Flying from Puerto Maldonado to Cusco is only about an hour or so and the flight this time was smooth and I would learn in the future on other flight that is not normally the case. I was excited to experience the ancient city of Cusco.
Cusco was the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th until the 16th-century Spanish conquest. In 1983 Cusco was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO with the title “City of Cuzco”. It has become a major tourist destination, hosting nearly 2 million visitors a year. The Constitution of Peru designates it as the Historical Capital of Peru.
Finding my way from the airport gate to ground transportation was easy and eventually I found my to the van that would be taking me to the hotel Casa Andina Koricancha in the heart of Cusco.
The street in Cusco are mostly made of brick and are extremely narrow with steep hills, the drivers can be crazy so you have to be aware. You can see a wide range of ancient architecture mixed with some more recent buildings. When I arrived at the hotel a parade was going on in the streets many of the catholic schools and soldiers were celebration a catholic holiday specific to the region. I made my way to the front desk and checked in. I inquired about getting my laundry done as most of my cloths were dirty by this point and we would be leaving for the Inca Quarry Trail in a few days. The gentleman at the front desk told me it would be charged by weight which equaled about $3.00 a pound. Arriving at my room I found a very comfortable bed actually three LoL, nice bathroom, and general accommodations. I unloaded, took a hot shower (which had never felt better), gathered up my laundry and headed to the lobby. Once at the lobby I dropped the laundry off, met some friends in the lobby and headed out to dinner. Walking through Cusco is surreal, the ancient architecture, the energy, diversity, and history are all consuming. The city is full of tourist from all over the world as well as locals who still mostly practice there traditional trades. We decided to eat at Nuna a fairly newer restaurant which was recommended by a local. The atmosphere was comfortable and service was great although communication can be difficult is you are not fluent in Spanish. I indulged in some local craft beer which was pretty good. I also decided to try Alpaca, which I have to say is delicious and is better in my opinion than beef. After having a few more drinks we decided to head back to hotel because we would be having a meeting with our guides early in the mourning about the Inca Quarry Trail hike to Machu Picchu.
After a good nights rest I made my way down to the lobby to have breakfast, pick up my laundry, and went to attend the meeting about the Inca Quarry trail hike. I met with other travelers that would be going on the hike as well as the guides. The main guides name was Hugo and he was a funny and intelligent man. He explained the route we would take, the length of time, altitude, dangers, precautions, as well as what to be sure to bring. I would be the only American on the trek but would be joined by a Scottish gentleman, a 60 year old experienced Aussie bloke, a 33 year old versed traveler from Portugal, and a 23 year old girl from the UK as well as a host of porters, and guides. I felt good after the meeting but a bit nervous as I knew it would test my endurance. We parted ways as we would be meeting him and the rest of the team in Ollyantambo the following day.
I spent the remainder of the day exploring Cusco, trying different foods, shopping, chocolate factory, and coffee shop. I also explored many beautiful churches including Cusco Cathedral and San Blas Temple. After exploring for awhile longer I met up with some of the group for dinner and then we decided to go to an alpaca clothing factory and market.
Alpaca fleece is the natural fiber harvested from an alpaca. It is light or heavy in weight, depending on how it is spun. It is a soft, durable, luxurious and silky natural fiber. While similar to sheep’s wool, it is warmer, not prickly, and has no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic. Alpaca fiber is naturally water-repellent and difficult to ignite. Huacaya, an alpaca that grows soft spongy fiber, has natural crimp, thus making a naturally elastic yarn well-suited for knitting. Suri has no crimp and thus is a better fit for woven goods. The designer Armani has used Suri alpaca to fashion men’s and women’s suits. Alpaca fleece is made into various products, from very simple and inexpensive garments made by the indigenous communities to sophisticated, industrially made and expensive products such as suits. In the United States, groups of smaller alpaca breeders have banded together to create “fiber co-ops,” to make the manufacture of alpaca fiber products less expensive.
I have decided recently to start importing Alpaca clothing into the Ohio Valley. So if anyone is interested please let me know.
After dinner and a few drinks I decided to walk around for a little while and soak in the vibe and the sights of Cusco at night before venturing back to the hotel. I needed to get up at 5:30 to be on a van heading through the Sacred Valley on our way to the city of Ollantaytambo to start the treck to Machu Picchu.
I got up the next morning feeling a little altitude sickness but nothing a little coca tea would not relieve. I went down stairs, met the group and had breakfast. Our first stop on the way to Ollantaytambo would be Sacsayhuamán, which was a citadel on the northern outskirts of the city of Cusco, Peru, the historic capital of the Inca Empire. Sections were first built by the Killke culture about 1100; they had occupied the area since 900. The complex was expanded and added to by the Inca from the 13th century; they built dry stone walls constructed of huge stones. The workers carefully cut the boulders to fit them together tightly without mortar. The site is at an altitude 12,142 ft and has a beautiful overlook of Cusco. The shear size and magnitude of these structures is amazing and to think only about 30% of the original structure remains today.
After leaving Sacsayhuamán we headed back to the van to continue our drive through the Sacred Valley on the way to Ollantaytambo. Along the way we stopped to visit with a family that made pottery and hosted travelers. I was excited to experience this because I had taken pottery in high school and collage so it interested me. The family were gracious and prepared a delicious meal consisting of potato soup made from dried potatoes, avocado salad with bread, and chicken with rice. Also served with the meal was Chicha not the beer but the purple non-alcoholic drink made from corn. The meal was delicious and the hosts could not have been more genuine and kind. After talking for awhile we followed them to there studio were the created there pottery and to watch them work. As they began to work I could immediately tell how skilled there technique was and that it had been perfected by generation. It maintain its tradition from the way they cultivated the clay from the local mountains to the kick wheel they use to spin the pottery, the technique of decoration and the kiln they used to bake the pottery.
After leaving our hosting family we continued on our way to Ollantaytambo along the way stopping at a local bar to have some Chicha the alcoholic drink fermented in a pot from corn mash and sometimes mixed with strawberry juice. We also enjoyed a drinking game called Sapo which consists of tossing coins into a stand containing various slot with different points and a brass frog in the middle as a bullseye not to different from cornhole. We played a few games and had a few drinks and continued to Ollantaytambo.
Ollantaytambo is a town and an Inca archaeological site in southern Peru which is about 45 miles northwest of Cusco. It is located at an altitude 9,160 ft above sea level. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti, who conquered the region and built the town and a ceremonial center. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru, it served as a stronghold for Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca resistance. Nowadays, located in what is called the Sacred Valley of the Incas, it is an important tourist attraction on account of its Inca ruins and its location en route to one of the most common starting points for the four-day, three-night hike known as the Inca Trail
The ruins in Ollantaytambo are amazing and climbing the huge stones to the top is literally breathtaking. After exploring the ruins I headed to my hotel to check in and relax. Once I had checked in and unpacked my things I walked to the center square to get some dinner and have a few drinks. The stone streets in Ollantaytambo are ancient and open water ways are running down either side of the streets. After exploring the stores, alleyways, and bars for awhile I met up with some members of the group for dinner at a local restaurant. We talked about the beginning of the Inca trail hike our diverse backgrounds and what had lead us to this point of wanting to visit Machu Picchu and hike the trail. After one to many drinks considering I had to be up at 5:00 AM to meet with the rest of the group, Hugo my trail guide, and his crew so our group could begin the Inca Quarry trail hike bright and early.
Woke up the next morning feeling great so I went and grabbed a quit coca tea and went to the lobby to meet the group to start the hike to Machu Picchu.