Week of April 04, 2004
After debating all the ways to get to Cusco (or Cuzco), we decided that it would be best that we fly from Lima to Cusco, leaving Cindy in the same safe cochera (parking) and under the watchful eye of Carlos. It also helped that flying to Cusco saves us about 600 miles, 3-4 days of hard travel and the gas cost at $2.50+ a gallon. However, before leaving Lima, we took the opportunity to visit a church wherein the infamous Inquisition trials and tortures were held. What a terrible part of religious history. Thousands of people were tortured and killed during this blighted time.
We made it to Cusco and were promptly met by Jose, a man we contacted for the Inca Trail trek arrangements. We spent a couple of hours going over our wants (which included a very specific request to have an additional day in Machu Picchu - this becomes rather important later on in the story) and we signed up for two tours. Inasmuch as we dislike taking tours, these tours were the best ways to get a taste of all the wonderful sights in and around Cusco.
Our first tour did not start until the afternoon of the next day so we wandered around this historical and breathtaking town. Lo and behold, we ran into Johann and Angie, a couple we met on board our boat in the Galapagos. We knew they would be around Cusco but we did not imagine we would take a wrong turn down a street and literally run into them. It was great to catch up.
First, just some tidbits about Cusco. Cusco was inhabited by local, small ethnic groups without any urban, religious or politic development until the year 750 AD, when the invasion of the Wari culture (from north of Cusco) occurred. The Wari introduced religious practices, state organization for tax paying, massive urbanization of the area and the development of regional and imperial commerce.
For unknown reasons, the Wari culture disappeared from Cusco around 1000 AD; however, its cultural and material legacy (road network) was subsequently used by the Incas. The Inca State was established around 1250 AD, only three centuries before the arrival of the Spanish. They started very small, covering an area of about 50 hectares and only when they won several battles/wars and between 1438 - 1527, did they manage to conquer the Chimu (northern) kingdom. The Inca State expanded almost 100 times during these 90 years, from Chile and parts of Argentina to Ecuador and into parts of Colombia.
Along with this expansion, came the famous Inca road construction. At this time, over 14,000 kilometers of Inca roads (having absorbed the initial Wari roads) have been found (I think we walked about 10,000 kilometers of those roads on our four-day trek, ahhh, but that is another story for later).
Cusco was the capital of the Inca empire and most of Cusco's central streets are still lined with Inca-built stone walls (unfortunately, the Spanish tore down the original structures and built their colonial-style buildings on top of the remaining foundation walls, a pattern to be repeated by conquerors all over the world). The streets are stepped and narrow and teeming with Quechua-speaking (Ketch-u-a) descendants of the Incas. This archaeological capital of the Americas and the oldest continuously inhabited city on the continent, has about 300,000 inhabitants.
Before our first tour, we stopped into Jose's office, our tour proprietor, and reminded his crew that we wanted to make sure our additional day's stay in Aquas Calientes (the town at Machu Picchu) was arranged (IE: our return train ticket confirmed for the next afternoon). See, we found out that Jose was trying to get us on the 5:45 a.m. (yes, a.m.!) train the next day because the cost was US$20+ each less - which means a tidy little profit he makes). We were assured Jose would be reminded. (rolling eyes, story to come later).
Our first tour consisted of Cusco itself. You could spend a month here and not be bored with the combination of history, food, culture, adventure, food, people, architecture, food, terrain and, did I mention food!? Yes, the food in Cusco exceeded our expectations and yes, we had a delicious Alpaca (llama) steak. We had soups that drowned half chickens and we forked up Cusco-style chinese food that was sensational. We were blessed with Italian food wonderfully tweaked with local goat cheeses and we even had an unrecognizably-healthy vegetarian meal with Johann, it was that good. All the food is too easily washed down with Cusco's famous "Pisco sours" that were smooooothly sour. Ummmm, ummmm, ummmm. Thank goodness for that upcoming four-day Inca Trail trek, ah, but alas, that is a story for a later time. (This is what you call a "teaser").
Much of our tour was inside of various churches or other "no pictures, with or without flash" buildings so we do not have anything to show. However, the incredibly carved gold, silver, wood, and stone altars, chapels, statues, etc. were extraordinary.
Our second day's tour consisted of a full-day of travel around the city of Cusco, visiting several more ruins and of course, dropping us off at a few different markets. After this tour, we have a little advice for others - make sure that you wear a watch or be aware of the time because these markets literally suck the minutes (ahem, hours) away from you and if you are not careful, you just might miss your tour bus to the next place (not like that happened to us and not like we had to scramble to get a taxi that had to be bribed a few extra soles to drive real fast up the cliff-hugging road so that if we had missed the bus, we could catch up with the tour, naw, not us).
Touring Pisaq and Ollantaytambo (Peez-ack and O-yan-tie-tam-bow), we visited a large area of Inca-made buildings that included religious sectors, agricultural terraces, sun-dials, etc. The Incas had quite an organized society and each "city" has very definable sections common to the others.
We also visited another ruin site at Tambomachay (Tam-bomb-a-shay) where the genius of the Inca and their stonework coupled with their reverence and manipulation of water is clearly seen.
So, after all our touring we decided to have one day off before venturing up and down and up and up and down and up and down the Inca Trail. We spent our "free" day sniffing out gastronomic delights and stopping in to see Jose to verify our return from Machu Picchu was locked in for the afternoon after our arrival at the famed ruin site. We were assured that all was taken care of to the extent we were told "you don't need to go to the bank and get any money, everything is already paid for in the tour package." Remind us to listen to those voices in our head that made us look at each other and reluctantly sigh "OK".
So, after packing for our four-day trek along the Inca Trail, we retired for the night and slept in the midst of dreams of glorious mountains and lush valleys, all full of pristine life, waterfalls and flowers and train tickets that are supposed to be waiting for us.