The alarm woke us up at 5:45am so we would be on time for our 8:45am flight to Cusco. They told us the only other way of getting to the area is by bus, which is a 24 hour winding ride – the plane ride was 45 minutes… we took the plane. At the gate we were encountered by officials that herded us away from the terminal when someone left behind a bag and a “bomb scare” of sorts resulted. It was sorted out eventually and we were soon on our way to the magical city of Cusco/Cuzco.
The entire flight Mareike was worrying about altitude sickness. I thought I might get a little dizzy, but told her not to worry- most of it is in her head. When we exited and went to pick up the luggage, Mareike saw a sign for “FREE OXYGEN”. I thought it was funny but she was serious. I told her we should go to the banos and think about it. Well… on the way to the bathroom we saw a man full on pass out with his eyes rolling into his head and he was on the floor. This only fueled her purchase of the “Oxishot” complete with carrying harness.
My travel companion instantly started to feel light headed – as if she had just taken drugs and could not comprehend or walk or anything. I didn’t understand her problem because for once in my life, I was feeling fantastic. We arrived a short while later at the lovely hotel Prisma, only blocks away from the city center.
We were told to take it easy when we first arrived to become acclimated to the altitude and also because we had a pretty physical walking tour that afternoon…But… we were hungry and did not take this advice. We had some coca tea (the best tea ever- I’ll talk about it later) and walked to the city center to take lunch at the main square. We ate at the Plaza on the second floor overlooking the bustling square, it was gorgeous! Mareike liked it so much she almost cried (I’ll blame it on the lack of oxygen, or the fact that she has been wanting to go to Peru ever since she was a little girl). We arrived in time for the Palm Sunday procession, military parade and a Tour Guide strike. It was quite an eventful morning! We played around a little more and then made sure we were back to the hotel in time for our tour.
The tour started out at Koricancha (or Qoricancha) and Santo Domingo. Qoricancha means “courtyard of gold” in Quechua. Also built was the Temple of the Sun, but was soon plumaged and destroyed by the Spaniards who built a church on top of the original earthquake proof structure. It looks just like it sounds, 2 different style buildings, one on top of the other. This seems to be the case in many places around Peru and South America. Our tour guide was very into his culture and pointed out the many misuses of words. The main misconception is that we call the ancient people of the area Incas or Inka. Inka actually means king. The correct usage would be quetchuan people. From now on I only refer to the culture of this period at Quetcha (which is spealled many different ways since this is a spoken and not written language).
The next stop on the tour hit the main Cathedral where we had lunch earlier. Again no photos were allowed inside the church, similar to all catholic churches around. It also looked similar to other churches I’ve seen (I’m not a big church fan) minus the Easter décor. What WAS interesting about the cathedral were the paintings inside. Since the locals were used as laborers to build the church, they added a little bit of local culture and symbols into the architecture and art. The architecture consisted of a lot of quetchua crosses (the 3 step cross). Also, in paintings such as the last supper, guinea pig was served as the main dish, a local treat which we got to sample later.
I was tired of walking the church and happy when we left for our next stop- Saqsayhuaman (pronounced Sexy Woman) This was my favorite by far…at first because my feet hurt so much from walking on stones, that the soft grass was happily welcomed. Still after, the clouds parted ways and blue skies ensued to beautiful views of the city, wildflowers & amazing ruins. We laid down in the grass and listened to our tour guide speak of his culture and hirtory and theories of how those stones came to be there. Yet still to these days no one really knows…
Too soon time was up and were off to the next stops- Tambomachay and Kenko- where I drank from the spring offering me goodluck and twins, and used coca leaves to offer my heart to the heavens. It was pretty spiritual as the sun was setting to perfrom the ritual where you take 3 leaves in your hand, blow on them, hold them to the sky, then to your heart and say a prayer or wish. After this you chew on them which helps to energize and heal you. Coca leaves are very popular in Peruvian Culture and can be used for a wide variety of ailments and treatments.
Lastly we were dropped off at the folkloric center to watch traditional dancing. About halfway through our stomachs decided for us that it was time to leave, and we hiked back to the city center, so exhausted, but ready to eat and drink. We chose the Andean Grill to eat at, which turned out to be excellent, and ordered our first Pisco Sours. We had wonderful night views of the plaza and got serenaded by an awesome flute band. This was the first time tasting the infamous Pisco Sour, and boy is it good for taking the edge off! Mareike ordered 2 more, but I awaited the wine we bought back in the hotel room. I was beyond exhausted and sunburned (turns out being this high up makes it that much worse) After my first glass of wine I was passed out and ready for day 3.