Monday, June 1, 2009

World Famous City of Cusco

Cusco is a city steeped in history, tradition and myth. It was once the foremost city of the Inca Empire, and is now the undisputed archeological capital of the Americas as well as the continents oldest continously inhabited city. Massive Inca-built walls line steep, narrow cobblestone streets and plazas. We stayed one street behind the Plaza de Armas(main Plaza) in Cusco so that we could be close to all the action.

A rooftops view of the cathedral in the main square of Cusco (taken from our hostel room):

Our first couple of days in Cusco were mostly spent shopping for an agency and a trek that would take us to Machu Picchu. Before we arrived in Cusco we had already decided to do an ´alternative trek.´ The Inca trail is usually booked more than 6 months in advance and is reportedly dirty, over-crowded and over-priced. We eventually decided on the Salkantay Trek which is a 5 day-4 night, more gruelling and scenic route that ventures to Machu Picchu.

Next decision was on an agency - with more than 600 located in Cusco alone the choices were endless, but...we did some research and 4 or 5 soon topped our list. Many agencies and company´s are less than reputable, and we eventually decided upon SAS - probably the largest and one of the oldest agencies. A date and time were set and all we had to do now was enjoy Cusco.

While we were in Cusco we visited an internet Cafe and Rebecca noticed that a friend from Public School had posted on facebook that she was in Cusco. A sleury of emails ensued and we met up with Sarah Ackworth and her new husband (they were on their honeymoon) for drinks. Facebook - bringing people together!

The evening before we left for our trek we wandered down to the main plaza for dinner. To our amazement, we were greeted by a procession of dancers and bands that had totally shut down the streets in the main plaza. The dancers were dressed in full costume and represented different schools in the region. Children as young as 4 or 5 danced in processions.

After returning from our trek we spent a couple more days in Cusco. On our last day in Cusco we decided to visit several ruins and sites located around Cusco. Instead of paying an exorbanant entrance fee, our guide from the Machu Picchu trek, Silverio, introduced us too a local horseman named Manuel who was happy to take us around the to the sites on horse-back and explain them. A fellow canuck from our Machu Pichu hike named Rafael joined us.

The first site we visited is still a bit of a mystery to us. Along an ancient inca road leading out of Cusco we found a series of rocks with seats carved out of them. The seats were stategically located to give the seated person a view of carvings in rocks located opposite to the seats. On the walls located across from the seats, supposedly, were carvings made by the Incas of monkeys. With a little imagination we were able to see the monkeys. Can you?

Along the same Inca road we visited Qénqo wich means ´zigzag´. The site is a large limestone rock riddled with niches, steps and extrodinary symbolic carvings including channels that were used for ritual sacrifices. At the base of the large rock is a subterranean cave that has been carved out. Inside the cave are many alters and steps hewn into the rock. Around the rock researchers and archeologists are currently locating and excavating the foundations of buildings built by the Inca´s.

We ended our horse-back tour with a panoramic view over the important Inca ruin known as Saqsaywaman: The name means ´Satisfied Falcon´, though most travelers refer to it as ´sexy woman.´ The site of the inca ruin is located 2km at the top of a hill overlooking Cusco. The site still has great importance too the people of Peru and many cermonies that celebrate the sun still occur hear every year. Right away you can see the intricacy of the stone work, and how large some of the stones are. One of the larger stones is more than 6 m tall and an estimated 120 tonnes. What is most amazing is that the stones were brought from a quarry located more than a kilometre away. Although Saqsaywaman may appear huge, what we see today is only about 20% of the original structure. Soon after the conquest, the spaniards tore down many of the walls and used the blocks to build their own houses- many of which are evident in the the city of Cusco.

Saqsaywaman from the top of the hill:

In front of Saqsaywaman:

Cusco is an amazing city with lots to explore and never-ending Inca sites. While it´s pretty touristy, it is also pretty laid back. Time to continue on to Ariquipa and canyon country...

Peru Fun Fact:
In Peru, EVERYTHING is Inca. You can buy t-shirts, hats, mugs, paintings that all say Inca or are in the shape of an Inca. You can even get an Inca massage (our trek guide joked that this meant getting hit over the head with a stick!). We avoided all of these products, except one that we just had to try: INCA COLA! Inca Cola is a bright yellow soft drink that tastes like bubble gum. It is super sweet and reminds us a bit of cream soda. OK to try once, but we wont be bringing any back.

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