I am a Sacsayhuaman!
Trip Start Apr 24, 2008
38Trip End May 29, 2008
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I slept so-so last night in my new digs...the bed is comfy and I watched TV until I got sleepy, but the room is COLD. Well, Cusco is cold so this shouldn´t surprise me. I had a feeling it might be chilly when I saw that the hostal rents heaters for $3 per night! I wore my thick hiking socks to bed instead.
I got up early and had breakfast at 7:30 at the hostal´s cafeteria...delicious, soft bread with butter and jam, juevos revueltos, fruit salad with yogurt, orange juice and lots of coca tea. After breakfast I wandered down to the Plaza de Armas to take pictures in the morning sunlight. I´m so happy that I did, because I saw that the massive front doors to the cathedral were wide open! What a site! These doors are so big that Godzilla wouldn´t have to stoop to walk through them! Mass was going on inside and no tourists were allowed into the main part of the church (fine because I explored it yesterday), but I did step inside and take a few pictures of the Plaza framed by the immense doorway. YRA!
From the Plaza I started on my main mission for today: to walk to Sacsayhuaman. This is the ruin of an enormous Inca fortress that looms high over Cusco. Most tourists take a taxi up to it, but not your little friend here. I preferred to take the steep 1.5 mile walk up because there´s nothing wrong with the legs God gave me. Actually, Martha and Mike gave me these legs and there´s still nothing wrong with them.
I ventured out from the Plaza on a side street, which immediately started up an incline. I just took it slow and steady and with deep breaths. At the church of San Cristobol, I turned right and followed the road around a hairpin turn, looking for the stone steps leading up the hillside. Sure enough I found them and promptly fended off numerous offers for a tour guide. No gracias, no gracias, estoy bien, no la necesito. This is where the true climbing began...up and up and up. It was a breathless but actually pretty short climb, and I was there maybe 20 minutes after leaving the Plaza and by 9:00 am. It proved to be a good idea to get there early because shortly thereafter the exhaust-belching tour buses arrived, depositing countless tourists. Again -- so glad I took the road less traveled!
First I climbed a hill across from Sacsayhuaman which has a huge statue of Jesus on it. He has his arms outstretched and overlooks Cusco, no unlike the Jesus statue in Rio I guess. Not so much to see there, so I hightailed it over to the fortress itself of Sacsayhuaman. Oh my, what an amazing archaelogical site! This is a hilltop fortress with three ramparts/levels of zigzagging walls nearly 300 meters long. Once again, it´s an example of stones of all different shapes and sizes fitting together so perfectly you can´t even slide a knife between them. Incredible! And the size -- the largest stones are 361 tons!!! Anyone want to venture a guess as to how the Incas moved them and placed them without the wheel or heavy tools? My guidebook says they used log sleds and levers.
There were once 3 towers on top of Sacsayhuaman, and the foundations of 2 of them remain. I climbed up to them, the highest level, and then beyond to find the most incredible view of all of Cusco. Breathtaking! The viewpoint is just like the vista we had of Quito when Peter and I climbed the "little bread loaf" there. I spent a long time gazing at busy Cusco and the surrounding hills, listening to school children´s voices carry up the hill as they played in schoolyards. It´s amazing how sound travels!
Back to Sacsayhuaman...during the Inca rebellion against the Spanish, the Spaniards established a base on the opposing hill (just across a large lawn, I climbed that hill too). The Spanish spent 2 days charging across the field attempting to penetrate the fortress of Sacsayhuaman. The Incas stood strong until the evening of the 2nd day when the Spanish launched a surprise attack with ladders (cheaters!) and forced the Incas into the 3 towers, then massacred all 1,500 of them. Condors feasted on the dead bodies and this image is part of Cusco´s coat-of-arms today.
I was so fascinated by Sacsayhuaman that I spent almost 2 hours there alone! I kept wandering along the walls of the different levels, taking pictures of the stones, staring at the amazing view of Cusco, etc. Eventually I decided to visit another Incan ruin just 1/2 mile up the road, simply because it was so close and an easy walk. This was Qénqo, a limstone outcrop that served as a shrine. It doesn´t look like much from the outside, but poke a little deeper and there are CAVES inside! So cool.
Back on the road to Sacsayhuaman, I had a nice chat with a security guard on the corner who tried to convince me to visit the other 2 sites in the area but I politely declined. I headed back down the steep path towards Cusco just before 12 noon. At the bottom of the path, I came across 2 women unsure of which way to go (naturally I´m the direction-giver whether it be in New York or Peru!) and we had a nice long chat. They are from Chicago and starting the Inca Trail tomorrow, one day before me. We compared notes about what we´ve heard, how prepared we feel and what we´ve seen so far. They just arrived in Cusco yesterday and came straight from Lima so they are feeling the altitude.
Back on the streets of Cusco I decided it was time for some well-earned lunch. I planned to find something near the Plaza de Armas but on my way I saw the nicest little restaurant....the sign said their menu turistica was only S./10 and it looked delicious so I popped in. All I can say is...YUM. This is one of the best meals I´ve had in Peru! I chose quinoa soup, trout with garlic sauce and bananas with chocolate for dessert. Oh my. I was in heaven. And the place was quite clean and I could hear my food being prepared in the kitchen (chop, chop, chop). The server was so nice, he asked me all kinds of questions about my plans and my impressions of Peru and he said my spanish is excellent. I may even go back tomorrow!
From lunch I headed to the South American Explorer´s Clubhouse. This is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the understanding and exploration of South America. They have clubhouses in Quito, Buenos Aires, Lima and here in Cusco. They are an invaluable source of information and since I´m here for an entire month I bought a membership last fall. I stopped by for some information on that $50 bus to Puno/Lake Titicaca (thanks for voting everyone -- I´m going to their office tomorrow to fork over the dough!). But I got so much more than just that information....they have endless guidebooks, maps, trip reports, water, coffee, cookies, a clean bathroom (with toilet paper!), and a lovely outdoor terrace. I discovered that I get a 10% discount at the Hostal Amaru for being a SAE member! I also asked some questions about northern Peru, but the incredibly helpful lady referred me to the Lima clubhouse. I guess that´s part of their "territory." I´m unsure if I´ll visit Lima between southern and northern Peru or just leave it until the very end, so we´ll see if that pans out.
From SAE, I went to an internet place and checked my emails, then headed to the hostel to relax a bit and shower. My socks are still soaking wet after last night´s washing so I hung them outside in the courtyard, and chatted with a couple who just arrived and wanted to know about the Sacred Valley. My advice? Definitely visit Ollantaytambo and definitely go mountain biking if you like REAL mountain biking! Good advice, because a few minutes later I took a shower and noticed my left leg is as bruised and scratched as ever. That shower, by the way, was in my shared (private!) bathroom and it was a-w-e-s-o-m-e. Really hot and great pressure. Aaah.
So, freshly scrubbed and changed into clean clothes (but dirty socks), I set off to meet my fellow trekkers Shannon and Kevin at our trekking company´s offices. First I stopped at the Plaza de Armas to take a few nighttime pictures with my teeny tiny tripod and they look great. Then I got a whole lotta soles out of the ATM to pay the balance of my trek (about $317 -- gulp!). I stepped into the office and saw my companions getting a briefing...I just knew it was them. I sat in the waiting area and at some point Kevin looked over at me and I said, "Are you Kevin? Hello, Shannon? I´m Kim!" They finished their briefing and I got mine, handed over a billion soles (actually 899 soles) and we set off for dinner!
We ended up at a restaurant right on the Plaza de Armas with a table on a balcony overlooking the cathedral and square. This was after we were accosted by 4 different restaurant representatives pressing menus into our hands. We chose one and headed upstairs to a nice place and had a wonderful dinner (we all had soup -- I had chicken soup after Nancy Mac told me she loves chicken soup in Peru!). Shannon and Kevin are a lovely couple! They live in southern Florida and were just married 4 days ago in Key West. They are both airline pilots and I was in awe of the amazing benefits they get! They are both captains now and have a lot of flexibility with flying -- and not just on their own airlines but any airline! Incredible. Anyway, we had a nice time and bid each other goodnight just a while ago. We are all due back at the trekking company´s office tomorrow night at 6pm for an orientation by our guide. Our group is 14 trekkers, 20 porters (!!!), cooks, a guide and an assistant guide. It should be a competely new experience for me! The first challenge will be getting picked up at 4:30 am on Thursday morning. Ugh!
So, tomorrow night´s blog will be the last one until Sunday when I return to Cusco. No computers on the Inca Trail! Just waterfalls, cloud forests, mountain passes, and over 30 Inca sites on the way to the granddaddy of them all: Machu Picchu!
Until tomorrow, que duermen bien...