Monday, September 30, 2013

Cuzco, Peru

After some debate as to our next step we have decided to go to Cuzco and Machu Picchu. Our friends from Patagonia, Marcela and Mariano are going to meet us in Cuzco and from there we will travel together by train to Machu Picchu. From Arequipa it is only a 45 minute flight and since we very rarely stay in hotels we decide to splurge. In Machu Picchu we will stay at Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel based at the ruins and at $1,300 dollars a night, the most expensive hotel we have ever stayed in. But we figure, this is a once in a lifetime experience. We have also found a really nice pet hotel for Winston to stay while we are gone. Going to Machu Picchu takes a bit of planning. Besides air flights and hotels, we also have to book the train and obtain park passes, all needing to be done in advance. We have an early flight arriving in Cuzco in the morning so we will have the whole day to explore the city and some of the Inca ruins close by. Situated high in the Andes, Cuzco, developed under the rule of Pachacutec is considered the capital of the Incan Empire and even today while most shop owners and trades people speak Spanish to the tourists, they speak Quechua with one another. In Quechua, the word Cusco” means “navel” because the Incas considered the city the center of their universe. Our hotel, Palacio del Inka is located only a couple of blocks from the Plaza de Armas and is beautiful with interior courtyards and some amazing artwork from the Cusco school of painting, but we want to get out and explore the city and the best place to start is right outside our hotel. The Iglesia de Santo Domingo was once the El Templo del Q’urikancha (Temple of the Sun), the richest temple in the Incan Empire. All that remains are the ruins of incredible stonework, the walls of which form the foundation for the church but through excavation, the old walls and terraces for which the Inca were famous are clearly visible. As we walk to the Plaza, the amazing architecture of this old city surrounds us. Huge walls of intricately fitted stonework are seen all over, paying testimony to the Inca Empire. When the Spaniards arrived they attempted to destroy any trace of what was considered “the pagan civilization” but it was too daunting a task so they ended up building their own colonial buildings on top of the indestructible Incan foundations using the same huge stones. At the Plaza de Armas, two churches dominate the square. Built on the site of what was once the palace of Incan ruler Viracocha and taking a century to build, the cathedral mixes Spanish Renaissance architecture with the stone fitting skills of the Incas. In the north tower the bell made from a ton of gold, silver and bronze is more than 300 years old and is considered the largest in South America. The other church on the plaza is the La Campania de Jesus and in a city filled with churches, is considered to be the most beautiful. Where once stood the palace of Incan Huayna Capac, La Campania de Jesus is a gorgeous example of Andean baroque architecture. As we sit and eat lunch at one of the balcony restaurants that encircle the square we get some great views although the clouds are rolling in and it starts to rain. We already knew rain was expected this afternoon and tomorrow but should clear by Thursday which is when we have the park passes for Machu Picchu. So we are undaunted by the downpour and are committed to sightseeing. We also it seems are committed to shopping. Tom picked up a couple of beautiful baby alpaca sweaters and we bought gifts for Danny and Nicole. After lunch, we walk back to the hotel to drop off our purchases and to hire a taxi to take us to the nearby ruins of Sacsayhuaman. This huge old military fortress is built on a hilltop from massive stones that archeologists estimate took tens of thousands of workers about 70 years to build hauling the monstrous stone blocks that make up the double outside walls and constructing a nearly indestructible building. June 24th, there is a large procession and ceremony here to mark the winter solstice. Also nearby, is a much more modern statue of Christ the Redentor which overlooks the entire city of Cuzco and gave us some great views of the city below us. The statue is very similar to the one in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. All the while our taxi driver who was very informative became our impromptu tour guide and explained much about the history of the city and very patiently waited for us while we checked out local artisan stalls and took photos. It was getting dark when we arrived back at the hotel, leaving us not much time to change for dinner and meet up with Marcela and Mariano for cocktails. We were all so excited to see one another again and spent an hour over pisco sours in the hotel bar catching up on news. We had made reservations at the Inka Grill for dinner. It is one of the top restaurants in Cuzco and did not disappoint us. Marcela however had forgotten to take her altitude pills and was feeling nauseous with a headache the whole time. We decided to call it a night as we have leave for the train station at 7:30 in the morning. Hopefully Marcela will feel better.

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