Peru Travelogue

Introduction

Right around Laura's and my first anniversary, we headed down to Peru for ten days with our good friends the Bultemeiers.  We spent most of the time in the Cusco department, seeing sights around Cusco and the Valle Sagrado and then heading off on a four-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu.  On the way out we managed to spend a little time in Lima. 

We kept a pretty frenzied pace, what with all the sightseeing.  It was kind of an exhausting trip, but tremendously worth it.  The pictures take a fair crack at doing it justice.  Here are all the Flickr links for your perusing pleasure:

Travel

It takes something like 23 hours to get from SEA to CUZ.  We transferred in Houston and got to Lima without incident, at around midnight.  We immediately sought out our first Pisco Sours -- a mixed drink made with Pisco (a wonderful grappa-like liquor that should never really be mixed with anything) and lime and suchlike.  Most of us were fairly happy with the drink, but Angie wasn't a big fan.  We also tried all three of the available beers: Cusquena, Pilsen and Cristal.  Later we found out that these are now all owned by the same company, which made us feel better about not really being able to distinguish between them.

We then crashed out on the airport floor for three hours (Go Go Gadget Thermarest!), checked in for the next leg of our flight, and finally tumbled into the Cusco airport around 7AM.  There was a pretty decent band playing Andean instruments while we retrieved our bags.  There was also a shoeshine stand with actual authentic plastic Inca walls.  We headed outside the airport and ran into our first dilemma -- I spoke plenty of Spanish to get us a cab to the hotel, but how to figure out who to trust?  Eventually we settled on a guy who had a nicely official-looking badge, and I chatted him up about the Inca Pachacutec and the joys of mucho altura and whatnot on the way to the hotel in the hopes that he wouldn't kill us in an alley.  He didn't, and we arrived at Hotel Los Ninos , a beautiful little place about six blocks from the Plaza de Armas, started up by a Dutch lady in order to raise money for Cusqueno street children.  We enjoyed our first coca tea in the tranquil courtyard while we waited for our rooms to be ready.

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Cusco

After a nap we headed out on the town to see what we could see in Cusco on a Sunday.  Turns out not much, in terms of shops and things -- even touristy Cusco is pretty quiet on Sunday -- but in terms of Inca walls, we hit the jackpot.  The original Inca walls are everywhere, displayed proudly and surviving due to their quirky habit of surviving devastating earthquakes while everything else falls down around them.  It's humbling to think about what Cusco must have been like before it was torn apart by the Spanish.

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Walls aside, Cusco is a really pretty city, of about 300,000 people.  We walked around, got horribly out of breath, and ate lunch on the Plaza de Armas, at a place with incredible rocoto relleno (stuffed spicy peppers).  We watched a soccer parade go by and the Bultemeiers decided to watch the game that was scheduled for that afternoon (they say that no alcohol is allowed at soccer games in Peru, but I think they're probably just making stuff up), while Laura and I walked around Cusco some more.

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In the evening we met up again for an excellent dinner at the Inca Grill.  Some friends had recommended it to us, and it didn't disappoint -- we tried pig heart and guinea pig and quinua (mmmm, quinotto!), and listened to some excellent music on the Andean Flute.  The musicians can be forgiven if they drifted into Fleetwood Mac territory occasionally -- it seems like all of Peru is stuck in 1985, musically.  They apparently have one CD down there that they keep lending to each other, which is called "Songs to Make Americans Laugh Out Loud".  George Michael figures prominently.

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Cusco Day Tour

The next day, we dropped off 30 pounds of books and some school supplies with South American Explorers , a nifty volunteer organization.  Laura and I sampled some of Cusco's oddly excellent pizza.  Then back to the hotel, where our guide, Miguel, picked us up for an afternoon tour of the Cusco area.  First we visited Coricancha, the site of the Incas' main temple and the Church of Santo Domingo.  Cusco keeps having earthquakes, and the church keeps falling down but the beautiful Inca walls stay standing.  The Incas had separate temples in Coricancha for the sun, the moon, the rainbow, and lightning, and that's where they kept hostage the idols of peoples that they conquered. 

Then we checked out Cusco's Cathedral, which has a bunch of artwork of the Cusco School (which is characterized by vivid colors and only the most basic understanding of things like proportion and perspective).  The Cathedral is home to El Senor de Los Temblores (Jesus of the Earthquakes), who was invented by people whose ancestors lived through the 1350 quake.  It also houses a huge painting of the Last Supper in which Judas looks all shifty-eyed at his bag of silver and the whole crew settles down for a feast of cute little cuy (guinea pig) and chicha and local fruits.  The Virgin Mary also figures prominently, surrounded ineffably by the disembodied heads of babies. 

Next, we drove up to Sacsayhuaman.  If Cusco is shaped like a puma (as Miguel insists that it is -- I don't see it), Sacsayhuaman is the puma's head.  It's a giant temple/city/fortress complex high above Cusco.  There are three levels of walls; the lowest is the most intact, since it contains the stones that were too big for the Spaniards to carry away, including the 300-ton largest stone used in any construction in South America (rightmost pic). 

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We hung out at Sacsayhuaman for a while -- it rained briefly and beautifully, producing a lovely rainbow. 

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We visited three more Inca ruins that day: Puca Pucara, Tambo Machay, and Q'Enko.  Puca Pucara, below, was pretty and at the top of a hill.  Tambo Machay contained an elaborate water system culminating in some fountains -- they were locally known as "fountains of youth" and we saw stupid tourists drinking out of them.  Q'Enko was a temple to Pachamama, and we explored the small cave there right around sunset. 

Then we went back to Cusco and ate dinner, then hit a wine bar where I ordered three mulled wines and one pisco sour and famously got the reverse -- tres pisco sours. 

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Valle Sagrado Tour

Early the next morning, Miguel picked us up for our day tour of the Valle Sagrado.  We drove a bit and then stopped at a little marketplace named Q'orao, then continued on to the ruins at Pisac.  That was a magical place.  We chose to spend some real time there and took the high trail through the ruins.  We passed through a lot of terraces, then through a small cave to the industrial and religious area of ancient Pisac.
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Here we had our first taste of real hiking at altitude.  We were all doing ok -- coca tea and acetazolomide were having their intended effects.  We saw the ancient sundial of Pisac (which told the Incas exactly when the solstices and equinoxes were coming), and I got this nice shot of the flower of the flame tree.

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Then we explored the market in Pisac, which was a predictably commercial experience.  I did get to try some choclo, corn with giganto kernels -- good stuff, if starchy.  Then we had lunch at a nice little place with huge portions in Urubamba.  Then, on to Ollantaytambo. 


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Ollantaytambo was a very important Inca city, named after a warrior named Ollanta.  On the steep mountain across from Ollantaytambo itself were the ancient granaries of Ollantaytambo, halfway up the steep, steep mountain.  The stonework here was very impressive, including some work that Miguel identified as pre-Incan (from the Chimu people, I believe).

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On the way back to Cusco, we stopped at some lady's house on the roadside and drank some chicha and ate some popcorn made from various local types of corn.  She also raised cuy.  Her plain chicha was very nice, clearer than I had expected, and very sour.  The chicha morada was flavored with fresas (strawberries) and probably colored with beets.  The popcorn was excellent.

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Then came the Inca trail and all that good fun... please turn to the Peru Travelogue Part 2.