Day 1 – 12 Dec 2016

We arrived at Cusco around 4:30 AM in the morning. The Bolivia Hop bus arranged some prepaid taxis so we took one of those to get to our hostel. There was a big construction at the Calle Nueva Alta where our hostel was, so the taxi couldn’t get it. And we had a little bit hard time to find the hostel. Finally, we found by the door number and we rang the bell, it was around 5 AM. Someone got the door and let us in. It was similar to old colonial buildings where you have a wooden door looking at the street, once they open the door you can actually get to the glass door of the hostel with its name and everything. Sadly, our room was occupied so we waited for a while before they let us in the room.

We had our breakfast in the hostel and head out to explore the city. There were couple of things that we needed to take care of today. One was getting the money to pay the company for the Inca trail. The whole trail cost us around 1478 USD, this includes the 3N/4D trail (600 USD per person), tickets to Waynapicchu mountain (80 USD per person), 4 KG extra porter (50 USD total) and the Sacred Valley tour (35 USD per person). This was quite tricky as we paid only 400 USD as a deposit so far. The best ATM we found was BCP where you can only get around 213 USD per transaction where you pay around 4 USD per transaction. We should have just tried to withdraw all the money with this method. Instead, we used the ‘cash advance’ service of Visa. This service has a very high fee on Chase bank side which M has completely forgotten (5%) and on top of it, they have a conversion rate fee which is around 4% as well. So our advise is stick with your ATM card and try to get the money in installments and your tour company will allow you to pay some of it in your first day, but the whole amount should be paid before the trip starts.

We also needed to rent our equipment for the trail. Our tour company’s rate was a little bit high so we went with a different company called Rosly. They gave us a very good rate we paid 114 soles for sleeping bag, trekking poles and the rainproof pants for 4 days. Their shop is also very close to the main square Plaza del Armas. You just need to leave your driver license or 300 soles deposit, if you want to rent from them.

Plaza del Armas

Our hostel was very close Plaza del Armas, which has a lot of colonial buildings such as the big cathedral. The square was lively but while we were trying to get money for the trail, it started heavy rain, but it did not last very long. We started walking in the center and explored a little. In the meantime, we got hungry, so we decided to stop by the Museo del Cafe to have lunch. This place actually has a small museum, if you want to learn more about the history of the coffee all around the world. They even had some guided tours in Spanish. And the food was very delicious. Sadly, we did not have space for the dessert which looked really good, B promised M that we will come back to this place again for some dessert.

M at the Museo del Cafe

While we were walking to the Inca museum, we saw some people carrying a wooden platform on their shoulders which was followed by a marching band. On the top of the platform there was a picture of a religious figure. We watched the crowd walking towards to the main square.

Crowd walking with a religious idol

Inka museum was one of the museums that has been recommended to us by the tourist information desk. We first learned about the pre-inka civilizations. It goes back around 16000 years old where you have Andean hunters in this region. One of the early known civilizations is Chavin, they date back to 1500 BC. M got impressed with them as they were able to make ceramic statues. 700 BC, you have Waris. Around 400 BC, you have Nazcas and Pukaras. Pukaras had statues where you can see figures chewing coca and they also depict a fish with a puma head in a sculpture. 500 BC is Tiawanakos living near the Puno, Titicaca Lake. Mochicas lived in this region around 100 BC. We had Chankays around 800 AD. Quallos lived near Puno around 850 AD and finally you have Chimus around 1100 AD.

The yard of the Inka Museum

We saw the scale model of the Inka city Moray in the Sacred Valley. Sadly, this is not a place that we can visit this time. Here we learned about the main gods of the Inkas, Inti the sun god and Pacha Mama is the mother earth. In Cusco region, we had three communities living before Inkas: Puna (means altitute sickness), Queshwa and Yanka (highlands). Around 5000 BC only shepherds and farmers live here. They have cave paintings and they use stone axes as tools. Markavalles, around 1000 BC, are the first Cusco settlers. Then, you have Lucres, Araways and Pikillaqtos (they make small turquoise statues).

Inka origin starts with someone called Ayar Manco and Cachi with their wives (Mama Ocllo and Mama Cora). Based on the legend, they are the children of the sun. The Ayar brothers founded Cusco, which means the naval (belly button) of the world. Inkas actually believed that Cusco was the center of the universe. They domesticated llamas which helped Inkas to expand faster with transport capabilities. They had napas which is a white llama and llamas can transport up to 25 KG. The terraces of the Inkas are very important for the agriculture like in Winaywayna where they grow various colored corns: red, black, purple etc. Inkas expanded from Santiago, Chile to the south of Columbia. Machupicchu, aka Piqcho, was built around 1438 in a subtropical climate with dense rain forests. Then, it has been abandoned by the Inkas possibly because of smallpox outbreak and this disease was introduced by Europeans.

Inkas had great architecture and engineering skills. They used wooden rollers or stone rollers to transport large stones. In 1912, Machupicchu was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham. He was from the United States and local people helped him to reach to this site, which was mostly covered by the forest.

Inkas had a great variety of art. We have seen bracelets, pins and metal combs. They seem to be obsessed with geometric designs. B was joking around and mentioning from time to time that they are actually Turkic people who crossed the Bering strait and come to this land.

Inkas are buried with their belongings in fetal position. They saw death as a journey to the next life, that is why they wanted their belongings. They also practiced trepanning (drilling skulls) to understand origin of diseases. They also put metals around head to deform the skull for ecstatics and to demarcate the social status.

Inkas used music instruments of conch shells, pans and bells. They had three idols: the condor (future life), serpent (past life) and puma (current life). For them water was sacred and they built fountains to pay tribute. And they sacrificed black llamas to avoid droughts or earthquakes.

The empire of the Inkas, called Tawantinsuyo, is invaded by the Spanish. Spanish mutilated the statues and they built colonial buildings on top of their sacred sites. The glories of Inka Empire actually ignited a lot of anti-colonial movements. However, in the 18th century, noble Inkas were carrying the sun god idol and the cross at the same time and wearing expensive European looking clothes. In 1781, the Spanish banned all Inka customs. The rainbow flag that we have saw in Bolivia was representing some of the Inka community. In July 28 1821, Peru got their independence from the Spanish crown.

At the exit of the museum you can find some artisan stalls where they sell only hand made items. We stopped by one of them where they had great stone work. We decided to buy some gifts from here and M really liked the chess set that they had but we decided to think a little bit more about this as it was quite expensive.

Saint Claire arch at night

After the museum, we walked a little bit more visited Plaza San Francisco and the Saint Claire Arch. We reached San Pedro Market but it was being closed when we get there. Then we realized that what we have seen with the crowd and the idol was continuing at night as well. We entered first San Fransisco Church, which was very crowded. In addition, most of the churches were having mass. So we decided to do some church-hopping and visited several of them. We also walked up the town by the archbishop palace to Plaza san Blas.

Wall from the Inka times

For the dinner, we went to a restaurant called Morena. It was a place suggested by someone we met back in San Pedro de Atacama. The restaurant was super nice (a little bit on the expensive side) but you will not get disappointed here. M had a lomo saltado (a beef stir fry) and B got a mixed seafood plate served with potatoes, corn and yuca. After the dinner we headed back to the hostel and crashed, it was a very long day.

Day 2 – 13 Dec 2016

Today, we planned to do the walking tour. We had our breakfast at the hostel and we were at the Plaza Regocijo around 9:30 waiting for the tour. We chose to go with the free tours on foot (FTF, yellow shirts) as they had great reviews online. Our tour started with the history of the Cusco city. The city is around 2500 years old. In 1080 AD, Inkas arrive from the Lake Titicaca area. Around the lake they were speaking Aymara language and the Huari language. The mix of these two languages formed the Inka’s official language, Quechua around Cusco. Our guide also explained that the word Andes that we use for the mountain range comes from a Quechua word that they use for the Inca terraces. These famous terraces were all around the Inka empire where they farmed potato, corn, quinoa and other produce. Inkas domesticated the turkey and there were no chicken here at that time, which was introduced by the Spanish. Peru had its independence from the Spanish crown on 1821. Now, around half a million population lives in Cusco. The Cusco flag has a resemblance with the gay pride flag but our guide, Elvis, told us that Cusco’s rainbow flag has the light blue color. We also learned that Kantu is Peru’s national flower. Also, Vicuñas are the national animal, this is also the most expensive wool that is on the market.

After this introduction, we moved to the San Francisco plaza and church. This is a 17th century church with the baroque style. It had very thick walls, Greek columns and Roman arches to make sure that it will stand with the earthquakes. On top of the church, in a glass window, you can see the statue of the Saint Francisco. Our guide also explained us that last night it there was a ceremony for the Lady of Guadalupe. That is the idol that they were carrying on top of the wooden platform. He also told us that she is from Mexico so they had some Mexican music in the church last night. Elvis pointed out that there are a lot of buildings with the blue balconies. Apparently, this color symbolized the aristocracy and it is used in the colonial buildings. We also learned that education is free in Peru. He showed us the Saint Claire arch, which is right next to the square. This was commemorating the Bolivia and Peru as one country, but he said thanks to Argentina, they split up in the end.

San Pedro Market

Our next stop was the San Pedro Market Place. This market was designed by the famous architect Gustave Eiffel, which was surprising for us. In side the market, they had different sections for juices, clothes, fruits, vegetables and towards the end you have stalls for lunch. They were selling very interesting juices, our guide told us that they sell frog juice (for around 25 soles, we did not try). Since it is Christmas time, they had the panneton cake all around the market. This is an Italian traditional cake with some raisins. They were also having a raffle for a food basket in different sections of the market.

Flowers at San Pedro Market

Our guide explained about the masks that they are selling. These were for Spanish traditions where Peruvians wear these masks to look like them before they do their folkloric dance. He also said that in Indian dances, they look down to pachamama (mother earth) where our guide thinks that European people look up when they dance. He also showed us the statue of the San Martin de Porres, the only black saint that he knew. Actually we did not know any black saints either. He told us the tradition where on the first day of august, a llama fetus is given to pachamama because it’s the first day of calendar year. When we were visiting the flower section, he told us that if we visit Bogota, we must visit the botanical museum. He showed us two different drinks where they we selling just outside of the market, first one was chicha morada a black non-alcoholic and chicha de jora, beige and alcoholic drink. The alcoholic one is made out of fermented corn where it can get around 3% alcohol.

From the Plaza del Armas, you can see a white Jesus statute on top one of the hills. He said that this statue was donated by Palestinians around 1990. They have been brought from Gaza Strip and this was their gift of appreciation. He also told us about the Saksaywaman Inka side, which is behind the mountain with the cross and it was half an hour walking. He mentioned that Lima, the capital, has 9 million inhabitants.

In Plaza del Armas, they had an Inka place. The original Inka walls have very well cut stones and they are usually inclined to make them earthquake resistant. In this square, Jesuits built the church first and then they built the cathedral as well. The largest bell in South America is in Cusco’s cathedral. In this square, we also have seen a fountain. Our guide told us that this fountain was built in New York in 1872 with the same design that we have in Central Park.

Manco Cápac was the first the Inka governor in Cusco. Inkas were trading by bartering and they did not have the money until Spaniards brought it. We walked in front of the 100 m x 30 m long temples very close to the square. They also called this street, the street of the sun where the girls would worship the sun god. We also had another place on the other side. Then, we get into a small courtyard to see some alpacas and llhamas. They cut their wool once a year. It is very thin. 26 microns for old alpaca and baby one is even thinner. They live around 25-30 years. Every 2-3 years, they have a baby. They have 11 month pregnancy and one baby at a time, most of the time. Our guide also mentioned that alpacas have the blue eyes because of lack of sunshine. And their hair usually cover their eyes so that they do not get blind.

B&M making friends with a llama and an alpaca

Then, we visited one of Inka palaces in the city. Inka means king emperor and they had 13 Inkas (kings). All Inkas had their own palace. The one that we were visiting was from 1430s and he was the 9th emperor, his name was Pachacuti. The whole house is around 100m x 100m with 2 entrances on each side. They had four main corridors and a drainage system. Area was divided to nine patios and they had eight rooms per patio. The Inka used to live in the middle with his immediate family. Our guide told us about the process how they cut the stone. They made two holes and put wood into the holes. They wet the wood, wood expands and it cracks the stone. They used limestone in that house and they polished the stones with heavier rocks. They did not have cement but they used a mix of glue which had quartz in it.

Remains of the palace of Inka Pachacuti

Our tour ended in a local store, where our guide showed us some real alpaca products. They were heavier than the regular wool and much more expensive. We did not find anything we like in that shop but there were many other shops around. We shopped for some gifts here for the new years. For the dinner, we went to a restaurant called Kusikuy. This restaurant was famous for their guinea pigs. We did not order one, as we did not want to eat something that we never had before just before the Inka trail hike. We got some dishes with alpaca. The meat was very similar to beef, where M thought that llama tasted more like a lamb. After the dinner, we went to the hostel to sort out our bags for tomorrows hike. We packed extremely light for the trail, only two t-shirts, some layers for cold, rain jackets and swimming suits just in case =). We went to sleep extremely excited for tomorrow.

Last Day – 19 Dec 2016

For our last day, we did not plan that much to do as we had to leave around 4 pm to Lima, and finally to Brazil. B really wanted to go to the top of the hill where they had San Cristobal Church. We took the small side streets. We really liked these winding small streets in Cusco. We got to the church and from there you can take a look at the city from top.

View of Cusco from San Cristobal Church

Then, we went back to the Inka museum as M really wanted to have that chess set. The seller lady told us about his son and husband and showed us some pictures on how they work on the stones. She also said that with our purchase she will have a nice Christmas time, which made us happy. We actually never felt any connection to any brand in our lives, but we always liked shopping from actual artisans which feels much more personal.

Winding, narrow, and steep streets of Cusco

We went to San Pedro market to finalize our new years shopping. And M really wanted to have another lunch over there because it is so good and so cheap. Actually, for a full plate of food you pay only 7 soles. Then, around 7 days ago B promised M to have a dessert at Museo del Cafe, so we went back to have our dessert (it was an awesome apple pie) and we tried some coffees as well (Chemex and an aeropress). And after this we were ready to leave Cusco. We took a cab to the airport (it is 10 soles). At the airport, we got some stamps to send some postcards to our family. Our flight was on time and we got to Lima only in an hour. In Lima airport, we went to a shop (Britt) to taste some chocolate with the fruits we had never heard in our lives.

M, the happiest person on earth at San Pedro Market, eating with the locals =)