26 – 30. September
Cusco – or as Freddy called it ‘Cushko’
Cusco is a beautiful city. The main square with its three cathedrals and old street lanterns, with its alley ways and colorful characters is really a delight to walk around. And Cusco is also the most westernized city in all of South America. There is nothing a visitor would lack – form fondue to fleece. Machu Pichu and the Inca Trail have been drawing tourists (especially “Western” tourists) for so long that the since has grown through their influence and needs.
We stayed at a great hotel on the small one way street accessed by the alley way to the right of the main square. Each day we got to walk on the cobbled streets and past the stone with 29 sides, past the whispers of ‘massage’ and ‘take a look’. On our corner was Jack’s Café – an organic café with huge salads and even bigger mugs of ginger tea. It was hard to pass by, without at least a cup of tea.
We spent our days before the Inca Trail getting acclimatized to the altitude, meeting with our group and buying the remaining supplies we would need. It was also here that we realized how our time in South America was growing shorter and shorter. Patrick spent hours with OneWorld making routing changes and then fixing the mistake when the system cancelled everything we had reserved. This is the ugly and unpleasant side of long travel. It is frustrating, even with the modern luxury of the internet and skype available almost everywhere. (We managed to spend 4 days on the IncaTrail without knowing that we actually really did not have any flights booked – so the days after returning from the Inca Trail were filled with more of the same.) But in the end, we now had time to travel through Bolivia and what was even more exciting was that we would get to the Easter Island and Tahiti.
As hoped our package ordeal was not resolved. We would be leaving on the trail tomorrow and had only today to receive it. Feeling all was not well, we found the DHL office in Cusco and of course missed the one English speaking employee who was on his lunch break. We learned the word “aduana” – which means duty or the unexpected cost that every recipient of a package in Peru has to pay. Every item has a set price – our small box, the size of a kids shoe box, that already cost $100US to send to Peru would cost another $110US in duties. The box was within our reach and we fought it until we could no longer bear it. We paid and tried to forget about.
We had missed our chance to join a city tour, so instead found the local buses going to Pisac, the soaring ruins located a top a mountain nestled in the Sacred Valley. We experienced for the first time choclo y queso (boiled corn on the cob and a chunk of cheese) and delighted in the simplicity of this Peruvian snack. The kernels on Peruvian corn are not he size and color of the manicured corn that we are used to. The kernels are lighter in color, uneven in texture and the size of a man’s thumbnail.
We found the unmarked trail that led to the mountain top and I huffed and puffed my way up the mountain. Patrick’s energy and enthusiasm bugged me – why was this so easy for him? I started to worry about he hiking of the Inca trail and watched how my worry and anxiety fueled each gasping breath. Such an over-dramatization.
But we made it up and the views of the Sacred Valley were indeed breathtaking, literally. The familiar Inca stonework was evident as was the irrigation system. How did they get these rocks up here?
A tour of Sexywoman
Knowing we had little time after the Inca Trail to do a city tour, we knew we needed to get on one on Sunday. It started in the big cathedral – a reminder of Spanish colonization and Catholic dominance. The Peruvians we encountered, especially those involved in the tourist industry, are very proud of their Inca ancestry and the Inca culture. They are not shy to show disdain for the Spanish, their religion, their language, their ways of life. (It was interesting to have the disdain that is usually felt for the United States be transferred instead to the Spanish – there were great crimes done to the Incas at the hands of the Spanish, so it is understandable).
What remains of the Incas is only their buildings and great admiration and pride from today’s Peruvians for what once was. Oh and a strange thing called Inca Cola which is a bright yellow concoction that tastes like cotton candy and is the national soft drink. Anyway, Peru, and especially the area of the Sacred Valley is prone to earthquakes. The architecture and building practices of the Incas made their buildings earthquake-proof. The Spaniards, when they first arrived, built their churches and homes in their “way”, but with the first earthquake, the buildings came tumbling down. They began to use the Inca stones as foundations, building only their facades on top of the unshakable stone. You see this practice during the city tour and standing next to an Inca wall, you can feel its strength and everlasting durability.
The tour included a visit to the Inca ruins called Sachsywaman, which someone crudely pronounced as “Sexywoman” and the name stuck. It is not sure what wide open area is used for, but it is assumed it was used for festivities and celebrations. Some of the stones that make up the right side wall are the height and length of a standard bedroom wall – and they are stacked on top if each other. How did they move these things?