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Cusco: Navel of the World
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Cusco: Navel of the World

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…

Iglesia La CompaƱia de Jesus

Dominican Convent, Cusco

Street Scene - Cusco
Blue skies over Cusco

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.

Qorikancha Wall

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.

Cafe Ritual - Cusco

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.

Saqsayhuaman Ruins

Lolly and the Stones

Saqsayhuaman Ruins

[Also see the Incan aqueduct baths at Tambomachay]

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.

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26 Responses

  1. scout

    I’ve been checking your pictures out on Flickr and it just looks like SUCH an amazing trip! The ones with the insects freaked me out a bit though!

  2. Sarah

    Lolly, your photos are amazing. What a trip! The tent, the trip on the Amazon, the photos of the architecture, the locals (bartering with the natives…..). Just amazing. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Oh, and you have to show a picture of the sweater you purchased – I bet it is lovely.

  3. Knittinghawkeye

    It’s awesome to meet another knitter who has traveled to these places. My family & I went 2 winters ago to Peru & Ecuador. We went all over, including the Galapagos. I loved being up in the mountains at Machu Piccu. I purchased a baby alpaca pancho while we were there. It was soooo beautiful. We stayed at the Incaterra resort which is at the edge of the mountains. My sister & I are begging our parents to go to the Amazon resort this winter. It would be glorious walking through the canopies. =) I’m glad you’re alright and you had a wonderful trip. I loved the mountains, but was not so fond of Lima, too dry & hot for me. =) Ecuador was gorgeous also.

  4. Jenna

    Hehe, _I_ knew that you couldn’t go to Peru and not see the Andes, too! :) It’s so amazing that so many aspects of Incan culture survive, despite how ancient it is and the horrors of the conquest. Culture is persistant, init?
    I’m glad you had some good food choices, they look yummy. Can’t wait to hear about the textiles after seeing your wonderful photos!

  5. stacey

    Just beautiful – each city has such different and amazing things to see!!!! I love Quinoa – one of my favorite things to eat!

  6. courtney

    Coco tea, huh? How very adventurous!
    Glad there was plenty to eat and lots to see…the photos are, of course, beautiful. I can’t believe how blue the skies were!

  7. Meg

    I have to laugh. I read your post just after I finished cooking and eating my first quinoa based meal. So yummy! I think it just might become a staple of my mostly-vegetarian lifestyle. It’s the only grain that’s a complete protein, you know. Haha, I’m such a dork.

  8. Patricia

    Looking forward to seeing the rest of the pictures. My sister and I were in Cusco/Machu Pichu (sp?) 7-8- years ago, when I was in Peace Corps. I remember all those places too! Time to dig out my photos.

    I was not a knitter then and ended up getting touristy sweaters in La Paz- but they are quite useable and quite warm still.

  9. Mai

    How lovely the places are. I thank you so much for sharing with the world all about the beautiful countries you have visited. About the cuisine in those countries, do they use lots of beans in their dishes? My main concern when I am on the road is to find nutritious vegetarian meals. I think someday, I will use your itinerary for my family vacation, when kids are a bit older. We love nature and prefer to stay away from touristy places.

  10. Dorothy

    Peru looks like an amazing place to visit, but I think if I went, it would definitely be to the Andes region. I love ancient architecture and do much better in drier climates. Your pictures are taking me to places I may never get a chance to visit. Thank you and I hope your trial run is for a travel photography book with a focus on not only the scenery and the history, but on the textiles, crafters and people as well.

  11. Sandra

    sigh, i just saw the episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” where he goes to Peru and it looked absolutely amazing! and now seeing your pictures and reading your accounts of your trip make me want to hop on the next plane over there. wow.

  12. Moni

    Thank YOU for taking time to post all of the wonderful photos and details from your trip! I’m really ejoying them. Now I want to go to Peru :)

  13. Ashley

    I wanted to fave every single picture from this leg of the trip on Flickr! Just amazing. And I know how much time it takes to get the photos organized and uploaded, so thank you for sharing your trip with us!

  14. earthchick

    Mmm, lovely photos. I love all the blues and browns in this post.

    I spent a summer in Bolivia several years ago, and one of my favorite memories was drinking coca tea to help my altitude headaches in La Paz. My friends and I giggled endlessly at the fact that we were drinking tea from cocaine leaves!

    Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and your pictures. :)

  15. Jen - Knitting Sutra

    I’m sad that I never made it to Cuzco, but I didn’t have time.

    I fell in love with the food in Peru – especially all the potato dishes. Did you try causa? The best way to describe it is a potato and tuna fish caserole, served cold. It sounds odd, but it was soooo good. I’m also a quinoa fan.

  16. potikare

    Hey Lolly! Obviously it’s been a great trip for you. I really wonder South America, it’s said to be so beautiful. I could see a part of it thanks to your photos:) Hope to see those places myself one day.

  17. carrie m

    thanks for sharing all of this with us, lolly! and i’ve been meaning to thank you for the sweet comment on my blog. i’ll check out your flickr later today.!

  18. Amy Artisan

    Another great entry! Looking forward to learning more about the “something bigger” with your writing and posting. :)

    It’s interesting that Cusco was known as the navel of the world – Delphi, Greece also had that moniker, although I’m not sure of the dates when the Greeks were claiming that. When we visited Delphi in ’05 my sister & friends had to take a fun picture of “their navels @ the navel” (there is actually a stone).

  19. Kristin

    Thanks for the travelogue, Lolly. You have some wonderful photos there. The first thing I thought of when I heard about the earthquake was that you were there. I just read your account of it and was quite moved. I’m so glad you and Kris are okay and made it home safely.

  20. pamela wynne

    I’m so impressed with your phototravelogues — thanks so much for sharing them, and taking the time to put them together so beautifully. I spent a long time this afternoon catching up on the blog (I feel kind of immersed in your travel experiences right now! and have been letting it all sink in for a while), and am looking forward to checking in on Flickr! xo

  21. MC

    Love, love, love your pictures. I hope the “trial run” means you’ll be putting together a book because I will definitely buy a copy. It’s amazing how knitting and weaving is a part of the Peruvian livelihood and it’s more of a hobby (knitting) for a few of us. I’m fascinated. Looking forward to more pics. Thank you so much for sharing.

  22. Lazuli

    Wow! I’m working my way backward through your travelogue, and I just wanted to say that your photos are beautiful, as are your descriptions of the fiber arts! It’s fascinating to be able to visit this part of the world through your eyes!

  23. amisha

    i am going to say this on each post but… your photos are just fabulous lolly! so so beautiful. i know how much time it takes to do a travel post (i am still posting about travel from ages ago :) ) and i really appreciate you sharing all this goodness. all the history and background is wonderful too. can’t wait to see what this is a trial run for! :)
    and 800 varieties of potato?? yum!

  24. Wanda

    I’m going to have to check out your Flickr set. I bet there are wonderful pictures there. If you’re aiming to do travel writing and I do recall you mentioning it before on the blog, I think you’re on to something! :-)

  25. Kathy


    I really liked your article and pictures!
    My husband and I are knitting socks on a textile knitting machine and are looking for cones of alpaca. I was wondering if we could contact someone from the little commercial store you found right off of the Plaza de San Francisco in downtown Cusco so that we might be able to buy a lot of cones from them. Do you have any more information about them?
    Kathy & Steve

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