Well this is an interesting turn of events, I might actually be enjoying plane rides rather than merely tolerating them as the fastest way to get somewhere. And no other way to describe it but I loved the flight from Lima over the Andes to Cusco. To top it all off, it’s the first time this trip I’ve come into a city and didn’t get the “what am I doing?” feeling…
Ok maybe I should be honest and say that it is more than that…It could be due to a lack of sleep, or the altitude, or that I have been craving chocolate and just had the most amazing dark chocolate crepe but I feel like I may not leave this place. I was quite smitten on the plane ride in and the city has only been making me fall harder and it’s only the first night! I mean I had an older gentleman walk me to the Ministerio de Cultura – 4 or 5 blocks as he tells me “that it is no problem and I was walking this way” and then as we say our goodbyes, heads in the complete opposite direction! Que bueno!
Cusco’s elevation is about 11,200 ft (3,400 M) and luckily I am not suffering from any adverse effects from the altitude. One of my favorite things to do is to sit in the main square get a feel for the city as there is normally a mix of locals and tourists. I feel completely safe exploring by myself in Cusco through the early evening into night and really am enjoying the sparkling night lights in the Plaza de Armas.
I would end up spending a lot of time in the Plaza from meeting friends there to just hanging out to people watching (including a few marches/demonstrations) but I definitely enjoyed the evenings and nights there the best. Top: Statue of Pachacuti who would go from ruler of the Kingdom of Cusco to Emperor of the Inca Empire that he created Bottom: Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús photographed from the stairs of the Cathedral
I like to take a walking tour on my first day to learn about the history and to get a sense for a new city. I had befriended some people the night before and we end up joining one of the best tours I would take in South America. The guide was knowledgeable and entertaining and the places that we visited were quite interesting. One of the stops is Mercado San Pedro and there is so much to see, experience, and buy there. TL: Entrance to the market TR: Beautiful flowers shops BL: Carniceria AKA meat shop BR: Juice Shops – down an aisle will be multiple purveyors of the same product – which one do you choose?
More goods from the Mercado Top: Grains, seeds, corn kernels, flours etc Bottom: Fruits, vegetables, Asian cooking staples, almost everything food-related you can think of you can find here including restaurants
More places from the walking tour Left TR: San Francisco Church and Monastery ~ enormous cave underneath with catacombs BR: The Cathedral and Plaza de Armas
So I was feeling pretty cocky about the altitude not having any effect on me until my Dutch friend and I decided to walk up the stairs to Cristo Blanco. So I didn’t take any photos if that tells you how taxing it was (and didn’t help that we were trying to go as quickly as possible once we realized she had to leave in four hours!) After we finally regained our breaths, they were taken away again from the views – Top: Overlooking Saksaywaman Bottom: Overlooking Cusco Top: Cristo Blanco/White Jesus BL: Another steep way to get to Cusco BR: The stonework at Saksaywaman: so tightly fitted that a sheet of paper won’t fit and combined with inward slope of the walls is believed to be why the ruins have survived devasting earthquakes. However the Spanish were able to cause a great deal of destruction when they used the stones to build Spanish Cusco and only left the stones too large to be moved.
So after a couple of days in the Sacred Valley, I return to Cusco and meet up with my Aussie friend and check out Qoricancha (Temple of the Sun). Translated from the Incan language of Quechua, it means “golden courtyard” as it was literally plated with gold and subsequently looted by the conquistadors. It now is the site of the Convent of Santo Domingo and is a perfect example of the Incan and Spanish history of Cusco. Santo Domigo was built right over the ransacked temple but part of Qoricancha (dark stones still intact and undamaged from earthquakes) remains and is quite visible.
Some of my favorite small hidden beauties from the site TL: The curvature of the wall definitely more Incan than Spanish in design BL: The mosaic tiles and beautiful wooden ceiling + Baroque archways and paintings = Spanish R: Painting of a galaxy and the stone work
And the landscaping was so beautiful and lush set against the dark stone masonry
Random things: I end up stumbling into this place after lunch with some friends and discovered these beautiful woven tapestries (top right) and the picture on the left shows how one is made. And of course, the boy is smiling and waving until I pull out my phone to take his picture. Most random of all: I did go and get a massage after MP ~ best massage of my life! And I end up giving relationship advice to the woman (yes: love advice to a person I just met in a language I am not fluent in).
This picture is a good representation of what travel is for me – when you are returning from a night of salsa dancing and decide to take a picture at this rock because every time you pass it, people are taking pictures. It is about meeting and creating connections with incredible people that would be game to ask some random strangers to take our picture and then laugh (rather than get annoyed or mad) when you find out what the fuss is all about.
Oh food is also a big part of travel for me: oh how I love eating my way through a place though I don’t always remember to snap pictures to share. TL: I am loving South America because the continent shares my love for ice cream. Vanilla/chocolate mixto in front of Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús TR: Dark chocolate crepe and fresh juice and hot chocolate at the French expats owned and run La Bo’M BL: Lacuma cupcake, one of the best slices of chocolate cake I have ever had and the most intricately assembled Mocha (that literally took 15 minutes to prepare) BR: Dessert at Green Point – a very yummy vegan spot
So my last night I am with one of my American friends working in Cusco at one of the restaurants in the Plaza de Armas. We talk about travel and the future while listening to my favorite band, Snow Patrol, and eating dessert. And then this word comes in discussion ‘encantado’ – Spanish and has multiple meanings but one in particular sums up my feelings completely for this part of my trip: enchanted ~ as in I am with this city and Machu Picchu but also as in my life is quite enchanted. I think about what I have to do to stay encantada (feminine since I am female!) and that I don’t want to lose this feeling/enthusiasm/magic…luckily there are still many more places to see, people to meet and food to eat…