druggists" were present. Their stock usually consisted of "medicines," whose efficacy was learned by the Incas. There were forty or fifty kinds of simples and curiosities, cure-alls, and specifics. Fully half were reported to me as being "useful against fresh air" or the evil effects of drafts. The "medicines" included such minerals as iron ore and sulphur; such vegetables as dried seeds, roots, and the leaves of plants domesticated hundreds of years ago by the Incas or gathered in the tropical jungles of the lower Urubamba Valley; and such animals as starfish brought from the Pacific Ocean. Some of them were really useful herbs, while others have only a psychopathic effect on the patient. Each medicine was in an attractive little particolored woolen bag. The bags, differing in design and color, woven on miniature hand looms, were arranged side by side on the ground, the upper parts turned over and rolled down so as to disclose the contents.
Not many miles below Sicuani, at a place called Racche, are the remarkable ruins of the so-called Temple of Viracocha, described by Squier. At first sight Racche looks as though there were here a row of nine or ten lofty adobe piers, forty or fifty feet high! Closer inspection, however, shows them all to be parts of the central wall of a great temple. The wall is pierced with large doors and the spaces between the doors are broken by niches, narrower at the top than at the bottom. There are small holes in the doorposts for bar-holds. The base of the great wall is about five feet thick and is of stone. The ashlars are beautifully cut and, while not rectangular, are roughly squared and fitted together with most exquisite care, so as to insure their making a very firm foundation. Their surface is most attractive, but, strange to say, there is unmistakable evidence that the builders did not wish the stonework to show. This surface was at one time plastered with clay, a very significant fact. The builders wanted the wall to seem to be built entirely of adobe, yet, had the great clay wall rested on the ground, floods and erosion might have succeeded in undermining it. Instead, it rests securely on a beautifully built foundation of solid masonry. Even so, the great wall does not stand absolutely true, but leans slightly to the westward. The wall also seems to be less weathered on the west side. Probably the prevailing or strongest wind is from the east.
An interesting feature of the ruins is a round column about twenty feet high - a very rare occurrence in Inca architecture. It also is of adobe, on a stone foundation. There is only one column now standing. In Squier's day the remains of others were to be seen, but I could find no evidences of them. There was probably a double row of these columns to support the stringers and tiebeams of the roof. Apparently one end of a tiebeam rested on the circular column and the other end was embedded in the main wall. The holes where the tiebeams entered the wall have stone lintels.
Near the ruins of the great temple are those of other buildings, also unique, so far as I know. The base of the party wall, decorated with large niches, is of cut ashlars carefully laid; the middle course is of adobe, while the upper third is of rough, uncut stones. It looks very odd now but was originally covered with fine clay or stucco. In several cases the plastered walls are still standing, in fairly good condition, particularly where they have been sheltered from the weather.
The chief marvel of Racche, however, is the great adobe wall of the temple, which is nearly fifty feet high. It is slowly disintegrating, as might be expected. The wonder is that it should have stood so long in a rainy region without any roof or protecting cover. It is incredible that for at least five hundred years a wall of sun-dried clay should have been able to defy severe rainstorms. The lintels, made of hard-wood timbers and partially embedded in the wall, are all gone; yet the adobe remains. It would be very interesting to find out whether the water of the springs near the temple contains lime. If so this might have furnished natural calcareous cement in sufficient quantity to give the clay a particularly tenacious quality, able to resist weathering. The factors which have caused this extraordinary adobe wall to withstand the weather in such an exposed position for so many centuries, notwithstanding the heavy rains of each summer season from December to March, are worthy of further study.