I’ve made it! I’m here in Cuzco, the gateway to Machu Picchu.
Cuzco was the capital of the Inca Empire and it was founded in the 12th century by the first Inca king, Manco Capac. Capac was ordered by the sun god Inti to find a spot where he could force a golden rod into the ground until it disappeared. He called this place Cuzco and the spot is marked (today) by a fountain in the center of Plaza des Armas. Incas called this spot the “belly button of the world”.
The original city of Cuzco is shaped like a Puma (the Incas believed that the animals were a special trinity: the Condor over head, the Puma over land, and the snake below). In the 1530s, The Spanish conqistadors overthrew the Incas to take over the city and thus, Cuzco remains as South America’s oldest continuously inhabited city. Another interesting fact is that the Incans were excellent astronomers. They designed some of Cuzco’s main street to align with the stars at certain times of the year.
To reach Cuzco, I took a short 1 hour flight abord LAN airlines from Lima. LAN is not a budget airline and it is a sister airline of American Airlines. LAN blew Spirit out the the water! There was a lot of legroom, our flight was on time, the stewards were friendly and multilingual, AND they gave us complimentary snacks and juice! (Food is the way to my heart!) I may not have said this before, but I LOVE PERU!! We even got to depart the plane on the tarmac via stairs, like the President and celebrities!
In Cuzco, I am staying at Ecopackers hostel in a four person female dorm. I have my own twin bed instead of a bunk bed. And again, breakfast is included. At $15/night, this is another great bargain! (DISCLAIMER: the wifi here in the hostel is terrible!) We are two blocks from the Plaza des Armas and a block from the Museo Choco (the chocolate museum). I dropped off my bags and went exploring.
I was encountered on the street by a beautiful Quequa woman in bright, colorful traditional garb. She has dark, tan skin, bright rosy cheeks and a huge grin. She was selling knitted gloves and hats. I bought a cute hat with llamas circling around on it. She said that she had knit it by hand herself. Her name was Dominique (coincidence Adele?!?) and she asked if I’d also like to take her picture. I asked if we could take a selfie together (or is that what the young kids call a groupie?!? I guess you could say that I’m a Quequa groupie!)
I walked along the cobblestone streets to the San Pedro central market. I love open air markets like Michigan’s Eastern Market but Eastern Market doesn’t even compare. Colorful knits and alpaca trinkets are the first to catch your eye. There’s also fruits I’ve never seen, beautiful spices, breads and fresh cuts of meats. Quequa woman sit on the ground and sell medicinal herbs (I bought coca leaves. Sorry mom!).
I stopped at a crowded lunch counter in the market for the largest and most tasty bowl of chicken noodle soup that I’ve ever had. It was prepared on the counter in front of me and only cost 5 Soles ($1.50USD). The tender chicken fell off of the bone and the carrots had been marinated in a mildly spicy brine. Mmmmm mmm good!
Next, I walked to the Plaza de Armas, the heart (well, belly button) of the Inca capital. In the center of the square is the fountain (mentioned earlier) topped with the famous Incan king. The square is surrounded by colonial arcades and grand Cathedrals (I’ll describe these more in future posts after I’ve had a chance to visit them).
I walked up the ajoining alleyway Loreto. Loreto is notable because it is lined by original Inca walls. The walls are comprised of several giant stones that fit perfectly together and are still level to this day (despite the many earthquakes that Cuzco has seen). Most notable sights on the wall are the outlines of a Puma and a Serpent, formed by the stones. There was also a Condor, but it was destroyed by the Spaniards. On June 24, during the summer solstice (and what is known as Inti Raymi), the light hits these shapes in a way that they glow brightly unlike the other stones. This is also near the famed 12-sided stone.
Next up, I went to the Museo Choco for sweets and then headed to the cafe El Ayllu for an avocado and tomato sandwich and my first cup of coca tea. I haven’t felt any adverse reactions to the altitude but I couldn’t resist. The crowded cafe emptied as I journaled, and eventually I was alone. The waiter, Jaime and I ended up chatting for over an hour as I practiced my Spanish. He has lived in Cuzco for 32 years. I can understand why. This is a beautiful town that is safe enough for children to run around free, ancient ruins line the streets and people openly chat together. I’m glad I have another two days in the area. I think I’ll visit a neighboring city in the Sacred Valley tomorrow. And Jaime recommended a place where I could get cuy.