|Cusco, the Inca capital, has a reputation in South America that is at least as bad, if not worst, than La Paz in the crime stakes. As if to prove that city reputations are innocent until proven guilty, we found this completely unjust (though not necessarily untrue; the only truism is that a place only exists in the eye of a beholder and their eyes will remember only what they see). Arriving in Cusco, we were immediately struck by how much nicer it looked aesthetically than skanky La Paz. It felt like the sort of city one likes to explore with cathedrals, ruins and Inca relics jutting out of every nook and cranny, spacious plazas that have clearly been spruced up for the influx of tourists, but one cannot deny that it looks pretty. For a more authentic feel you can ramble through countless cobblestoned alleyways with craft shops and little cafes. It certainly feels more touristy than La Paz, and the prices in the cafes and restaurants, of which there are a lot, are certainly noticeably higher. However, suffice to say, touristy or not, it is a much more pleasant city to wander around, even for the museums and architecture. We’re a bit over that backpacker thing where you seek out the roughest dirtiest crime ridden places in order to get some sort of traveller badge to sow onto your walking boots. Personally, I like architecture, a good atmosphere and steak and wine that flows like blood through the quaint cobbled streets.
One of the things I really wanted to see was the fortress of Sacsayhuaman, Inca ruins set 2km above Cusco. The attached photos should explain it better, but it consists of hundreds of massive rocks, spread around 21 bastions. Each of the rocks weigh up to 130 tonnes and are fitted together with such perfection its mind boggling. The lines in between them are perfectly straight and you would struggle to fit a credit card in between, yet these huge boulders are so huge you just wonder how the Incas managed to fashion them with so much precision. While not as impressive in scale as some of the other archaeological sites we’ve visited, this was very unique and sticks in the mind more due to the mystery of it. In contrast, somewhere like Tikal is awesome in every way, but when you look at the pyramids you can at least envisage how they were constructed, whatever the hardship and difficulty involved. I like puzzles within an enigma wrapped up in a mystery. It’s exactly the sort of place where one wishes they had their wine-stained Eric Von Daniken book, just so they could give the mad man a fair trial for his UFO-close encounter ramblings, because on the basis of a place like this you cannot deny that he at least had a point (albeit one that he stretched further than a bungee cord over the Grand Canyon.)
Anyway, the real point of us coming to Cusco is obviously for the Inca Trail. We start in another day, having a few days to get some last minute supplies. For a lot of people who fly in to do it they usually need several days to acclimatise first, Cusco being 3,400 metres above sea level. However we seem to have spent the last few weeks at this sort of height, so really we’re just stocking up on steaky goodness of the alpaca variety! The only bad sign at the moment is that the weather is wet and rainy and shows no immediate sign of stopping. We have bought some new ponchos that cover our bags and all so we’re hoping we get a few sunny spells at least. Still, rain or shine, we’re looking forward to a four day treck ending in Machu Pichu. We’ll update you when we get back!