|7 hours on public transit anywhere in the world could be challenging regardless of how magnificent the scenery is... but it is all worthwhile once we arrived in Cuzco! Cuzco is likely the most touristy city in S.America, street vendors would sell you anything from alpaca socks to a massage if you have the money to spend. But the cobblestone streets, the stone buildings with big wooden carved doors and central courtyards, the fountains with statues of inca warriors and animals, the terrance mountains in the background and so on, all make you want to study the history of the inca people and spanish conquerers who made this city. Not too far from Cuzco, one could visit the archeology sites left by the inca empire (12-15th century.) It is such a mix of old and new worlds where one could have the latest fusion food in the courtyard of a 14th century building, wear the latest fashion made by alpaca wool using the traditional weaving techniques, see indigenous Peruvians women in their traditional skirts and hats at the bus station, that makes Cuzco as mysterious as it could be.
Weaving Co-op Project
In recent years, there are more and more NGO (non-government organization) and non-profit organizations which go into the indigenous communities and help improve their lives by promoting their weaving tenants. We stopped by one community where the talented women showed us how they made beautiful weaved clothes from alpaca wool. It is incredible to see the process of how something is made from raw materials to finished products.
Sacred Valley and Incas Archeology Sites
1st day we did a Sacred Valley tour as well as visited 2 archeology sites Pisac and Ollantaytambo ruins. The views are breathtaking! And it is hard to fathom how the Incas could create such structures and terranced farmland with no modern machines and technology. We had to take breaks every 10-15 minutes climbing up the stone stairs. How did the Incas who were smaller ever move those big stones up the mountains and create temples, homes, fountains, and drainage systems was bewildering.
The small town of Ollantaytambo was created by the Incas just outside of the ruins. It is called the 'living city' because the stone buildings were so sturdy that it withstood earthquakes and other natural disasters that people still live there with some interior renovation. The streets are perfectly straight and the drainage system so well built that residents maintain the old way of living without much modern updates.
Mix of Incas and Spanish Architectures
The second day we took it easy. Wondered around Cusco's square, passed by many churches (the Catedral, Iglesia de la Compañía, Convento La Merced, Convento San Francisco, etc) and visited Qorikancha (Gold House) which has Inca's stone structure as base and Spanish Colonial building on top.
It is unusual to see a building of 2 totally different styles built on top of the other. That is the sad history of Cusco. When the Spaniards invaded Cusco, they looted the Sun temple Qorikancha (the entire interior was made of gold, the color of sun,) and burned it. However the stone structure were indestructible that the Spaniards instead built their colonial buildings on top. There are distinct differences between the two architectures because the Inca's stone structure used interlocking technique where cement wasn't necessary, but the Colonial architecture had more details and required cement.
In addition to the famous Peruvian cerviche, the Andeas area of Peru provides many unique dishes made of unique animals... Ted set his heart to try the famous cuy (genie pig) and alpaca steak and was happy he'd had the experience. Cuzco has visitors from all over the world, the restaurant themes are electic and the cuisines are no less sophisticated than Vancouver. You could find Mexican Italian, Peruvian Chinese, Japanese Vegeterian???, Latino Indian any combinations/fusion dishes one could imagine.
Our tour guide Angela is a Cuzco native and took the team to some hip local restaurants. We were really impressed by how artistic and creative Cuzco's people are by the restaurant decorations (see photos.)
Chancla con queso (corn with cheese) is the famous street food. Annie had to try it but at a restaurant, and quite enjoyed the starchy big kernals. We also went to a huge local market and tried the unique fruit Granadilla that our guide Angela recommended. Annie has tasted many fruits growing up in Taiwan and visiting S.E. Asia, but granadilla is something totally different. It looks like a smaller version of passion fruit. The skin is crispy and requires a knife to cut it. Then you eat the slimy inside with crispy black seeds. They taste so aromatically, they could be turn into perfume!!!
Pisco Sour is Peru's national drink. It is a liquor made of special Peruvian grapes, egg white and sugar. We are only social drinkers, but we have to admit it is DELICIOUS! And one could easily drink a few glasses before realizing how hard it hits! Chicha Morada is another famous Peruvian drink. It is made of the purple corn and sugar.
San Blas the Artistic Neighborhood
We had booked a 6 hour mountain biking tour around another ruin Myros for the third day, but decided to cancel the night before for both of us were under the weather. Instead, we ventured into the bohemian district of Cuzco and enjoyed its outdoor and indoor artists' market as well as many galleries.
We also spent about an hour in the Inka Museum and learned about the history from pre-Inka period to the glorious Inka empire to the invasion of Spanish and mix of Inka and Spanish art. The Inkas were definitely very smart, artistic and organized people. Not only they made their day-to-day living items, they etched and painted their kitchen jars and plates, weaved geometric colorful clothing, and carved animals on their walls. Their empires had argricultural and residential areas and always an area for temple and offering.