The third day of our trip to Peru was the only full day we got to spend in Cuzco. We had a half day tour as part of our package but that didn’t start until just after 1 pm, that gave us little bit of time on our own in the morning. We got up at 8:00 to make sure we had time to shower before heading off to the breakfast buffet that was included with our room (the day before I had made a point to ask when the buffet ended. I wasn’t about to repeat the mistake I made in Lima).
However, before we could go to breakfast we had to shower. My mom’s disappointment with our room continued. She had been cold the whole night and when she showered the water was only lukewarm. She also had problems with the hair dryer. Luckily for me the water was perfectly hot when I showered.
The breakfast buffet was nice.
It wasn’t he most amazing but it certainly did the trick of filling me up for the rest of the day. The only thing I didn’t like about the breakfast was the coffee, or should I say coffee essence. I had no idea what the difference but when I sat down to drink the sludge I realized the problem. Eventually I was able to add enough milk to it so that it could be drinkable.
After breakfast I had to make a last minute arrangement to make sure we had sleeping bags for the Inca Trail. Once that was taken care of we headed out to explore more of Cuzco on our own before our tour started. We had already visited the main square of Cuzco the day before. We decided to focus on a smaller square to the west (but it felt like the north…my sense of direction was thrown off the entire trip). The plaza was called San Francisco plaza. In the plaza there were a lot of vendors selling things.
I happened to find two alpaca sweaters that I liked; one for me and one for my husband. My mom bought a couple of presents for my nieces. Then we had a bunch of stuff to carry around but luckily we were just up the street from our hotel so we took our stuff back and then continued with our adventures.
My husband is originally from Nicaragua and he had talked to me a lot of about Latin America. Although I’ve spent some time in Mexico it’s has been limited, thankfully his descriptions of things really helped prepare me for a number of things about Peru. For example, the market place we explored next. There were of course a number of touristy little souvenirs but there was also food, including a lot of dead animals just sitting around waiting to be sold. I found this fascinating but I think it grossed my mom out.
Another thing my husband’s words helped prepare me for was the large amount of stray dogs roaming the streets of Cuzco. None of the dogs were aggressive but they were EVERYWHERE, a change from the United States.
Eventually my mom and I stumbled across a little courtyard that looked interesting. My mom agreed to go check it out and I’m really glad she did because inside that courtyard be found the entrance the Chocolate Museum of Cuzco.
The museum was free and was very interesting. There was a lot of wonderful information about the history of chocolate in Peru, Latin America and the World. It turns out the government is encouraging farms in Peru to grow cocoa instead of coca because 90% of the coca in Peru ends up being turned into Cocaine. Of course, the free chocolate museum is just a way to get you into the door so that you’ll by some of their chocolate (which I did). It was a great little find. I turns out the museum has a class where you can actually make your own chocolate but (of course) you have to know about that in advance. If anybody is in Cuzco for more than a day and a half I would recommend taking that class, it looked like a lot of fun.
After we were done at the chocolate museum it was time to meet up with our tour guide for the day tour back at our hotel. A woman met us at our hotel and walked us down to Cuzco’s main square to meet up with our actual tour group for the day.
The main square of Cuzco was an absolute madhouse.
It turns out that we were there the day before the annual festival of the sun, which used to take place on the winter solstice but now takes place three days after. There were at least a hundred thousand people jammed into Cuzco’s main square. It was a little overwhelming but it was also very cool to see such a genuine piece of Peruvian culture.
After waiting for the rest of our day tour group to meet up with us, they were late but who can blame them having to push through the massive crowds, we began. Our tour guide was named Jose and the first place he took us into was the main cathedral of Cuzco. We weren’t the only tour group in there but luckily he had a headset for each one of us so that was wirelessly linked into his headset so we could always hear him. The church was amazing. It was both similar to massive Catholic Churches I have seen in Europe and different. It was similar because of its scale and its beauty. It was different, in part, because of the gold and silver being from Peru.
As we went about our day tour of Cuzco Jose told us a told of history of how when the Spanish arrived they did their best to utterly destroy Incan culture. The Spaniards specifically targeted religious places because as Jose often said “If you kill the religion, you kill the culture.”
Going to Peru was really good for me. In 2011 my husband and I went to Spain.
It was our first visit to Europe and it was truly a magical trip. We were in complete awe of Spain. Both of us are Latino, as I mentioned before he’s Nicaraguan and I’m half Mexican, and we came back from Spain in love with the mother country and why not? All of Spain’s accomplishments were on full display there. Going to Peru proved to be a good counterbalance to that. For all of Spain’s beauty there are places all around the world where the Spaniards did horrible, horrible things. It’s good to appreciate the glory mother country but it’s also good to recognize the awful sins of the mother country.
One thing I found amazing was that some original Inca construction still stood around Cuzco.
The Spanish obviously destroyed most of it but on some it they choose to build on top of it. Well, when an earthquake hit back in 1850 all of the Spanish construction crumbled while the Inca construction remained. That alone is enough to leave one in awe of the engineering and construction skills of the Incas.
Our day tour included the amazing Cathedral as well as another site in Cuzco itself before boarding a small bus to see Inca ruins in the hills above Cuzco. On the day tour I learned the meaning behind all of the rainbow flags everywhere. They aren’t because of Gay Pride; they are because the rainbow was a very important religious symbol of the Incas.
They believed that the rainbow was sacred and that when somebody dies it is the rainbow that takes their spirit to the next plane of existence. It made me happy to see that that piece of Inca culture is alive and well. It also thrilled me to learn that about five million Peruvians still speak the Incan language of Quechua.
While we were touring the Inca ruins outside of Cuzco it started to rain.
I had brought rain gear for the Inca trail but wouldn’t you know it, when it did rain my rain gear was sitting back in our hotel room (luckily that was the only time in really rained on our entire trip and it only lasted a short time).
Jose kept talking about all of the different awful things the Spanish did once they arrived in Peru. Towards the end of our tour I asked him about the current relationship between Peru and Spain. I think he was pleasantly surprised by the complexity of the question. He said by and large the relationship is a good one. What happened in the 1500s is a part of Peruvian past but it obviously is no longer a part of anybodies collective memory.
With about two hours left in our tour I was starting to get very hungry. It had been a long time since breakfast at our hotel. Luckily at one of the last stops there was a woman selling grilled corn. Peruvian corn was very different than American corn.
The kernels were much larger. I suspect that the difference is both because it’s a different strain of the plant and because it’s more natural that what we have here in the United States.
One of the most interesting things I saw on the day tour were a table, of sorts, that was used to sacrifice Llamas and Alpacas by the Incas.
Jose also showed us the counting system the Incas used with a complicated batch of strings.
The last stop on our day tour was a sweater store. How clever is that (insert sarcasm here)?
At the store we got a textile lesson on how to tell the difference between sweaters that are made out of Baby Alpaca, Alpaca, an Alpaca/Wool blend and something called Maybe Alpaca. It was an interesting lesson and then we had thirty minutes to shop. The stop at the story when it’s cold and dark was obviously designed to get people to buy things. It worked on my mom; she brought a nice Baby Alpaca sweater. Had I not bought two sweaters earlier in the day I might have bought some at the store but I didn’t feel the need to buy more sweaters. I live in Los Angeles. There are at most two dozen days out the year where you actually need a sweater. While my mom shopped I did step out of the store to enjoy the amazing view of Cuzco from above at night.
With our tour over we were taken back to our hotel. The main square of Cuzco was crazier than ever with the festival. My mom and I only had a brief time in our hotel room before we had our briefing for the Inca Trail. We met our guide for the trail. A sweet guy named Marco. He gave us lots of info about what to expect. My mom was so excited, like a little kid on Christmas Eve. I on the other hand was overwhelmed and worried. I love hiking but I HATE camping.
After our briefing we went out to dinner. We found a nice restaurant away from the craziness of the festival. I had Alpaca again.
My mom was less adventurous this time and she decided to have a pasta dish.
The restaurant had a lot of atmosphere and included three brothers playing Peruvian music.
Upon completing our dinner I had to go to the ATM. I wanted to make sure I took plenty of money on the Inca Trail so I could properly tip Marco, the porters and the cook at the end (something other people didn’t do but more on that with my Day 6 blog). We then got went to a mini-market to buy bottled water while battling crowds the entire time.
When we got back to our hotel it was time to make sure everything was ready for the Inca trail. The hotel in Cuzco was going to allow us to store the luggage that we weren’t taking at the hotel while we were on the trial but there was still much to do. We had hired an extra porter to carry our stuff but we had to make sure that the bag we gave the porter didn’t weigh more than nineteen pounds. Even with that we still had to carry a backpack on the hike each day. When we left Cuzco my backpack (water included) weighted bout seventeen pounds. By the time we were done getting ready it was late. Far too late considering we were going to get up at 4 am so that Marco could pick us up at 6.
I took two Benadryl that night. I was so uptight. I was worried about the physical demands of the Inca Trail and not getting enough sleep. I also knew that once I was actually on the trek I wouldn’t worry anymore. I wouldn’t have to worry about being tired or cold or my back hurting. If was tired or cold or my back hurt it would just be a reality and I’d deal with it.
Eventually I fell asleep in our cold hotel room in Cuzco, enjoying sleeping in a bed while I could.
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