Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Peru Part 5: Back in Cusco

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We spent the first day of our trip in Cusco because it was close to the airport and would give us a chance to rest and have time to acclimate to the altitude. That first visit gave us just a taste of what was to come.

Our city tour was scheduled to start at 1:30. After a late breakfast we decided to go and explore the plaza some more and the nearby San Blas District. We went out the back door of our hotel so we could see the San Francisco Cathedral. This is cathedral number four in two blocks. We stopped in a market (not a super market) for some Hall's Cough Drops. 40 cents.

The street going up to San Blas was the same one we took to go to Jack's on Day One. It was narrow and continued up that stair-step sidewalk. If you get winded it's easy to duck into a store, cafe, of gallery to catch your breath for a minute. You do have to be careful when you exit a shop because you could get clipped by a car.

The tour books said that San Blas used to be a run-down area. A beautification project commenced and many of the buildings were painted white with blue trim. Kinda like the Greek Islands. We got to the San Blas church and its plaza within ten minutes of leaving the Plaza de Armas. Around the courtyard were some art galleries featuring a lot of Spanish Colonial style art, cafes, and a tourist craft market in a courtyard setting. We went into the craft market and watched a woman weaving a item on a loom. Pretty cool.

From this square there was a nice view of the surrounding area. We had heard, and witnessed, this was an area with lots of hostels. There were flyers for reggae night at nearby clubs. We were guessing the nightlife here would be pretty vibrant. Before heading back down the hill we ducked into a bakery and tried Peruvian Hot Chocolate. We we're surprised it came with bowl of sugar, but soon figured out why. They make it thick and unsweetened with dark chocolate. We loaded that thing up with sugar and enjoyed it. Too bad it was close to lunch time or we would have snacked on some of the great looking pastries.

We went back down to the Plaza de Armas for lunch. We wanted something simple since we were planning a nice dinner. There were lots of great places to pick from for all food tastes. We ended up at Paddy's. It's the world's highest Irish Pub. The second floor location had all the feeling of an English/Irish Pub back home. There was only one patio table that looked out at the plaza (taken) so we sat by the main bar. Lunch for us included beers, bottled water, chicken wings, a soup, and steak sandwich. All the food was great and portions were huge. Final bill with tip $24.

We went back to our hotel and got ready for our tour. Our guide, Carlos, picked us up and added us to a group of 6 other tourists. We rode off in the mini bus to the San Cristobal Church for a great view of the city. San Cristobal is visible from Plaza de Armas and at night you can see the statue of Jesus illuminated right above it. Carlos told us about Cusco's formation, shape like a puma, and that Incans worshiped glaciers (among other things). For how much the city sprawls, it's amazing the population is only around 400,000.

We lucked into this scene:

Our next stop was Sacsayhuamán (Sexy Woman to help you remember). This site contained walls formed in a zig-zag lightning pattern of huge boulders on the bottom, and smaller rocks on the top. All with no mortar. Carlos told us the larger rocks were pre-Incan and the smaller ones on top were Incan. The largest rock was estimated to be 250 tons. The Spanish queried stones from this site to build their cathedrals.

Carlos also told us about taking stone masons on a tour of the site a few years ago. They said they couldn't build this with today's technology. These folks did it 1,000 years ago.

Next on our agenda was Tambomachay. We were let off at the base of a long road to walk up a big hill in order to get to the site. The kicker here is we were now at 12,000 feet so the hill sucked. The next kicker.....once you get to the top all winded you have to fend off the craft market vendors.

"Tambo" was a small, but well built, site set into the side of the mountain. Water came out at several fountains. Since they've been monitoring the site the water hasn't stopped flowing. They also don't know where it's coming from. Really cool, but the site was roped-off so you couldn't touch anything. No reason to linger..... On the way down we found out from a vendor "alpaca" blankets were $10. Not a bad price.

Down the hill and across the street waste next site on our tour. Puka Pukara is situated so it has a view into the valley and going into the mountains. It's also known as the "Red Fort", but our guide said it was more likely a checkpoint and watch post more than a full military outpost.

Next stop, Qenqo. This was considered one of the main Incan holy sites. The natural rock formation had some small caves/crevices that were believed to be the entrance to the underworld. Incans believed they spent a couple of years in the underworld until reincarnation. The site featured a large protruding rock and had a great view down to the city.

Back to the city center. It's getting closer to 5:00 and we have two more stops to go. Traffic was bad in the parts of town surrounding the Plaza de Armas so we ditched the bus and walked. Our next stop was Coricancha. This was the site of the Sun Temple, the most important Incan temple. The stonework was the best we've seen yet. In Incan times the temple was covered with sheets of gold. When the Spanish came in they built churches on the temple's foundation. It was neat how they Incorporated a glass wall on top of the Incan walls (modern architects, not the conquistadors).

Final stop of the evening was The Cathedral. Here we learned about how the Spanish Christianized Peru. One method to help acclimate people to their new religion was to involve them in decorating the church. Cusco developed its own art style displayed in the church. In many pieces you'll find references to Incan lore and regular symbols of Peruvian life - such as guinea pig being served at "The Last Supper".

The tour was over. Time for a drink! We went to Inka Grill and had a cocktail and more of their homemade chips at the bar.

Dinner that night was at Cicciolina, which was listed as the city's best restaurant. It was busy and seemed to have a mix of locals and tourists. The menu has a Mediterranean focus with lots of tapas, pastas, etc. It was a great way to spend our last few hours in Cusco.

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