Sunday, July 26, 2009

CUSCO

DAY ONE It was the end of May when my friend Emily from Atlanta, Georgia, and I boarded a LAN flight from Lima to Cusco. I was excited for her because it was her first visit to Peru and for me because (even as a native Peruvian) I had visited Cusco only once and that had been in 1968!

I envisioned landing in Cusco and thought how exhilarating it was going to be to see the city from above, but what a disappointment! We had been assigned seats on the last row of the plane and we didn't have a window! We eventually took a taxi ride up the hill of Cristo Blanco (the white statue of Christ that stands guard over Cusco with open arms) and on the way up we took this panoramic photo of the city.

Cusco is located at an altitude of over 11,000 feet. My sister Connie had instructed us to request coca tea before landing to avoid soroche (altitude sickness). We did that and continued drinking coca for 9 days! It must work because we felt nothing of the kind. In fact, we were quite content.

After we checked into the hotel, we walked to the main plaza where we both were "persuaded" to buy a wide brim hat. They turned out to be a great purchase as we wore them constantly. (Well, Emily had bought it for her dad so she only borrowed it twice.) With our hats on we wandered about some more until, all of a sudden, lo and behold a pizzeria appeared in front of us. We went in for pizza!

That afternoon our tour bus took us to the Convento de Santo Domingo built over Koricancha, the Inca's Temple of the Sun, where two drawings caught my interest.

In the center of the first one, Cusco resembles the sun from where roads irradiate like sunrays connecting towns represented by dots. The second drawing shows secondary roads linking those dots. Undoubtedly, a remarkable road network that covered thousands of miles from Ecuador, through Peru to Argentina and Chile. Chasquis, or runners, acting as the postal messengers of present day, transported through those roads messages and supplies at extraordinary speed

We continued to the outskirts of Cusco to visit the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, Quenqo, Pucapucara and Tambomachay. By the time we arrived in Sacsayhuaman it was around 4 p.m. It was almost 12 hours since we had left Lima. At the site of the first flat stone Emily decided to rest her feet. I explored a little further to see the biggest piece of stone in the compound which is said to weigh 361 tons!!

When we arrived in Tambomachay, some people decided to stay in the bus. I followed the walking group instead. At that point I wasn't sure that I would had the stamina to complete the visit but I decided to try. It began to mist, it was getting dark, it was windy, I was cold and I couldn't even see the finish line. It was then when I retreated and walked back to the entrance to have my picture taken to have it documented that I had made it that far, 3765 meters above see level or 12352 ft.!

That evening we indulged in a steak dinner at a local restaurant. It wasn't the best of meals but it was enough to fortify us and with the included pisco sour we were ready for bed!

DAY TWO We woke up at 6 the next morning rejuvenated. We took a hot shower, got dressed and went down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. We were greeted with a hearty breakfast buffet that consisted of eggs, cold cuts, cheese, fruit, a variety of bread, hot milk, juices, espresso and tea. After breakfast, we boarded the bus that was to take us to the Sacred Valley of the Incas. With such a romantic name it was no surprise to find that the ride through the mountains to the valley gave me a sense of peace. It is not until one sees the terraces which were built for agriculture purposes, that one can assess the strength, vigor, determination and the superb architectural ability of the civilization that built them. We saw some from the bus but I was overwhelmed when I saw them at close range at Pisac. In the words of Hiram Bingham: "Terraces are found in many countries.. but is very doubtful whether any equal those constructed by the Incas."

As we were leaving Pisac, I met a little girl and her baby pet (sheep?). It was love at first sight.

The furthest northwest point from Cusco of our excursion was Ollantaytambo. Here we saw the face on the mountain across the ruins. There are two versions of it. One describes it as a natural rock formation and the other one as man-made. I am trying to find out which of these two versions is true. If you know, let me know.

We ended the day with a visit to the picturesque village of Chincheros and a session on the art of dyeing. By the way, did you know that the color red is obtained from the cochineal insect that lives on cactus? It is used to dye yarn, foods and for cosmetics. Supposedly it is kiss proof!

After this educational session, we walked to the main plaza where Emily bought an alpaca blanket.

DAY THREE Today we were scheduled to take the train to Aguas Calientes but a demonstration disrupted transportation and train service was cancelled. We spent part of the day roaming the streets of Cusco on foot and later hired a cab to drive us around for a couple of hours.

One thing that I must mention is that the streets of downtown Cusco are immaculately clean and free of any debris. There are no beggars, instead, everyone is a merchant and there are all kinds of clothing and artifacts to buy on the streets.

In the evening we dined at Nonna Trattoria located "exactly" 52 steps from our hotel (we know it because Emily counted them). It was a delightful dinner. It included an appetizer of tomato, basil and mozzarella cheese followed by spaghetti with pesto, garlic bread and one pisco sour each at the cost of approximately US$12.00 for two. What a bargain!

If you remember, on our first day in Cusco we had pizza. Now, on our last day we find ourselves having pasta. Maybe we should've gone to Italy!! Tomorrow to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.

2 comments:

  1. Very good !!!
    see photrom.fr and romtop.blogspot.com
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