Interlude in Cusco, Peru
In the square, dancing: Plaza de Armas, Cusco
Sat, July 17:
Cusco, Peru, was the capital of the Inca empire, and they called it the centre or "navel of the world." The Spanish conquistadors tore the gold off the walls and melted it down, burned down the rest of the town, but the town was so well-planned and the Inca's stonework was so good, that you can still see evidence of it everywhere. In any case, Cusco today is a beautiful city.
One of the many beautiful squares in Cusco
We got here by car, and the driver, Ronnie, told us this long story in Spanish about driving tourists to Lima and paying the police 5 soles as they went. Jenn and I were desperately trying to follow along with our limited Spanish. After about ten minutes, he gets to the punchline...10 soles, this is Lima! Then he just cracks up.
Our hotel here, both before and after the Inca Trail, will be a place called Torre Dorada. It's in a residential area about 4km from the main square (the Plaza de Armas). What they do, though, is drive you everywhere, free of charge. It's their way of competing with the more centrally-located hotels. Torre Dorada is a bit of a splurge for us. They actually have heat! It's been single-digit Celsius temperatures at night in Peru, and only the thick blankets have made the rooms warm enough in other places.
So,we asked for a car and were driven past the statue of the Inca (emperor) Pachacuti and down the Avenue of the Sun into the Plaza. The Plaza de Armas is big, with a fountain in the centre, nice flowers, park benches, views of the hills and is ringed by churches and buildings with carved wooden balconies on their second floors. We walked the Plaza and other streets and arrived for dinner at "Two Nations," an Australian-owned burger place that's touted in all the guidebooks as a must. They have big burgers. Really big.
I can't eat all my dinner!
We were treated to what Anica called "the symphony of dogs" at night!
Sun, July 18:
After battling with my indigestible burger, I hauled myself around the sites today, not wanting to let Jenn and Anica down. Even by the end of the day I still wasn't feeling much better. But...
We had a guided tour of four Inca ruins just outside of Cusco. Tambo Machay, with its purifying fountain waters, flowing again; Puca Pucara, the red control fort that was also accommodated pilgrims; Qenko, the labyrinth where human offerings took place; and, finally, Sacsayhuaman, the huge temple that was the most important in the Inca's world. There's room for thousands on the flat ground between the two stone sides of this temple. On one side is a zig-zag pattern of huge fitted stones, for the lightning god. On the other side is an arced pattern of rocks for the rainbow god. Some of these stones weigh over 100 tonnes each! Our guide pronounced "gods" like "guts," which was a little confusing at first. He also had the habit of saying "look" at the start of his sentences. "Look! There are guts everywhere."
Sacsayhuaman: pronounced "sexy woman" by some tourists...
Our laundry was returned to us by the end of the day, all itemized. According to their records, we even got our "3 bozos" cleaned. See, sometimes it's fun not knowing much Spanish.
Mon, July 19
Although I felt better today, Jenn was coughing some. Not good timing with the Inca Trail just two days away! She's started a course of our traveller's antibiotics, hoping to nip this in the bud. We did notice the pollution in Cusco more today. Even though the skies are a brilliantly clear blue, it's still a valley, and there's more cars here than in the other towns, so the pollution is trapped.
We were out all day, playing in the automobile fumes. First, the Inca Museum, which actually showed a lot of the pre-Inca civilizations and cultures. The highlight was actual Inca mummies, including a child, a baby and a dog. Real, creepy and real creepy! There aren't many examples left of Inca mummification, as the Spanish destroyed most of them.
Then the cathedral. We accepted the guided tour, then also looked around on our own. There are Inca/Quechua touches all over the cathedral, little subversive artistic motifs. The best one is the "Last Supper" painting. Not only are the disciples eating "cuy" (guinea pig), Judas Iscariot is painted to look just like Francisco Pizarro! Another cathedral highlight is the silver-plated car that they use instead of a traditional litter in the annual procession. They pimped their ride for the Lord!
In between these buildings, we'd sit in the sun in one of the squares. It's like hot and cold plunges with the unheated museums and churches.
In the afternoon, we went to Peru Treks, paid the balance for the hike and had our briefing.
Back to square one: Plaza de Armas, Cusco
Tues, July 20
Our goal is to limit the walking today - Inca Trail tomorrow - with Jenn coughing and not feeling well. We went to the "Artesenal Market," and Anica got gifts for a couple of her friends. We then took "Inca" passages, or alleyways, from the main Plaza to "Koricancha," and toured this convent built on top of a conquered Inca palace which in turn had been built on the foundations of an ancient, pre-Inca structure. It has beautiful grounds and is a mesmerizing mixture of Quechua and Christian art and architecture.
Coricancha: two kinds of stonework visible
Inca stone detail at Koricancha: meticulously fitted without mortar
Grounds, gardens at Koricancha
Re-packing for the trail was very difficult and time-consuming. Jenn's coughing meant that we were wondering what would happen when the alarm went off at 4:30 the next morning and the bus comes to take us to the trail.
Mischevious but literate hillbillies express their patriotism