Adventure in the Andes

Saturday morning we woke at 5 a.m. to join a small group of about 25 of our team who had chosen to travel on to Cusco before going home.  We flew from Lima and after an uneventful morning, we arrived, were driven to our hotel - The Royal Inka , and tried our first cup of coca tea, which is the local method for fighting altitude sickness. It tastes a bit like bitter green tea, and I drank quite a bit for fear of  experiencing another type of sickness on this trip. 

We were very relieved to have a few hours to ourselves to find food on the main square and rest in our cozy little room before our afternoon tour began. The colonial history and cobbled streets make Cusco very charming. Our guide, Rosa, led us through the main Basilica, square, and down to what was a former Incan temple and now a museum. Rosa adamantly taught us that we are all mistakenly calling the civilization Incan, a term that really only referred to the ruler, and that they are actually Quechuas. 

One of the most exciting aspects of this trip was that two of my college acquaintances were also along on the adventure! I have always admired both of them, and getting to better know them made our trip even more enjoyable; we shared lots of laughs with their family along the way.

I love that the only other person that I have met that shares the name Libby is so fantastic, and my college roommate and good friend is named Leigh - fun to have two Libby and Leigh duos (and apparently confusing to some of our fellow alumni).  

It was getting fairly chilly by the time we made it back home, and we ran in to grab a heavier coat before going out for the night again. We were still so worn out and feeling a bit disoriented, so we only ate a small sandwich and then had hot chocolate in the Starbucks on the square- which happens to have a beautiful view to take in at dusk.

We went back to our Inka hotel so I could finish another homework project before passing out early.

Sunday was a peaceful day. We spent the day touring various Quechuan ruins, starting with Saqsaywaman (which our guide continued to point out the entire day was like a heavily accented way of saying “sexy woman”), ruins of the former city storehouses and eventually a fortress. Incan architecture is very impressive- they didn't need to use mortar and the stones are still perfectly intact. 

We moved onto a cave, a water temple, and then drove to an animal sanctuary. We actually loved this stop because we saw parrots, pumas, condors, alpacas, and they showed us all of the natural methods for dying the alpaca wool. An employee smashed a black cochineal beetle on his palm to show how it turns brilliant red. He then used limon and minerals to change the ph balance and shades. I forgot to add that our guide made us stop in a shop to learn how to differentiate between baby and older alpaca products.

We continued on through the valley to Pisaq, another colonial city famous for its large market. Matt and I tried Inkan corn before grabbing a light lunch at restaurant ran by a Spaniard with a flair for Hindu culture, and heading back out into the market.

After haggling for a random assortment of trinkets, narrowly avoiding photo ops with several adorable costumed girls with lambs, and people watching in the busy market, we were happy to return back to the bus for the ride back to Cusco. Rosa also explained that Cuzco is the Spanish spelling which means small barking dog, so the locals instead prefer Cusco which is more Quechuan and original. We saw many people in original costume, most for tourist attractions, but many in the countryside that were traditional. Interestingly, women of mixed Spanish and Quechua blood are known by their two long braids, tall hats, and woolen skirts - they are called Mestisos. The Quechuan woman wear similar clothes, but a flat hat and no braids.

That afternoon we walked around exploring shops and then changed for a special group dinner out at ChiCha. One of the chef's other restaurants is ranked as the 15th best restaurant in the world - and the cuisine was pretty interesting. One girl had guinea pig, which is a delicacy in Peru!

It was an enjoyable, but long dinner, and we rushed back to bed to be ready for our 3:30 am wake-up call for Machu Picchu! More on that to come...

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