But that's about it. End of common American knowledge about Peru.
We had to get some of that! And of course visit Machu Picchu. So, we booked our trip and set off last month for an adventure of a lifetime.
Yes, I know. People say you shouldn't drink alcohol at altitude or when you're trying to acclimate. But you know what? Screw it. We did anyway. It was sunny, we had a nice view of the plaza and all the colorful people and activity going on there...it just made sense. And it tasted great! Cusquena beer ladies and gentlemen. That's the stuff.
|Woman selling tamales|
|Temple of the Sun detail|
|Ruins of Sachsayhuman fortress|
Ultimately, however, the Spanish were desperate enough to mount attacks up from the city on the fortress and were able to overtake it with their superior weapons - horses, steel armor, swords, lances and rudimentary muskets. Going forward, the huge stones of the fortress were dissembled by the Spanish for us in building structures in Cusco. This is why today the fort is just a ruins rather than standing tall as it did all those centuries ago.
We took in the view from the top of the fortress, then visited another site nearby where Inca shamans used to sacrifice llamas and then we returned to the city for a look inside the huge Cathedral.
In the case of the Cusco Cathedral, it's the later that is of interest because you see in many of the pieces a blending of traditional Catholic themes along with local Inca ideas. This is for two reasons: 1) the Spanish wanted to co-opt the Incas religion to trick them - or at least make it more palatable - to convert to Catholicism, and 2) the Incas wanted to retain elements of their beliefs while avoiding imprisonment or execution by converting to Catholicism. For example, the Incas worshiped the mountains and the sun. Therefore, in the Cusco Cathedral you see paintings or sculptures of Mary wearing a dress that lo and behold looks a lot like the silhouette of a mountain. You also see her wearing a crown that looks a lot like the sun. Another example is in the locally created Last Supper painting that hangs near the main alter. The featured dish in the middle of the table is the distinctly Peruvian fare of guinea pig ("cuy" in their language).
At this point, my exhaustion caught up with me and I probably resembled a zombie more than a happy tourist. Somehow I made it back to the hotel when we finished at the church. There I happily jumped into bed and rested for a couple hours until we hit the streets for dinner.
Dinner and Done
Our final act on our first day in Peru was to head out with two of our tour mates for dinner at a great restaurant called Ciccolina's in the old quarter of Cusco. After or pub fare at lunch, we were ready to delve into something a bit more refined and this place did not disappoint. Most of us went "all in" on Peruvian style food. We got "causas" which are short, soft potato pillars usually with something inside them or on top of them. Their construction varies based on the restaurant you order them at. In this case, Ciccolina's causas are served...with guinea pig on top. You wouldn't have known it by looking as it was just a little strip of meat on top of the potatoes, but yep...guinea pig. The three guys in the group ordered alpaca, which tasted to me like a combination of beef and pork. Somewhere in the middle. But good as prepared. And we had a nice Peruvian wine to go with it all. Again, don't believe the hype on not drinking at altitude. Don't be stupid and go overboard, but please...enjoy yourself.
With a nice walk back to the hotel, thus ended our first day in Peru. We would be returning to Cusco later in our trip, with more adventures to come - shopping, eating, drinking and more sight seeing among them. But until then, questioned materialized. Would we like the rest of our tour group? Would we get altitude sickness later at even greater heights? How would the weather be? Would we get "gut sick" due to eating or drinking something our American systems could not handle? How would the trekking be? What would be be seeing?
I'll answer these and talk about our further exploration of Peru starting in my next post - which will be about the hiking we did in the Andes Mountains. And yes, I'll revisit Cusco to detail our second stint there following all the hiking.
Check back in a week or so for the next post, updated pictures on my Flickr Photostream set, and then come back again later for more installments.
NOTE: All pictures in this post were taken by Marc Osborn and are not authorized for any use by any party without written permission by Marc Osborn.