Our final day in Cusco was a free day with nothing scheduled. With some of our cohorts still a bit under the weather, Tim and I set out on our own. We shopped our way toward the main square, stopping en route at a weaving museum. We learned how their weaving is done, some of the traditional dying methods, and looked at samples of clothing from each region.
At a lunch break near Plaza de Armas, while watching a small parade go by and eating pizza, we were approached by two young girls that asked if we wanted to take a picture with them.
It is customary to offer them a small amount of money in exchange for a picture and the negotiations began. I agreed to give them one US dollar for the picture, which at the time was a generous amount. Anyway, I was willing to pay the higher amount because I thought they looked cute in their dresses and loved the baby lambs they were carrying.
After taking the picture, I gave one of the girls a dollar and the other girl started to protest that she wanted one as well. I told her sorry, but no, that I had agreed to pay $1 and would not pay any more. They would have to share the money paid.
She continued to protest and then all of a sudden they both took off running. What I did not see initially, was that a police officer was walking toward us and they did not want to get in trouble for harassing a tourist.
Cusco is very safe and they go to great lengths to keep their visitors happy and feeling non-threatened. Our tour guide the day before had informed us that it was safe to walk around Cusco, even at night.
Taking pictures of people is often a challenge.
It is considered polite to ask before taking someone’s picture, however the best shots are usually candid ones. Sometimes we snap them on the fly with a camera at waist level sitting on top of our fanny pack, often we ask permission, and occasionally simply shoot from a distance using a zoom lens.
I’m not sure I have a hard and fast rule, but if I can engage someone in a conversation first and obtain permission, it feels better. On the other hand, that fleeting moment when an opportunity arises to capture something unique, I will take that shot if I can.
PLAZA DE ARMAS
We purchased tickets for a tour through Cathedral de Santo Domingo, located in the central square, Plaza de Armas. A delightful guide was hired and he walked with us through the inside explaining the many different areas in the church.
Barely in his 20’s, this young man’s English was excellent. He further impressed us with his vast knowledgeable of the local history, Incan history, religious history and Peruvian history.
The main altar, originally made of cedar wood and covered in gold, was later covered in silver. The Virgin Mary instead of Jesus was on display and held the place of honor.
Silver in the Inca tradition stands for purity, the Virgin Mary, nighttime and Pachamama (Mother Earth).
We were not allowed to take any pictures of the altar.
One of the highlights was seeing the black Christ, known locally as Cristo de los Temblores. According to some writings, the painting of Christ is believed by locals to have stopped the 1650 Cusco earthquake.
The other highlight was seeing the painting of “The Last Supper” by Marcos Zapata which hung near the main altar. If you look closely, the dinner includes the local specialty, Cuy or as we know it, Guinea Pig!
This excellent private tour lasted about 1.5 hours and was a bargain at 10 Sol which at the time was the equivalent to $3.30 USD. This was the total for the two of us, not per person. Tim gave him a 20 Sol tip and we were all delighted with the deal.
We also took a tour through the Inca Museum where we were able to see relics from early in Peru’s history as well as from the Inca Empire. What I found especially interesting was seeing the numerous mummies on display.
A couple more candid shots from our day:
An early morning wakeup the next day was met with excited anticipation.
We were finally headed to Aguas Calientes, which is the gateway to Machu Picchu. This part of our journey was by train, Perurail.
The train ride takes us into the Sacred Valley of the Incas, passing by lush, green fields and colorful villages in the foothills of the Andes.
Aguas Calientes is the colloquial name for Machu Picchu Pueblo and is located along the Urubamba River. It is the closest access point to the sacred Incan city of Machu Picchu which means Old Mountain in Quechua.
The town sits 3.7 miles below the ancient city or about 1.5 hours walk up a very steep hill. There are many hotels and restaurants for tourists, as well as natural hot baths, which gives the town its name.
Aguas Calientes means hot waters in Spanish.
After having lunch and dropping off our overnight bags at the hotel, we decided a soak in the hot pools sounded like the perfect way to spend the afternoon. There were places to rent towels along the walk.
The hot baths were pleasant though not as hot as we would have liked. Other than dealing with one very obnoxious drunk woman, the afternoon was relaxing and a welcome change of pace.
Later that evening we were invited to learn how to make a local special cocktail – the Machu Picchu, of course!
For one serving, use 2 oz. pisco brandy, 4 oz. fresh-squeezed orange juice, 1/4 oz. grenadine syrup and 1/4 oz. crème de menthe.
We were on the verge of visiting what we had traveled so far to see. But first we would spend one more night…