Peru: Cusco

We got a lot of advice about arriving in Cusco. Most of it revolved around avoiding – or actually dealing with – altitude sickness. There seems to be a lot of evidence that altitude sickness is actually just dehydration, and we were determined to beat it. We started drinking liquids before we arrived, and when we got to the hotel, we were offered coca tea. We both really liked it and never found that it caused caffeinelike symptoms even though it’s obviously a stimulant. Just a nice taste and, well, no altitude problems whatsoever.

The hotel was in a terrific location just off the main plaza, and their check-in time is a very civilized 11am. So we stowed our luggage, washed our faces, and took off.

Lunch was pretty quickly in order, of course. Here I am sitting in one of the balconies I mentioned in the Lima post. In front of Yen (well, the camera, obviously) is a nice alpaca filet. I’m about to eat lomo saltado, which is one of those dishes you see just everywhere. It’s just about the same as the “typical” dishes you get all over Costa Rica. Beef, onions, tomatoes all stir-fried together. They also add some fries and rice. As I said, carbs.

Well fueled (and still not feeling the effects!) we set out to investigate what was once the seat of the Inca empire.

My poor vicuña friend here was trapped inside what will one day be a museum.

A lot of the photos you’re going to see in today’s entry are from a monastery that was built on top of an Inca temple. It’s a great place to start out your travels in Peru because you can immediately see the contrast between the older, more refined Incan architecture, and the shoddy work of the invaders.

A guide later told us that these knobs on the stones are holds used to position them. They should all have been sanded down, but when you’re building a whole empire, you probably figure you have all the time in the world and will deal with it later.

A painting representing mystical lines running through the Earth, which all come together in Cusco (and this temple, specifically).

This stone is meant to be a big deal because it’s got 12 angles – see them all? It would have been a pretty complicated task to make it fit so carefully with all of the others around it. People in Cusco are particularly excited about it because they consider that it represents Cusco itself (with 12 districts). We discovered at other sites that 12 isn’t nearly the most profound artistry around.

See the little arch in the bottom left-hand corner? You go through that, walk ten steps, and you’re at our hotel. Pretty great, eh?

Dinner! More tiradito and some sushi.

Ah, and I am the next morning, appearing refreshed. I’m not, terribly. See we liked our hotel a lot. But the problem is, it’s next door to a club. Turns out Cusco has a pretty rockin’ party scene. From 11pm to 5am, there was crazy dance music coming up from the floors and through the walls. The hotel supplies headphones, but Yen swears he could feel the bed shaking. Not a good night at all. But I like good, and that’s what counts.

This photo, on the other hand, is fast-forwarding a little. It’s in the same hotel, but now we’ve come back from a night away, and they’ve given us a room up on the 4th floor. The music was much less audible from up there, and the bed was wonderfully firm. Terrific night’s sleep that night.

That night we had dinner at another guidebook-recommended place, A Mi Manera. It was an absolutely wonderful meal, but we were the only people in the whole restaurant. I felt terrible for them and made Yen order dessert just so we’d spend a little more. What a bully.

Why does Yen look so happy? Well, take a look at his plate.

Give up?

Yep. It’s a cuy. A guinea pig.

Next morning, we discovered the other advantage to being so high up: the view. In the foreground, notice the little terra cotta bulls on the roof. Those are everywhere, and I just love them. Our driver (more on him in another entry) told us that it’s a Quechua tradition to put them there, that they protect the home. Yen said, “They should put jaguars up there!” I thought he was going to drive off the road laughing so hard – he loved the idea.