Cusco…. center of the Inca Universe

Cusco SquareOur thought process for traveling to Peru centered around the idea of staying long enough in one place to get to know it, rather than checking it off of a list of places to see.  With that in mind we settled on the mountain city of Cusco as the place most interesting to us and close enough to most of the major Inca ruins to allow day trips from our city headquarters.  Cusco was very much the center of Inca civilization spanning all of Peru and most of Ecuador as far north as the Capitol City of Quito.

We also decided it would be more enjoyable to take an apartment and be able to cook some of our meals and have more space than a hostel room.  We were able to find a very nice place in the San Blas neighborhood with convenient shops, laundry and market close at hand.  The local bakery had hot fresh chocolate croissants  just out of the oven on our walk home each evening….need I say more about the agreeable neighborhood.  San Blas is in the foothills of the city, making for a very strenuous walk home at about 11,400 feet elevation.  That altitude also made for nights in the forty degree Fahrenheit range and our abode was bereft of heat.  Warm dress and multiple blankets required!  The owners of the apartment, a delightful older couple, had turned the family home into eight apartments after their children had grown and dispersed around the world.  Lovely neighbors, wonderful neighborhood, and a very interesting and quaint city, high in the Andes of southern Peru.We hiked the local ruins above the city at 12,000 feet altitude after getting acclimated for several weeks just walking home each day.  We had beautiful warm sunny days basking in public squares, visiting museums, enjoying afternoon coffee and exotic scenery filling our time with delight.

 

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Happy Birthday Kirita :)

Sketch1051210Feliz Cumpleaños, Sweet Daughter.  This birthday is a milestone and we are so proud and happy to see your accomplishments professionally and personally.  You have been blessed and have worked hard to achieve all that you have, a great combination.  This is as close to the hallmark store as we can get marooned here in the South Pacific.  Nancy and I wish we could have been at your party to celebrate your big day with all of your lovely friends and family.  Many happy returns from us both.

The Spirit of Machu Picchu, Inca Sacred City in the Clouds

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At the end of the Sacred Valley, winding down a lush river gorge in a quaint rail car, we  finally arrive in Aguas Caliente.  There is no road, only the railway and the river.  A kayak would get you there but the train is much drier, faster, and safer.  Aguas Caliente, named for the local hot springs, sits in the bottom of the river gorge, a mecca of hotels and restaurants catering to the sometimes 2500 or more souls making a daily pilgrimage to this Inca City in the Clouds.  Tour buses wend their way continuously from the train station to the entrance of this spiritual city.  The road is a combination of dirt and cobblestone switchbacks doubling upon itself myriad times to finally arrive in the clouds at the entrance to this remarkable memorial to the industry and ingenuity of the Inca peoples.

We left our hostel at five o’clock in the morning and walked through the predawn quiet of Ollanta and down to the train depot.  Other folks catching the six o’clock train were gathered around vendors dispensing coffee, hot chocolate and a variety of snacks.  We were finally able to board the train after waiting patiently in line in the morning cold.  The beauty of the river and mountains was concealed by the morning darkness until just before arriving at our destination.  Debarking, we purchased our round trip bus tickets to the top of the world and again waited in line as buses came and went with their morning pilgrims.  Arriving at the entrance to the city at eight o’clock in the morning, the sun was just barely peeking up past the surrounding mountains… getting here at astronomical sunrise, recommended by many guide books, would be a bit of a joke upon oneself, no sun visible for several hours after sunrise.  The theory popularly espoused is that when the sun rises on the winter solstice, it will shine through certain apertures with religious significance.  The uninhabited city, swathed in clouds, appeared majestic and ethereal lit by the just arriving sunlight at eight a.m.

Machu Picchu is a large piece of real estate perched high up in the mountains.  One only has to find an overlooking edge to see just how far it is back down to the river.  There have been various theories over the years about the why… the main purpose of such remarkable substantial construction so high in the Andes.  The City of Cusco was the main capitol of the Inca people and there is evidence that Machu Picchu was the summer retreat of the Inca king Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui.  The Inca road, another remarkable construction, gives access to the city.  Fortunately the Spanish conquerors of Peru never succeeded in using it to find this marvelous, enduring and spiritual place.

We visited two of the other remarkable sites in the Sacred Valley, the ruins at Pisac and also at Ollantaytambo.  Though not as extensive or well hidden in the mountains, they are two other wonderful examples of incredible stone work by the Inca peoples.  Cusco, their capitol city was basically destroyed by the Spanish under the Pizzaro brothers and the only real evidence there is that it was the capitol, are the  foundations of many Spanish colonial buildings which are of Inca construction.  There are also beautiful ruins remaining  above the city at Sachsywamen.  The Incas were the last of a number of remarkable ancient civilizations in the Americas that endowed us with artistic and architectural wonders to contemplate and appreciate.

A Capitol place….Quito!

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Cotopaxi in the clouds

A ten hour bus ride, winding through the foothills and the Andes themselves will get you to twelve thousand feet before you descend into the more than forty mile long valley of the city of Quito.  Leaving coastal Manabi Provence with the air-conditioning humming, you find out that climate is more about altitude than latitude.  As you crest the Andes the air-conditioning is no longer humming, sweaters and jackets have covered up the short sleeves and the windows have a layer of condensation bordering on frost, totally obscuring the view.  Here you are less than one degree (sixty miles) south of the equator experiencing winter weather… nighttime temperatures in the forties… not a big deal for you folks living in northern latitudes but a real shock to our tropical blood.

One’s first impression is shock and awe!  This is a huge city and the Andes are most impressive mountains.  Having lived between the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains and driven over the Rockies numerous times, I am here to tell you these are big, big Mountains.  The city stretching forty miles down the valley has a population just under 2.7 million people, with many, many more in the metropolitan area.  As we wend our way through the afternoon traffic we are impressed with the varied architecture, hustle and bustle, and cosmopolitan feel of the cityscape.  That evening we sat in a lovely, modern restaurant with an altitude high enough to allow us to watch the city lights come on at all of the famous landmarks, civic, and religious, competing with the changing evening sky surrounding the Andes.  A gift of nature combined with the impressive works of three or more civilizations, past and present.

The nice thing about our visit to the big city is that we know someone living there.  Nancy’s consuegra has lived there for more than thirty years. I think it is so nice that the Spanish language has a pleasant name for a pair of mother-in-laws.  Nancy and Consuelo are consuegras, lovely!  To me the term mother-in-law sounds like someone should get arrested… but consuegra!  Que elegante!

Independencia

Plaza Independencia

Needless to say, our two elegant ladies had a lot to catch up on regarding children and grandchildren.  My pleasure and privilege to escort them about the city.  We spent some quality time at Independence Square and toured the Presidential Palace, quite a beautiful place with many art treasures, period furniture and sublime architecture.  Like all heads of State, the Presidents of Ecuador have received beautiful and unusual gifts of art from all over the world, which are beautifully displayed in the Presidential Palace for the citizens and we tourists to enjoy.

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Presidential Treasure

The fact that it was raining in no way deterred our enjoyment of the day.   We savored hot coffee at San Francisco Square, in the front of the catacombs of the old church, purchased a hat for myself and fleece jacket for Nancy, now both better prepared for our future trek into Peru.  As you can see, the inhabitants of the city, have wonderful meeting places and take full advantage of them.

 

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Men of the World

While in Quito we also visited the Guayasamin home, workshop and chapel.  The property is part of a residential neighborhood and sits up in the foothills with a panoramic view of the valley.  The chapel was unfinished at the time of Oswaldo Guayasamin’s death, his sons, however, did a lovely job of wrapping up the job without altering padre’s intent.  Guayasamin’s art speaks eloquently to the subjugation of men and women of all colors throughout the world by the white man. He was recognized as a humanitarian by the United Nations.

Guayasamin home

Guayasamin Home