Cusco, a large city up high in the mountains at an altitude of about 3600m, fascinating and dangerous at the same time with nights that are as cold as most winters back home. I got there by plane, and fortunately had arranged a pick up to my hotel as right outside the airport there are loads of taxi drivers trying to pick you up, most likely at triple the cost of what an actual ride should cost. Fortunately my pick up was waiting for me and took me to the hotel I had booked for the first few nights. I found in my travels that whenever I arrive in a new place it is reasonable to stay the first few nights at a somewhat upscale place until I have made my bearings in the town. Arriving at the hotel I was immediately offered a Coca tea in order to start adapting to the altitude, although I have been in the Alps a few times, I don’t think I had ever been in a city this large at such a height. The first night was very quiet, I only went for a very short walk which left me breathless but with a good first impression of Cusco as during the half hour walk I was not hassled once. I then returned to the hotel for a light dinner consisting of only a chicken broth, which is recommended for the first night until one adapts to the height. I pretty much slept like a baby until 4am when I woke up feeling a bit short of breath, which was a really strange sensation.
The next day I ventured out into town to walk some more and adapt to the height, and pretty much spent the entire day walking the historic centre of town, which is filled with Inka culture contrasted by the many churches and Christian monuments that the Spaniards erected often on top of the previous Inka structures. I walked around quite a bit, and saw some very fascinating buildings, and of course Plaza de Armas, which is the main square and quite busy, but a wonderful place to sit down and just observe locals and tourists interact in various forms. Spent a bit of time at the central market which is quite large, and where you can find just about anything from food to clothing and jewellery. A nice place to visit. In the evening I had dinner once more at the hotel but this time with a bit more consistency as I had been chewing Coca leaves pretty much all day long, and that turns out to be more efficient than drinking them as a tea.
After dinner I mapped out my hike for the next day, which turned out to be quite a long one. First I headed up on foot to Saqsaywaman, a relatively large archaeological site that actually has 4 or 5 distinct areas. Walking up was quite the experience as from the 3600m level of the city you climb to about 4000m which left me breathless more then once, so I think it took me about 1.5 hours to actually make it up to the site. Once I arrived I took the long route around the site and took my time taking in all the sights, and ruins in detail. The Inka culture is fascinating, just looking at the precision with which they built their structures it is amazing! Giant stones perfectly carved to fit on top of each other without any cement or the like to hold them in place. I ended up walking from one place to the next totally fascinated and drawn to stay quite a while, unfortunately and understandably most of the monuments are actually roped off and access is forbidden, but you still get a good view of most. From the main site I headed over to the water temple, a coliseum like structure to the side of which there is a rock formation with small tunnels underneath it which are open to access, but do not run very deep, and are indeed quite small, the Incans must have been quite small people.
Once I had been to every monument in the principle Saqsaywaman area I headed further up the hill to go to the Temple of the Moon, a sort of stone hill that has halls carved into it, unfortunately again here the main hall is closed off, but on the lucky side, when you are standing in front of it, on the right hand side there is a small cave that is open to visitors. The entrance is guarded by 3 snakes, and 2 pumas (1 of which I was able to make out) carved into the stone. At the back of the hall there is a small meditation table with a hole above it where once a year on just the right date the moonlight falls in and right on the table. Although generally speaking the moon is considered a female energy I could not resist lying down on the table to meditate a bit after I had made a small offering of Coca leaves and Mapacho tobacco. I only laid there for about 10 minutes but it was quite energizing nonetheless, a little later a small group of tourist arrived with maybe a shaman as there guide who made the girl of the group lie down, and chanted a little. After the chant she said she felt quite strange lying there, as though she had been spinning all around. Very interesting to observe.
I walked outside and over the temple and had a little lunch right on top of it sitting on a beautifully carved stone that felt like the perfect place to sit. After that as it was already about 3 in the afternoon I started to make my way back down on what turned out to be a traditional Inka route right back down to the Plaza de Armas. The next day I pretty much did nothing as my legs were aching quite a lot from about 8 hours of walking in total.
I spent a couple more days in Cusco just hanging around discovering small places here and there, and spending some time each day sitting at the Plaza de Armas doing some writing and observing people as they went about their business. Ultimately I think there are as many if not more street vendors and people hassling tourist as in Iquitos, they are just a little less obnoxious.
Sometime after that I left for Machu Picchu, a review of which can be found here.
Upon returning from Machu Picchu I had a few more days in Cusco as I was not really sure where to head next, and got to know a woman by the name of Sophia a bit more, one of the street vendors who had sat with me the week before and had taken the time to just talk for a bit, which as it turns out was just a build up to suck me into her story a few days later. Before I headed to Machu Picchu I already had bought a small necklace from here so I was not intended on buying anything else, she did however lull me in with her story about how she was going to lose her home and would have to live on the streets with her 4 kids which of course she was raising by herself. So at the point where she actually added tears to the mix I got really weak and ended up giving her a bit of money in hopes she would use it towards her rent or food for her kids. Looking back I doubt she even has 4 kids, but oh well, the whole story made me think quite a lot, and thought me a thing or two about life in Peru as well as myself so I do not consider it a total loss. The next day she came back again and as I had told her I would be going to Pisac for some time, a small town north of Cusco she actually asked for a loan that she would of course give me back in a month, even though it was very unlikely for me to be around a month later. I kindly refused and actually explained to her that even though I was able to travel for quite a while I had to work my ass off to get to this point which she just ignored, and re-asked for a loan, which again I refused, and then she left, and I did not see her again, or rather I did not see again up close, but kept on observing her a bit now and then at the Plaza de Armas.
On my last night in Cusco I went for an early dinner and met some people from Argentina with whom I had a few drinks in a place called Cross Keys where there were 2 live bands, a 2 man cover band to begin with and Salsa band after that, both of which turned out to be quite good, but I ended up going home only around 1 am, and on the way back to the hostel I was staying at that point was almost mugged. Essentially I just slipped into the hostel door before some drunk guy caught up with me and ended up banging on the door to be let in, which was not my responsibility as the hostel had security cameras in order to insure that they only had actual guests entering the premises. The next day the hostel owner asked me if I had been mugged, to which I repeated that no I just had gotten in before anything happened.
In the morning I left to Pisac, a review of which will come up sometime soon, and there I heard quite a few more little horror stories about Cusco from stolen cell phones to muggings to actually one girl being zapped with an electro shocker up close to the temple of the moon, fortunately nothing bad happened to her as she did not pass out from the electro shock, but still quite a frightening story. So all in all, if you are to visit Cusco, either do so in a small group, or watch your own back very diligently. Personally I had little to no problems, as I carry the few valuables I have very close and mostly hidden under my cape, and most of the days went back to the hostel at a very reasonable time, but it seems to be a bit of a dangerous place nonetheless. And as mentioned in the title, the nights are indeed very cold, so be sure to pack a couple pyjamas so that you can get good and comfortable nights of sleep, as by far not every hostel has heaters, and if they do often it’s small electrical ones that don’t have enough power to warm the entire room. Overall still a charming city, but as most big cities go, not my favourite place thus far.