BootsnAll Travel Network

Cusco – Capital of the Incan Empire

The night bus to Cusco was identical to the one I had taken to get to Arequipa. This time though I actually did manage a few hours of sleep as I was still very worn out from the mountain climb. We arrived in Cusco around 6:00 am. It was very chilly as the town is about 10,900ft above sea level. Our hotel in the city was in a converted old mansion. There was lots of antique furniture and the rooms contained old wood floors and windows with heavy wood shutters. After checking in, we set off as a group to explore the city.

Cusco is very different from Arequipa. Here the predominant colors are earth tones instead of whites. Again most of the buildings are made of local stone. Many of the small side streets are cobblestone. The architecture is even more traditional Spanish than Arequipa with many old buildings containing large central open air courtyards.  There is a main central square surrounded by several churches and a large fountain in the middle. Our guide took us to eat breakfast at a restaurant called Jack’s which is well known in Cusco for its large all day breakfast menu. After eating, several of us headed off to the Inca museum. Here we hired a guide who took us around the cases showing us first Pre Incan artifacts and then showing us various examples of Incan technology and culture. It turns out the Incans were very much like the Romans. Both cultures reached very high levels of technological sophistication in both engineering and architecture. They were both very good at taking new technology acquired from conquering neighboring civilizations and applying it all over their empires. This gave them an unbeatable technological edge over their competitors. The main reason the Spanish were able to defeat the Incas is that the Spanish arrived at at time when the Incan Empire was weakened by civil war. The Spanish played both sides causing the empire to collapse.

After leaving the museum I went to a nearby monastery which contained some excellent examples of Incan architecture. The Incans are well known for their ability to build massive stone walls that have excellent earthquake resistance properties without any mortar. They did this by carefully shaping each stone to fit exactly on the one beside or underneath it. They also inclined the walls at about a 15 degree angle as they went up. Cusco was the capital of the Incan empire so it was filled with finely constructed buildings. The Spanish destroyed many of these but some walls still remain and have been incorporated into later buildings like in the monastery.

In the evening I met up with Justin who is my cousin in law (actually the stepnephew of my father’s 1st cousin’s wife) and his girlfriend Lucia. We went to a coffee shop and visited for a few hours. I had found out earlier in the day that a new job that I was supposed to start when I got back from Peru was delayed by a week, so I ended pushing my flight home back by a week so I could travel around with them for a while after I was done with my tour.

The next morning I went back to the central square to do some people watching and to buy some items I needed for hiking the Inca Trail the next day. I noticed that there was a ceremony going on inside the main cathedral. Normally tourist have to pay about $8 to get into this cathedral except when there is a mass going on.  As it wasn’t Sunday, I had decided not to tour the cathedral as I had already been in one in Arequipa and on principle as I am Catholic I don’t feel I should have to pay to enter any Catholic church. I watched for a while to see what was going on and noticed the guards at the door kept turning the foreigners away and letting in the locals. I learned that indeed a mass was going on inside to commemorate a saint day. When I learned it was a mass, I decided to try my luck. I walked to the main doors. When confronted by the guard I told him that I was Catholic, had no camera, and was going to mass. He let me inside. The mass was halfway through but I did manage to participate in the second half. The mass was presided over by a bishop and there were many other preists on the alter. After the mass, I walked around looking at all the artwork and different shrines. The cathedral was much more richly endowed than the one in Arequipa with lots of massive wood altars overlaid with gold. Eventually some man said the cathedral was closed and I had to leave. I think they were getting ready to charge people again.

We took an afternoon bus to the town of Ollantaytambo. The ride was very pretty with many large snowcapped mountains in view. Before arriving we stopped at a local bar to try some chicha made from fermented maize. To me it tasted exactly like a  bag of chicken feed smells when you open it.

Ollantaytambo is an old Incan town and some of the buildings still in use were built by them. They are some of the oldest continuously inhabited buildings in South America. The streets in the town are very narrow and are built of individual stones mortared down making traffic flow in the town very bad. The town sits in a somewhat narrow valley with massive mountains rising up on either side. Some of the mountainsides contained ruins of Incan terraces and grain storage houses. With only about two hours of daylight left after we arrived in town, some of us headed up the mountainside to explore the ruins and spent the last remaining daylight hours poking around in them. That night I heard singing from inside a Catholic church on the small main square and went inside to see the closing ceremonies of the same Saint day festival I had attended earlier that morning. This mass was very different with a children’s choir and stray dogs running up and down the aisle I guess hoping that someone had dropped their Communion host. We all turned in early that night as we would begin walking the Inca Trail the next day.

Interesting Side Fact: While on the bus to from Lima to Ica (earlier post), we watched Saturday Night Fever. By accident the guy running the DVD player put on the director’s description of the movie (while the movie played, the director kept breaking in with interesting facts). Apparently while shooting some of the dance scenes in the movie, some of the actresses had cold sores. To hide this, their faces were filmed with sort of a blur. See if you notice this next time you watch the movie.

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