From the northern rainforests, we flew to the southern mountains. When we first began planning our trip, we were going to stay in the Amazon, but I knew that I could not go to Peru and not see the Andes. Each part of the trip was so meaningful: the Amazon fed my nature-loving spirit, while the Andes fed the archaeology/hiking/textile-loving spirit.
Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire, and the Incas considered the city to be the “navel of the world”. Resting high (app. 12 000 ft) in the Andes, it was the center of the Inca “body” with roads eminating out to all reaches of the Empire (which went into Chile in the south, and into Ecuador in the north). The Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century was at the height of the Inca’s power and wealth.
…A city with such a rich history was bound to be a beautiful place…
Many of the original Incan architecture was replaced by Spanish-style churches and convents, there are some remaining remnants of the Inca buildings in the city proper, most notably the Temple of the Sun, Qorikancha. The Dominicans built over the original Temple, but left one small section of ashlar stones that formed part of the original structure.
The main square of Cusco is called the Plaza des Armas. It is a large and lively city center, full of locals and tourists. There are many restaurants, shops, and museums nearby, as well as the historic Catholic churches. Every street has a high-end alpaca boutique, and Kris and I both came away with some lovely sweaters. And the food! I was slightly concerned about finding enough vegetarian foods on the road – but the Andes are the home of the potato (and a slew of other vegetables!) and there are about 800 varieties to try. Another favorite was the native grain quinoa. I was well fed in this glorious city.
The most common and notable drink in the Andes is the Mate de Coca, tea made from the same leaves as the drug, cocaine. The leaves have no effect on my mental state – but they are a local treatment for sorocha, or altitude sickness. I had a moderate case of sickness for the first twelve hours in the city – mainly characterized by nausea, headache, and shortness of breath. We took it slow, and by the next morning, I was back to normal (with the help of coca tea!)
Cusco is a city of juxtaposition: Inca culture is prevalent here, both in the material culture and the archaeological remains around the city, and Spanish influence is also strong, in the city planning and architecture. The people have found a unique balance. On the hilltops above Cusco, sit many Incan archaeological sites, the largest among them is the citadel complex: Saqsayhuaman.
Cusco was our case camp for our stay in the Andes. Each day, we had an agenda to see the sights, and each night we returned to our beautiful hotel. There are so many dimensions of Cusco and the surrounding areas that I want to share with you – next I will share a something close to all of our hearts: the Andean textile traditions!
Thank you so very much to everyone who has taken the time to comment on my travel / photography blog posts and Flickr. I spent many hours going through the camera’s memory cards and working with the photos, and it is so rewarding to see that you enjoy looking at them, and learning more about their context. These narratives and photographs are a part of something much bigger, a “trial run” of sorts. Your feedback is so greatly appreciated. I can’t thank you enough.