Cusco - 16, 18-22 April 2011

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April 24th 2011
Published: April 24th 2011
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Tom had a total of 6 nights in Cusco (in Ollantaytambo on 17 April) because he came back to the city while I was on the Lares Track (18 & 19 April), so I only had 4 nights.

Cusco was the first city in Peru and remains the historical and spiritual capital of the country. Cusco was the site of the historic capital of the Inca Empire and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1983 by UNESCO. It is a major tourist destination and receives almost 1.5 million visitors a year. It is designated as the Historical Capital of Peru by the Constitution of Peru

It is a large city of more than 1M population, and contains many remnants of the old Incan dynasty. The old city is well preserved and kept in a clean and tidy condition. The streets are narrow and of cobblestone construction. This does not make for easy walking these days but in earlier eras it facilitated travel considerably. Some of the small laneways were paved in beautiful patterns. The city fills a valley lined with steep mountains and many buildings creep up these slopes – walking up them is a challenge, particularly at 3,300m altitude.

A major earthquake on 21 May 1950 caused severe localised damage in Cusco. The Dominican Priory and Church of Santo Domingo, which the impressive Temple of the Sun was built on top of, and which Tom visited, were among the colonial era buildings affected. The city's Inca architecture, however, withstood the earthquake. Many of the old Inca walls were at first thought to have been lost after the earthquake, but the granite retaining walls of the Temple of the Sun were exposed, as well as those of other ancient structures throughout the city. Restoration work at the Santo Domingo complex was conducted in such a way as to expose the Inca masonry formerly obscured by the super-structure without compromising the integrity of the colonial heritage. Cusco had also been the center of a major earthquake in 1650, and many of the buildings damaged in 1950 had been impacted by an earthquake only nine years previously.

We loved Cusco, not only because of the above, but also the great restaurants, pubs and cafes as well as the Inca influence. Everywhere we walked we saw the granite walls. The climate was pretty mild with sunny days and we
A typical street in CuscoA typical street in CuscoA typical street in Cusco

Note the Inca stone work
needed jackets during the evening.

We were introduced to this fantastic restaurant, Jacks, which is owned by an English woman, who also owns the great Paddy’s Pub which is on the Plaza De Armes. In both places, the menu was wonderful, coffee was great and service was excellent. Paddy’s Pub was decked out with photos, paintings, posters and even had a small train running around the walls about a metre from the ceiling. Tom tells me that there were tiles in the blokes toilet that listed the rules of conduct expected in the bathroom!!!! You can probably imagine what they may be.

When we walked around the markets or historic sites for awhile, we would then find a cafe or pub to sit down and try what they were offering. If we sat outside, sometimes the locals would come up and try to sell us something. The city also has a busy railway service and bus station as there are thousands of tourists who visit the area, including Machu Picchu.
We stayed at the Buena Vista Hotel which served breakfast, arranged laundry, had a TV/computer room and was pretty comfortable. All places in South America so far have pretty good, free Wi-Fi service.

On the 1st night in Cusco, we had a briefing from our guide who was going to lead us on the Lares Track. Of the 16 members of our group, 11 were going on the Lares Track, 4 on the Inca Track, and Tom was to discover more of Cusco. We also hired our sleeping bag and were each given a duffle bag which were to be carried by horses or donkeys – but only on the Lares Track. No animals are allowed on the Inca Track so these are carried by porters
That night, I also caught up with my Dad on Skype. It was so good to be able to see him. We also Skyped Sheryl and Brian. We had caught up with Kerrie and Gemma the day before.

Tom came to Ollantaytambo with us for 1 night then came back to Cusco after he waved all the trekkers off. He was up by 6.30am and left with another Intrepid leader, Malkital, back to Cusco by 10.00am. He spent the rest of the day exploring the old city. He purchased a very smart alpaca jacket ($44) which will be particularly useful in Bolivia which has sub-zero temperatures. He also posted a birthday card for Gemma.
Tom went to the Plaza de Armas that evening but couldn’t get in as it was crowded full of people with their traditional Easter service being held in the Square. The service was based on the black Christ which was for the purpose of warding off earth quakes. It was impossible to walk into or through the square. He found a nice restaurant Los Tomines and had a steak and soup and glass of wine.

Tuesday 19 April – After breakfast, Tom went for a stroll around the town and stopped off at Jacks for another great coffee. In the afternoon he went on a city tour of Incan ruins. He was collected at 1.30pm and taken to Plaza de Armas where the English speaking tour guide was waiting. They went inside the main Cathederal (Basilica Cathederal) and he was stunned at how big it was, and the amount of ornamentation around the walls. This Cathedral was a little different to what we have seen because it has while ceilings which created lightness and brightness, unlike the heavily painted method used on the Baroque and Gothic-style churches. There was also very large section which were funded by local wealthy families and hence decorated with the religious paraphernalia. There was also a large section where the choir sat on heavily carved, high-backed chairs. As usual, no photos allowed.
Tom then was taken to the Temple of Sun (again RC), but built in Incan stones. It is a living Monastery.

However it provided a good range of examples of how good the Incan buildings were made and the quality of the architects, engineers and masons. From there they took a bus to see more Incan ruins up above Cusco city. They visited the Saqsayhuaman (pronounced “saxy woman”) remains – photos will tell the story - (a fortress and temple) then onto the Tombomachay – the water purifying place for travellers traversing the Inca Trail. Finally, they visited the Q’engo which was a cave/tunnel of rock made into a sacrificial mummifying site. It was almost dark at this stage but on the way back to the city they stopped into a clothing warehouse and examined Alpaca apparel.

Tom had an Italian meal that night. The next day, Tom then drove back through the Sacred Valley again to Ollantaytambo to catch the train to Agues Calientes to meet the trekkers.
On Easter Friday, 22 April we were in Cusco. As there is 85% of the city population of RC religion, we expected big celebrations. We were right. At 6.00pm, we were in the Plaza de Amas and we heard this band music and hordes of people gathering in the Square. We then saw a glass coffin being carried by about 20 blokes. In it was the black Christ. All around the edge and of the coffin was lots of pink flower petals which people were taking and kissing as this was used to transfer the good luck re earth quake prevention as well as the Christian meaning of Easter Friday. Following the coffin was a large statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Both of these were ‘protected’ by soldiers carrying bayoneted guns. It was all part of the ceremony and parade. Mass was being held at 7.00pm in the Cathedral.

When we had finished dinner at Jacks and walking back to our Hotel, the same procession came up the street. People from the balconies were throwing, what looked like, white paper and pink flowers onto the glass coffin. Between 11 and 12MN we heard the procession go up our Hotel street. This means the procession was going up all the streets of the old city and had been going for over 5 hours. I hope the trumpet players hadn’t been blowing for all that time!!!! Perhaps they went in shifts.

Around the town we saw a lot of religious statues (usually Mary or Jesus) displayed on white cloths with flowers and candles, outside shops and restaurants. Wow, it will be interesting to see what happens on Easter Sunday. We will be in Puno, Peru.

Cusco – we highly recommend this city as we loved it!

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