October 19, 2010 § Leave a comment
Have you heard the phrase – the best of plans..? For me that was Cusco – but when one plan changes it’s just time for a new adventure. In recent years Cusco has become strike city with frequent strikes closing down the city including taxis, busses, the train, airport and many businesses. During my visit there was a two day strike over the cost of drinking water.
I had arrived in Cusco on Monday afternoon. The plan had been to see Cusco Monday afternoon, visit the Sacred Valley on Tuesday, Machu Picchu on Wednesday and then head south towards Arequipa and Puno. Yet, when I awoke Tuesday morning I awakened to the sound of drums and thousands of people chanting “Cusco Represente….” The city had officially been shut down due to a strike and under the circumstances my plans needed to change. Instead of going to the Sacred Valley I would be spending the day in Cusco – so that’s what I did I explored the city taking photos and talking to people.
The strike itself was impressive at least the first day—well organized, many participants, strong voices, drums, loud speakers and flags. The force traveled around the city down to the main highway and back again. Camera crews, reporters and tourists all watching the spectacle.
To support the strike many of the businesses were also closed it seemed the only group really profiting from the strike were the local Quechua people dressed in their traditional costumes many of which had animals with them – there for one purpose to make money from tourists wanting their picture. With a city full of tourists not knowing what to do, these photos were in high demand and they seemed to be making the most of the strike.
In the morning the strike would last just the one day – no big deal – but by evening I learned it would be at least two – another change of plans. Day two of the strike was a quite a bit less organized than day one. Everything was still closed but instead of instead of thousands of protesters there were less than 100.
As I walked around Cusco, the reason for the diminished number was evident. Rather than spend the day protesting water prices, the local people seemed to think the day was better spent as a family holiday. There were numerous impromptu football (soccer) games there were volleyball nets created from ropes tied across the street from one side to the other – all of which would not have been possible if the city had not been shut down. There were people laughing and drinking beer the city was clearly on vacation.
As the only way to leave Cusco was by foot, that’s what I decided to do. Hike my way out of town and see some of the ruins above the city. Heading up from the main plaza I walked through San Blas always a favorite of tourists, this artisan street was now shoulder to shoulder jam packed with tourists in search of the perfect souvenir. Making your way through the crowd you got the idea that Cusco appeals to visitors from all over the world you could hear Spanish, English, French, German, Italian and Japanese all being spoken simultaneously.
Continuing up the hill fewer and fewer tourists were to be seen, however the steep pathway to the main road seems quite popular with locals. While I gasped for air taking occasional breath taking breaks the local kids seem to fly by me many of them running or skipping along the way. I had to remind myself – I was not incredibly out of shape after all I exercise almost every day but the locals were use to the altitude and I was not.
I made it up to the main street – yeah! Then the next trail took me through a Eucalyptus Forest. Reaching the top of the knoll I found my first set of Incan Ruins a small site known as K’usilluchayoq. Then a short distance further was Laqo a larger site with numerous caves and unusual shapes cut into the rocks. Laqo served as the Temple of the Moon which is still used in ceremonies to celebrate the full moon.
At the far side of the ruins the terrain opened up into pampa and a small lagoon with birds swimming in it. Along the side of the lagoon were some young boys selling horseback rides uphill or to any of the local sites. After a couple hours of hiking uphill the horses seemed like a great idea.
A 9 year old boy rented us our horses and worked as our guide to Sacasayhuman. The cost 20 soles per horse and he would run alongside telling us stories about the Incas and the local area. He made the trip fun telling stories of Incan Mines, Tunnels connecting the region with far off lands where people could get lost forever, and where to go for the best views. The ride was approximately 40 minutes to the top of the Saccsayhuman complex where he said good-bye but said he would be happy to show me more places if I came back on Saturday at 10am – he would be there waiting with the horses.
I waved good-bye to my guide and hiked down the hill to Sacsayhuman arriving at the rockslide area – no not where rocks had come crashing down the mountain – but the side where the rocks were so polished that you could slide down them like a slide at the park. This seemed to be a very popular activity with the locals. As I crossed over from the slide area to the main part of the ruins it began to sprinkle just as I arrived at the main site.
Sacsayhuman is an ancient stone fortress located on a hill above Cusco near the Christ figure you can see from town. Named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1983 it is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in the Americas. Shaped as a puma the carbon dating has shows the site goes back at least a millennium.
Walking through the great plaza the massive stone walls are mind boggling. How did people move these stones into place without the use of any machinery? The shaped boulders at Sacsayhuman are the largest used in any building in pre-Hispanic America. Their size is the reason much of the site still exists. Smaller stones were taken by the Spanish to construct their version of Cusco.
The tour of Sacsayhuman takes 45 minutes to an hour where you walk along the walls, through doors, up the stairway and to the vista point of to view Cusco below.
At the end of my visit I walked to the parking area to depart and found a couple of taxis there. I asked if any could take me back to Cusco. One said that he could take me to the city limit, but couldn’t enter due to the strike. So I finished my day with a ride back down the hill and a late lunch at a restraint overlooking the main plaza. During lunch the strike leaders came to the Plaza to get their photos taken and announce the strike was over.
October 14, 2010 § 2 Comments
The City of Cusco holds within it an incredible amount of history, architecture, art. During the 15th Century Cusco was the capital of the Incan Empire, a realm which and one time spanned over most of the west coast of South America including Ecuador to the north, Peru, Bolivia and into parts of Chile and Argentina to the South. Today Cusco is the tourism capital of Peru with nearly 1 million visitors per year arriving to get a glimpse at the magnificent realm of the Incas.
Arriving to the city of Cusco you will find a fascinating city full of history. The city was first founded by the Killke Culture between 900 – 1200 AD. The Killke constructed stone temples, aqueducts and a roadway system through the area. When the Incas arrived in the 13th century they expanded on the Killke structures and made Cusco their own. During the Inca rule huge stone structures covered Cusco and the surrounding areas. Rivers were diverted and Cusco became their capital.
The Incas were incredible engineers and stone masons. Inca architecture is the most significant pre-Colombian architecture in South America. Cusco has many examples of Inca architecture featuring the classic precisely cut stones closely fitted together without mortar.
When the conquistadors arrived in the 1500’s they like the Incas before them built upon the previous structures and transformed Cusco into the “Very great and noble city of Cusco” it was from Cusco that they spread the word of Christianity to the Andean World. Incan Temples would become the base for Catholic Churches, palaces would become mansions for the new inhabitants.
As adventure travel has grown in popularity over the past 20 years, with it Cusco has grown into a full service town with almost anything the traveler could want. The Cusco Airport offers easy access around Peru and into neighboring Boliva and the train links Cusco with Lake Titicaca to the South and the Lost City of the Incas – Machu Picchu - to the north.
Today in Cusco there are Incan walls and the Foundations of Inca structures as well as cobblestone streets, large central plazas with flowers and fountains, red-tiled roofs and numerous churches all built during Spanish Rule all combining to make Cusco one of the most interesting places to visit in South America.