Today my trip down memory lane jumps from Europe to South America. So many people have Machu Picchu on their bucket list and we were fortunate to be able to check that off in late August, 2009.
This was our first time in South America and we were excited to see as much as we could in the 10 days we had available. Instead of choosing a tour company from the USA, our traveling companions found a local Peruvian company that could assist and personalize our tour experience.
A long flight to Lima, a short overnight stay, followed by a shorter flight brought us to Cusco for the first three days of our time in Peru. Due to the high elevation, we decided to spend this time in Cusco to get acclimated before continuing on.
Cusco (also spelled Cuzco in some publications) was the capital of the Inca Empire from the 1200’s – 1532. It was planned to be in the shape of a Puma and has an elevation of approximately 11,000 feet. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983, it did not disappoint.
After checking in to our hotel, it was time to get out the door and do some exploring. Colorful, friendly, welcoming, and full of life, I was instantly captivated by the cities local charm.
Let me introduce you to Gus. Tim liberated him from one of those claw vending machines on the Santa Monica Pier when we were first dating. He has a habit of sneaking into our suitcase and has traveled throughout the world with us. All of about 6 inches tall, with a long nose, white chest and yellow fur he makes friends where ever he goes.
You will occasionally see him pop up in our travel pictures.
Peru is known for their colorful woven alpaca goods, sweaters, shawls, hats, gloves and silver jewelry. There was much to choose from, and bargains galore.
With a threatening sky, we stopped off for lunch in a wonderful restaurant we found that overlooked Plaza de Armas. They were refinishing the floors, so we took window seats for both the view and fresh air.
That is the Cathedral of Cusco on the left.
This young mother graciously posed for a picture, but as was common, a small donation was expected and appreciated in exchange.
The rest of the day was spent browsing crowded markets, sampling local cuisine, and exploring the sights found between our hotel and the several block easy walk to the main plaza.
After a restful sleep, we were greeted the next morning with sunshine. We took our time over a late breakfast and eased into the day. Our small group of six was hit with altitude sickness, “Pachacuti’s Revenge” (that is the same as Montezuma’s Revenge, only in Peru), insomnia, and a fall on the steps resulting in a badly bruised hand.
Thankfully Tim and I remained unscathed.
The pre-arranged afternoon city tour started off with a stop at Coricancha (Temple of the Sun).
Coricancha means “Golden Courtyard” in Quechua. The walls and floors were once covered in sheets of solid gold and the courtyard was filled with golden statues. It was the most ornate temple in the Inca Empire and where highest ranking priests were housed as they dedicated themselves to worshipping the sun.
After the Spaniards ransacked the temple, taking the gold, they built the Church of Santo Domingo on top of the remaining foundation.
Our tour continued out-of-town with a drive along the Circumvallation Road.
The ancient walls of Sacsahuaman were built by the prehistoric indigenous Killke people about 1100 AD. The Inca people occupied and expanded the complex beginning around 1200 AD.
Like much Inca stonework, there is still mystery surrounding how they were constructed. The stones fit so perfectly that no blade of grass can slide between them. There is no mortar. They often join in complex and irregular patterns that would be a nightmare for a stonemason.
The Spanish harvested a lot of the rock from the walls of the structure to build churches in Cusco. This is why the walls are in perfect condition up to a certain height, and missing above that point.
Some believe the walls were a form of fortification, while others believe it was only used to form the head of the Puma that Sacsayhuaman along with Cusco form when seen from the air.
Note several different spellings of the name, including a pronunciation that sounds like “sexy woman”.
Our afternoon continued with a stop at Q’enqo (which means maize). With passages and carved stone channels in a zigzag pattern, it is a site where the dead were prepared for mummification.
And our final stop on the tour was Tambomachay. This was thought to be a royal bath, used by the Incas for religious ceremonies dedicated to water. It is also referred to as a fountain of youth, but we were discouraged to drink the water to prevent an upset stomach.
And once again I missed an opportunity to turn back the clock…
The intricate rockwork is more visible in this picture.
Along the walk up the path, we have our choice of local woman and their flock to take pictures of or with.
But the day was not over. That evening we had a special dinner show included at the Don Antonio Restaurant. It is a generous buffet with a large salad bar, many hot items and a desert bar. Cuy, or guinea pig is an Andean delicacy that is found in many Peruvian dishes and was one of the many choices we were offered.
I am quite adventurous when it comes to trying new foods, but I just could not bring myself to eat an animal that has been raised as a pet in our household.
Besides, it probably just tasted like chicken…
The entertainment was over the top with vibrant costumes, dazzling dances, and talented musicians.
Can you see why Cusco captivated me?
My early photography skills leave a lot to be desired, yet everywhere I turned I was faced with a new opportunity to learn, compose, snap and try to capture the moment.
I hope I have given you enough of the essence of Cusco to intrigue you.
Our tour of Peru will be continued…