We arrived in Cusco following a stunning 8 hour drive across the Andean Altiplano. Winding our way over snow capped peaks, around crystal clear glacial lakes and through high Andean settlements, there was plenty to keep us entertained.
Our planned hostel was fully booked so we were upgraded to an awesome little hotel on a quiet street minutes from the main plaza. In addition to a proper buffet breakfast, the beds were western size, meaning my feet would also get to sleep in the bed – something of a luxury in Peru! We were happy with Cusco already.
In the 15th century, the Incas built temples and palaces, aqueducts and roads worthy of the capital of an empire that stretched from Colombia to Chilli. When the Spanish arrived they used the Incan city as the foundations for their churches, monasteries and various other colonial buildings. This is still visible today, wandering around you can see the large blocks the Incas laid all those years ago, unfortunately now with McDonalds and KFCs perched on top.
We spent the first full day walking around the city with no real plan, just soaking up the atmosphere and getting lost down tiny cobblestone streets and eating cake – a pastime we’ve perfected on this trip. Cusco has perhaps the busiest carnival and festival calendar of anywhere in Latin America and on this particular Sunday they where celebrating not one but two Saints! This involved shutting down much of the city whilst the military, school children, indigenous people and a group brandishing a giant frog (to name but a few) marched around town letting of fireworks whilst being followed by dozens of brass bands.
After a while we escaped the commotion and visited the markets to the north of town. After topping up our alpaca knitwear supplies – you really can’t have to many handmade alpaca wool gloves apparently. We found a great outdoor food market with the most delicious Ceviche for lunch. We then went and had some cake and crashed a wedding – as you do.
There are several good museums in Cusco (so I’m told) but we had been recommended the Coca museum on several occasions so we went to check it out on our last day in Cusco.
We were lucky enough to have an English speaking guide who preceded to shovel coca leaves into her mouth whilst explaining the history of this fascinating plant. Chattering like a monkey and skipping through history leaving out the odd century before returning to correct herself, she then apologetically confessed that she’s consumed “a considerable amount of leaves today”. The actual museum was as haphazard as our guides talk, with packaging of products that used coca, elongated human skulls (where the coca leaf was used as an anaesthetic) and a wall sized step by step illustration of how to make cocaine – below. Our favourite section however was the hall of fame – a collection of celebrities who died of cocaine related incidents culminating in a Tracy Emin style scene of what a junkies bedroom might look like, complete with a life size wax model of a young man lying on a bed with a needle in his arm. The poster hanging on the door depicting Jesus dragging a junkie off towards the light was particularly haunting / hilarious.
We left Cusco for Ollyantampo (where we would start the Inca trail) via the Sacred Valley. The Sacred Valley earned its name for the fertile land where Quechua communities are still living of the land in relative isolation. We stopped to say Allianchu and were promptly covered in petals and made to dance with old ladies with gummy smiles…bit weird. They then showed us how they farm the land – which meant getting us to do it! And then they fed us a lunch of potatoes (have I mentioned yet there are 3800 varieties in Peru?!), Quinoa soup and guinea pig. A quick dance with the same gummy old women and we were off.
Next stop > Inca Trail
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