Capital! Incan Style

Posted on January 31, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Our adventures in the Andes had actually started three days before we got the early bus for KM 82 and the start of the Inca Trail. Our flight from Lima landed put us in Cuzco/Cusco/Q’osqo, the old heart of the Incan empire and one of its two capitals.

We had arrived early because of the altitude of the Inca Trail, between 2800m and 4215 metres above sea level. Altitude gives rise to two problems: Firstly, because there is less oxygen in the air, everything is more tiring, and it becomes a chore to walk up a slight incline for more than half a minute. Secondly, the ugly and unpredictable spector of altitude sickness rears its ugly head. When we unpacked our stuff from our bags, I remembered another effect: any sealed container you had at sea level will eject its contents when you open it as a result of the pressure difference. I got sunscreeen everywhere. Whoops.

Cusco is much higher than Maccu Pichu, and indeed much of the trail, and anytime you spend at altitude beforehand makes subsequent walking easier and dramatically reduces the risk of altitude sickness. In fact, our tour company, Peru Treks, insist that you only pay a deposit upfront (which you can do remotely) and the balance in person at least two days before the start of the trail. This is an awesome idea, and reduces the risk that some crazy person in your group got off the flight from Lima that morning.

So, we had three days in place before the Trail, and two days afer it (to recover) – a good length of time to start exploring this bewitching city. The Spanish conquistadors, earthquakes and the Catholic Church had their usual destructive impact on the original town, and apart from a few (very solid) walls in the centre and Q'oricancha, the town dates from the colonial period.

The heart of the city is the Plaza des Armas, which in Cusco is a broad square, with a cathedral and a church on a side each and two arched arcades on the others. Like the rest of central Cusco the streets are cobbled and filled with tourists and people offering both handicrafts and massages (although not at the same time :->).

We loved the feel and the architecture of the town; just walking around town was a joy (as you can see from the pictures, it's beautiful), though because of the hills and altitude, the actual walking was less fun for the first few days. During our wanderings we found quiet plazas with alpacas, narrow pedestrian roads leading up to archways and artisan shops tucked away in courtyards.

We were staying in Niños Apartments, one of a series of accommodations in the Cusco area, all of whose profit goes towards feeding local street children in special restaurants, offering free healthcare and help with homework. The rooms are huge and in the Apartments (which are strangely cheaper), you have your own kitchen (as well as use of the café) and one of the children's restaurants is actually onsite. This means that during the day if you ring the bell to come in, one of the niños comes to open the door for you. Ace, and thoroughly recommended if you're going to be staying in the area.

As in the rest of Peru, the people are incrdedibly friendly and the food (and drink!) is excellent. A quick tour, if you will: On our second night, we went out for a drink with Agathe, our friend from Lima, at Ukuku's Pub. The music from the DJ was awesome, a live rock band was gearing up on stage and Rachel had a very cheap and (from what I tasted of it) extremely minty mojito. Woohoo!

That afternoon during our meanderings in the hills above the Plaza des Armas, we found a quirky small restaurant with a shiny gold menu and a Quechua name. Rachel had her first alpaca dish here (in a beautiful red wine sauce), and I had quinoa soup (a local speciality). It turns out that the waiter was also our chef – ask Rach that story, 'tis a weird one. If you're looking for it, it's on Carmen Alto, on the left hand side if the Plaza San Blas is behind you.

And finally, Limo. Overlooking the Plaza das Armas, but tucked away above a courtyard next to the new (and out of place) McDonald's, we stumbled across the place by accident. Both a high class peruvian restaurant and a pisco bar, we actually ate their twice. Once as a "good luck" meal before the Trail, and once with good friends as a "well done!" after finishing it. From the drinks (Rachel's fresh lemonade with mint, my pisco, cointreau, bailey's and orange juice cocktail or Jon's "Passionfruit Party" (his words, not theirs)) to the food (tenderest ossobucco in a perfect gravy, orange scented sweet potato mash and fried yucca balls), the place was overflowing with quality and incredible prices.

In short, we loved Cusco and would happily return there, even without the driving factor of seeing Incan ruins around the town. We took our leave of the place with a final cup of mate de coca early in the morning, and caught a bus to Puno, the altiplano and Lake Titicaca.

Until next time,

James

Posted via email from dreadpiratesarcas

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