Imagine having coffee at a Starbucks knowing more then 500 years ago priestesses had been living, cooking, sleeping and praying in that very building..
With the over night bus we arrived at Cusco at 4:30 a.m. Luckily the hotel let us check in at that time so we could get some more sleep. The bus has been full and the dude next to me started to scream in his dreams at some point.
Cusco is the historic capital of the Inca empire and now the tourist hot spot for trips to Machu Picchu. Especially during Easter in the semana santa it’s pretty busy here. Still nice to look at with lots of restaurants, Alpaca clothes shops and travel agencies. We booked all our stuff for the next days and took part at a walking tour. The guide was funny and explained a lot about the Inca, the Spanish conquerors, Cusco and its buildings (“This house used to be an important Inca temple. You can see that there wasn’t any cement used, the stones just sit perfectly on each other. It used to be a sacred place, inhabitant by priestesses and wise people. Well. Today it’s a Starbucks..”).
After a really good night’s sleep we headed off to the Valle Sagrada (the Sacred Valley). The bus ride took us along nice mountain roads and I think it did look a little like Switzerland. Well, Switzerland with Inca ruins. First we stopped in Písac, where you can see large agricultural terraces constructed on a steep hill. The Inca used this site also for religious purposes (temples) and for defense. Then we visited Ollantaytambo, another terraced site the Inca emperor Pachacuti conquered in the mid-15th century. Besides agriculture the town has mainly been used to provide lodging for the Inca nobility. During the Spanish advance the place has been used as capital for the native resistance against the conquistadors. It is really stunning to see all those ancient remains of that great empire and to imagine those places back in the day, full of life. Although the “full of life” part doesn’t take too much imagination since it was crowded with tourists. That area is a very popular spot for visitors from all over the world, but since it’s Easter it feels like the whole of South America is on holidays in Cusco…
The tour contained lots of stops at places where you can buy souvenirs or where they showed you how to produce silver jewelry and textiles – and of course they should be happy to sell stuff afterwards. Although it’s actually really interesting to see how they still make that stuff the traditional way (e.g. lipstick / red color made out of bugs that live in cactus leaves) and they are really good in explaining it in an entertaining way – I have seen those “shows” now like three times and that should be fine. Anyway I think it’s too touristy. So far I am really impressed by Perú and its interesting culture and beautiful countryside and city centers.
Of course most people travel to Cusco to visit the famous Machu Picchu – and so did we… You will read about this in the next post. But also the Montaña Colorada (Rainbow Mountain) is well worth a trip. Although they pick you up at 3 am, which sucks if you had spent the past for days hiking, biking, getting up at stupid o’clock too. But during the 3 hour ride you get to sleep a little before you arrive at the base, where the hike to the Rainbow Mountain starts. The peak is on 5200 meters a.s.l. – the hike itself is not too bad but still exhausting in this altitude and since we were in a rush to get back in time to catch a night bus we did the trek on horseback. As always that was very nice and pleasant and some body heat was very welcome. The nature there is beautiful and of course, the colorful hills are absolutely stunning. Purple, pink, grey and yellow lined rocks – all due to volcanic minerals. We hiked up to the very top while our horses could recover from the last ascent and got rewarded with pretty views.
Cusco has much more to offer then just being the gate to Machu Picchu. It has a picturesque historical center with old churches and buildings (both imperial and from Inca times). Many different hikes and trips are offered into the mountains where you can see large or small ruins and remains of the great empire that used to exist here before – yet again – Europeans appeared and destroyed a whole people and its culture. All Peruvians I have met are still sort of upset about this and the country tries to save what is left of that ancient culture, habits, traditions, languages and knowledge.