15 October 2010
It’s a new day. Day five in Peru and my first full day in Cusco. I’ve decided to dedicate the day to Cusco. But first things, first. I’m to meet Armando in the plaza to discuss what I want to do over the next couple of days in the Cusco region and maybe beyond. Before coming to Peru, I enquired about doing the Inca Trail but found out that all the places (there are a limited amount of people allowed on the trail) were filled, therefore the four day Inca Trail was out of the question.
While in the Amazon, I spoke to the other folks in my group and Armando who had already been to Cusco and done different trails and asked them about their experiences. One of the interesting thing that came out of those chats was the Lares Valley trek. It was four day long and ended in Machu Picchu as well, except that it starts out in the Lares Valley and you get to experience a bit of rural Peruvian culture.
Armando finds me in the plaza blissfully staring at the churches around it. We discuss my plans and he says he will find out whether it will be possible to do the Lares trek the following day. “Call me at around 3pm”, he tells me and then gives me some tips of what to do for the morning.
I take my Lonley Planet and flick to the Cusco section and find a walking route of interesting things. I decided I will start on the route until I find something else to take me off the route. It starts in the plaza, which I have to be honest, basking the morning sunlight is stunning and full of life. Full of tourists, local, touts, children, pigeons. It does the phrase ‘centre of the city’ justice. The plaza is flanked by a beautiful cathedral and church.
I walk around the plaza for a while before heading down crossing another two plaza’s on my way to the central market. Both these smaller plaza’s are filled with locals chatting, playing, helping tourists or simply just sitting staring into nothing.A short walk from these two plaza’s you find the bustling central market. It caters for tourists, but clearly is aimed at the local Cusco population selling everything from vegetables, food, meat, toys, clothes, kitchen utensils and more. I quite liked it as it wasn’t some squeaky clean faux colonial building designed and built to attract swathes of tourists. It was a functional structure for people to sell and buy stuff. That’s it.
After walking around, I followed the LP route down some very ‘local’ roads which didn’t seem to have anything to attract tourists. It was the everyday Cusco and not the shiny façade for the tourists. I got bored of the route and looked at my map to see if there was anything interesting close by (silly notion as there will always be something interesting in a city you don’t know).
I find Iglesia y Monasterio de Santa Catalina and walk in to look at the ‘museum of religious art, with many colonial paintings of the escuela cuzqueña, plus a dramatically friezed baroque side chapel’. It’s a tranquil place however, the nun mannequins are quite intimidating, especially if you are used to mannequins from high street fashion stores.From here I walk to Qorikancha, the location of one of the most important temples for the Inca, but subsequently knocked down by the Spanish who, as per usual, built a church on the foundations of the temple.
I returned to the LP route and ended up in San Blas, the hippy area of Cusco. Here I had some lunch in an Irish Pub (Yeah I know, but I was hungry and it was the first place I found). Here I read my LP and decided to head to Sacsayhuaman, which was an uphill walk from San Blas (I really only found out how uphill when I started the walk).
After lunch I followed some winding roads (some flat but most uphill) to get to Sacsayhuaman walled complex. Archeologists think it was some sort of fort and I would agree simply due to its location and its impressive size. Some of the stones used in the wall were absolutely massive, twice, nay, thrice the size of me! (I don’t speak like this but I really just felt like saying it that way!)
I wandered around the ruins for a while taking photos and just soaking up my first bit of Inca built heritage. The complex is just outstanding and really demonstrates the ingenuity and workmanship of the Inca. I was starting to feel tired (remember, it was only my second day at this altitude). So headed back the way I came, down to my hostel, where I phoned Armando with the status of the Lares Trek. Unfortunately, it was bad news. It was too short notice to add me on this trek. However he said he could organize a Sacred Valley tour for me and sort out my tickets and transport to Machu Picchu. Realizing my options were limited, I took him up on the offer. He told me he would sort everything out and give me the tickets later in the day.
The rest of the day was spent chilling out around the central plaza, people watching and reading. Later that evening I met up with Armando, who was with his two little daughters and wife. Armando told me the plan for the next couple of days in Cusco and a trip to Arequipa and Colca valley and canyon.
After thanking Armando profusely for all his help, I wandered around the plaza at dusk taking some more photos before heading to back to the hostel and relaxing with my book and Ipod and the occasional chat with fellow hostel residents.
**Armando runs his own tour company and I highly recommend him. This recommendation is not only based on my personal experience with him, but also on what I saw of how he interacted with the folks from the group I met in the rainforest. Contact details below**
Mystical tours in Peru and treks in Cusco
Reservations: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org