I loved Cusco.
Although the first night there was quite dizzy. Cusco is at 11,500 feet above sea level. Which – to put it in perspective – is more than twice as high as Denver. Yeah. Even Matt who has never before in his life experienced altitude sickness had issues. I think this excerpt from my journal that I wrote our first night there explains it best:
“Tired. Spinny. And almost ready for bed. Just having a little coca tea to take the edge off the spinny's so I can close my eyes w/o the world going to hell.”And then the next morning after not being able to sleep all night:
"Someone just told us that coco tea keeps you awake. Funny that considering it’s what they use to make cocaine. DUH.”Coca tea was our best friend while we were in Peru. I know it’s the same plant as cocaine but according to the internet it takes 297 grams of dry coca leaf to make 1 gram of cocaine (I really don’t know how much that even is but I’m guessing more than one serving). Where the tea is only like 10 leaves. So not even close. The Peruvian relationship with coca tea is comparable to North America’s relationship with caffeine. We don’t really consider it a drug, however we are completely dependant on it. And if someone tried to take it from us we would beat them with our coffee mugs and smack them with our pop cans. As our guide for the Inca Trail explained it “It’s good, productive energy.” As is caffeine… as is caffeine.
Anyways… We stayed at a very nice hotel – the Arqueologo:
The view from the breakfast room
The courtyard of the hotel.
Which when we returned to after the Inca Trail felt like home.
The first morning in Cusco was all about the yarn. We went to the Center for Traditional Textiles where in addition to the museum display there is a weaving demonstration:
I was fascinated. There is no preset warp where all you have to do is push the right pedals. They create the pattern by weaving in the wooden “swords” every few rows. Also? The yarn is all handspun on drop spindles. Matt was ridiculously impressed by that (as he should be).
There are many fun things for sale at the museum and each piece is labeled with a picture of the craftsperson who made it. The profit from each item goes back to that individual. Which is a very hands on way of sustaining traditional crafts through tourism.
I bought what I thought was my very own mini belt loom like they are using in the demonstration. But when I got it home it didn't have any instructions with it... apparantly it's just a wall hanging. Matt had to explain to me that most tourists don't want an actual loom. I'm so going to take it apart and try to figure it out one of these days, though.
Of course I couldn’t see all of this fiber without wanting some of my own so on Lolly’s recommendation we walked over to the Plaza San Francisco:
and found this store:
I’m very, very happy in that picture because I just bought this:
4 bags of ridiculously soft baby alpaca. I’m not sure of the exact yardage per bag but I should probably have enough to make Matt a chocolate brown sweater and me a red and cream sweater. Perhaps this one? Not sure just yet…
Cusco, much like Rome, is a city built on ruins. There are original Incan foundation walls everywhere:
I was enthralled by the curved corners and the perfect angles of the stonework. Especially since I recently experienced how much effort it takes just to get an acceptable morter color (insert architects rant here).
Incan wall turned tourist shop display case. There is some serious layering of history going on here.
What this means is that the basic city layout, street grid, etc has remained unchanged since the pre-Colombian times. And the Spanish architecture on top is largely in tact as well. I could go into some Rossi theories of city development and how awesome this is but how about some pretty pictures instead:
I loved the Cusco streetscapes.
One street we wandered onto turns into stairs!
And at the top there are beautiful views of the city:
Cusco was originally laid out in the shape of a Puma. No, really. A Puma. I’d love to suggest that as a planning principle today – right in there with “human scale” and “transit options” throw in “Puma”. Wow I’m a geek… anyways the center of the Puma is the Plaza de Armas:
Seeing this square in person meant so very much to me. I took somewhere around 87 billion pictures of the fountain in the center not because it was a particularly spectacular fountain but because I’ve been looking at pictures of it in books for years thinking someday.
Finally I was able to take my own. It’s a good feeling realizing a dream. Even if Matt got a little bored while I had my moment with the fountain:
I made a random Texan walking by who was there to and this is a direct quote “bring Jesus to the Indians” (whoah, dude, that’s all kinds of…something… especially since most Peruvians are Catholic) take our picture with said fountain:
I think it’s one of my favs of the entire trip.
Some random Cusco-ness that stood out for me...
1.) If you are even in Cusco you have to go to the restaurant Tunupa. It’s touristy. Very very touristy. But sometimes things are touristy for good reason. The views of the Plaza de Armas is second to none, the buffet of traditional Peruvian cuisine is excellent, the show of traditional dance and music is super-fun, and the atmosphere is wonderful:
Plus I got to try my first (and certainly not last) Pisco sour:
All excited about the drink
Dude, that’s really sour!
Matt eating some Peruvian cuisine
2.) There are stray dogs all over Cusco and the area around it. They don’t seem to be owned by anyone and they don’t really seem all that interested in people. I was completely fascinated by them.
Doggies taking a nap on the Plaza San Francisco. Our pampered dog was probably asleep on a couch somewhere when I took this picture.
Our Inca Trail guide explained that out in the country people have many dogs b/c they don’t have fences. So the dogs are good for protection. In Cusco, though, they are just kindof random.
3.) Everywhere around Peru we saw this:
Child being carried in a folded blanket.
We saw these bundles being used to carry anything from groceries to children. The best one I saw had an obviously sleeping kid’s foot sticking out of the side. It’s got to be a good way to travel if you’re a kid!
4.) And all over Cusco we saw this:
Woman in traditional clothing.
They dress up for tourists and if you want to take their picture it’s customary to tip them 1 Sola (about 33 cents). I liked this one in particular b/c of the sheep!
5.) I think one of the most interesting things about the city was the constant presence of children in uniform. It’s a very safe feeling when you’re surrounded by kids walking to and from school! The best picture I have of them is this (because it’s weird taking pictures of someone else’s kids):
It's actually supposed to be a picture of the basketball/football nets we saw everywhere. Matt thought this contraption was ingenious except for the tiny flaw of potentially hitting your head on the goal when going for a layup. We only ever saw people playing soccer with them, though so the basketball hoop is mostly superfluous.
So that’s the short version of Cusco. It is a fascinating, complex, beautiful city that I found almost impossible to sum up in blog form. Next up? The surrounding area and the start of the Incan ruins.
Plaza de Armas at dusk