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CUSCO, ancient capital of the Inca Empire

overcast 22 °C

Tuesday, April 8, 2014.

…… mad traffic heading for the airport in Lima. Vehicles drive very close and squeeze between each other, even when they do not have the right of way. This makes for noisy driving as every driver appears to think the solution to standing still is to lean on the car horn! Surprisingly, we arrived without incident at the airport.
We took a local flight to Cusco, which was the site of the historic capital of the Inca Empire. It is in the Andes mountains and 600 km south-east of Lima. We found a cab from the airport and soon we were weaving up a very narrow cobblestone street right to the end. Vehicles do this or back down the street to exit. We didn’t see any hotel, but parked outside part of the long high wall that flanked both sides of the street. A small obscure doorway lead into a luscious courtyard that was our hotel! We were greeted and given a nasty tea that we quickly threw away. Cusco has an altitude of 3,400 meters, and thus causes altitude sickness for many of the visitors. We later learned that one treatment for the headache and sleepless nights caused by the altitude is to drink a tea made of coca leaves, or to chew a leaf rolled into a ball and placed on the back teeth. Coca is a mild stimulant, appetite suppressant and altitude sickness cure. Cocaine can be extracted from these leaves. (Also one of the early ingredients of Coca Cola until 1903 when it was removed from its formula, and caffeine substituted as its stimulating ingredient.)

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A rather austere entrance to our hotel in Cusco.

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It opened up to an inviting courtyard and lovely room with a balcony.

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About our welcoming drink! There is a better way to enjoy it.

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The streets were steep....

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....and narrow.

A cheerful employee led us to a beautiful room with king bed, an inviting courtyard and a view across the hundreds of red tile roofed houses on the surrounding hills. RumI Punku Hotel, like many others, is hidden in the wall of a winding narrow street. This is Peru's major tourist town - grown up to 500,000 in the last 20 years due to tourism. There are markets and shops everywhere, jam-packed with knitted and woven goods, leathers and carvings and silver jewelry. There are so many people trying to make a living out of it, but the sellers in the market are not pushy. "No, gracias” gets a smile from the shop owner, unless you linger on and look. The centre of the city is heavily populated, very dense with all units running into each other making a solid wall of residences, shops, cafes and banks.

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A narrow walkway from our hilly perch down into the town.

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The bright colors are popular. Natural dyes were used until around the 1930s, when synthetical dyes were introduced. Due to demand, there has been a revival of the traditional methods of producing wool and dying it.

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Authentic goods are produced by hand by the local people.

We strolled out through the streets seeing many interesting buildings, traditionally dressed locals and a great array of shops. Many shops were tucked into the walls that lined the streets, with a bright array of woven and knitted wares. We enjoyed looking at these and searching for a place to have supper and enjoy local foods. Cuy appealed to me (see below!) An hour of wandering around brought us to Plaza de Armas. It is a large square flanked by municipal buildings, shops and an impressive Spanish style church. Here we were bombarded with invitations to take tours, to buy trinkets and to spend our money ..."Fleecing Square".
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Arriving in Plaza de Armas.
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This is a beautiful square with the smell of flowers, flanked by wonderful older buildings.

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We enjoyed the sunshine in Plaza de Armes watching as a father entertained his children with feeding pigeons and allowing them to touch the birds.

It was time to leave the Square and head up towards our hotel.
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Along each narrow street, there were goods to buy.
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More narrow streets, and many little shops.
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We found traditional crafts and old methods, but Visa was here too!
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Cellphones too!

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A locally made purse caught my eye.

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Eldon and I found a table runner to bring home. The young lady was happy to make a sale.

The steep side streets, with their cafes and local flavour beckoned us and we wandered till we found a place to enjoy some Peruvian food.
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This local dish is available only in the Andes. Cuy translates as Guinea pig.

Thousands of tourists walk the Inca Trail to visit Machu Picchu each year. They congregate at Cusco before starting on the two-, four- or five-day journey on foot from Kilometer 82 near the neighbouring town of Ollantaytambo and walking up through the Andes mountain range to the isolated city. We arranged to get to Macu Picchu by vehicle rather than on foot and to set out early the next morning.

Posted by Sue McNicholas 09:26 Archived in Peru

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