Saturday, September 8, 2007

Cusco: on the road to Machu Picchu

I was looking forward to seeing Cusco, since this is where Georgia spent some time working in a clinic late last year. She said we would like it.

The flight from Lima took about an hour. It was uneventful, which is a good thing for any flight in South America. We flew on LAN, the main Peruvian airline, since this is what Florencia recommended. I was beginning to trust Florencia’s judgement after our night in Lima.

The first thing I noticed after arrival was that my fingers were tingling, almost vibrating. I didn’t know whether this was due to the altitude, or the Diomox, the drug Sally was giving me for the altitude. I also noticed I was easily out of breath, but wasn't sure if that was due to the altitude or the fact I had spent too much time during this trip on the computer when I should have been at the gym.

At most of the airports, bus and train stations we have been to for the past eight months, everyone has had someone to greet them, except us. In Peru it was different. Once again, we were met at the airport by our Viajes Pacifico/Gray Line Peru driver. He looked after our baggage, took us to our hotel, and checked us in. All we did was sit in the skylit courtyard and drink coca tea which apparently helps you adjust to the altitude.

While we were told to rest, we were keen to see the town. Tourism has taken over Cusco in the last 20 years. We couldn’t go anywhere without someone wanting to shine our shoes, or sell us knitted dolls, wall hangings, paintings, table cloths, carpets, hats, cloth bags, and on and on. Most of the stuff was very colourful, and quite beautiful, but we kept thinking we’re 35 years too old to be buying it! But we did get a couple of small things, since that’s what keeps the economy of the place going.

In the afternoon, we did an organized city tour with 20 other English speaking people. It had been a long time since we were with so many English speaking people. Our first stop was Korikancha, the Inca Temple of the Sun, where we all stood around and admired the amazing stonework. Built around 1350, there was no mortar between the stones. Instead, the stones were cut so that they slotted into one another. The objective was to create buildings that could withstand earthquakes. And they did. Unfortunately, they didn’t withstand the Spanish who destroyed much of what the Incas had built, and used the stones to build their own structures.

We then went to the Spanish Cathedral, but we weren’t that keen to see it since the Spaniards had been so cruel to the Incas and had built the cathedral on the foundations of an Inca Palace; we had already seen a lot of magnificent churches on this trip; and it was also very cold inside. But it was impressive, and I was particularly intrigued with the ‘black Jesus’ that had been sent from Spain with the hope that it might attract more natives to the Catholic religion. I also was amused by a painting of the ‘Last Supper’ featuring a guinea pig as the central dish.

We then set off for Saqsayhuaman, a megalithic complex about 2 km outside the city. Not much is known about its origins, but it is speculated that 20,000 men worked for more than 50 years on its construction. Some of the rocks are immense, and again, it was designed to withstand earthquakes. But the Spaniards destroyed much of it, and used the stones for other projects, including their cathedrals.

It was all quite interesting. The guide was good, and we regretted not paying more attention at school when we learned about the Inca Civilization. But we had not come here to see these sights. We were really here to see Machu Picchu, our next day’s destination. We were also interested in seeing a bit more of Cusco.

So we were quite happy when we were loaded into the bus around 6 o’clock and taken back to the main square, where we could check out restaurants for dinner, and be assaulted by more delightful young Peruvian boys and girls and older ladies trying to sell us things.

That evening, we did find a good restaurant, with a very interesting buffet. We had some excellent ceviche, whipped up by the chef on hand, which I followed with Alpaca carpaccio. We ate a number of things that we had never had before, some of which were quite good. The local river trout tasted much better than most of the meats. During dinner we were accompanied by Peruvian flute players, and just as we were ready to leave the dancers arrived.

But it was all very good, except for the fact that El Condor Paso had taken over from The Girl from Ipanema. One lady on the bus wanted to know if the music was written by Art Garfunkle.

We went to bed quite early, since we had to be up at 4:30 the next morning, to catch the train to Machu Picchu.

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