(One thing I won't miss about living in Lima is how hard it is to get anything vegetarian. In the more touristy places in Peru finding veggie food isn't a problem, but we were living in a non-touristy area where meat-free meals were virtually unheard of.)
It says 'Feliz Viaje', which means 'Happy travels'. We really weren't expecting anything and I actually felt a bit tearful about saying goodbye to our friends here.
After a quick internal flight we arrived in Cusco, which was the capital of the Inca empire and is today the jumping-off point for trips to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas. But Cusco is much more than just a gateway town; although it is very touristy, it is a beautiful city in its own right. There are beautiful colonial plazas and buildings, and many of the colonial buildings were built by the invading Spanish colonisers on the remains of the Inca buildings they demolished, so the sturdy Inca stone walls are still very clear. It´s very hilly, and our hostel is up a steep cobbled alleyway that gets you a bit out of breath to walk up in the thin air (Cusco is at about 3400m altitude).
Our street in Cusco. You can see Cusco´s rainbow flag here (not to be confused with the Pride rainbow flag):
Murals in Cusco´s streets:
We chose a great time of year to visit Cusco, since June is a month of celebrations. The week we arrived there was the Corpus Christi Catholic festival for a couple of days, followed on the 25th June by the Inca winter solstice festival, Inti Raymi. And the week after we leave marks 100 years since Machu Picchu was ´discovered´ by American explorer Hiram Bingham and made known to the wider world. So we arrived straight into a week of parades, brass bands in the streets, decorations, dancing and all manner of festivities. (Actually, as I write this now a parade is going past this internet cafe with loads of folks in costume playing drums and panpipes.) Our hostel has a lovely roof terrace with a great view of the main Plaza, but we also headed down into the mayhem to have a closer look.
The Plaza de Armas during Corpus Christi, with one of many statues of saints being carried in the foreground, and the cathedral in the background:
On the day of Inti Raymi, we walked up the steep hill behind our hostel to the Incan archeological complex of Sacsayhuaman (which I´m ashamed to say still makes us giggle like teenagers because it is pronounced ´sexywoman´). This is where the main part of the festival takes place in a big square. The festival is a recreation of the traditional Incan winter solstice ceremony, in which the sun god is worshipped. There are a few changes: traditionally a llama is sacrificed and the high priest holds aloft its bloody heart in honour of Pachamama (Mother Earth) - these days this is acted out but the llama isn´t harmed, thank goodness! You can buy tickets for a seat with a close view of the proceedings, but we opted to do as the locals do and sit on the hillside overlooking the complex for free, albeit faraway view. It was a swelteringly sunny day, and we got there a good few hours before it started to bag a spot to sit. As the day wore on it got more and more crowded, as entire families squeezed into any free gaps on the steep rocky hillside. Vendors climbed about selling drinks, hats and snacks. It great to get a taste of this big day out, but it was far from comfy! Finally the festivities started, and dancers in traditional Andean/Incan dress paraded in formation across the square in time to music which blared out out over the speakers.
The procession comes down through the Sacsayhuaman ruins into the main square. In the square was a stone plinth, on which the man portraying the Sapa Inca (which is a great honour) overseas the proceedings:
Our seat on the crowded hillside, looking across to a second crowded hillside:
A taste of the music and dance. The costumes were great, and several of the spectators were in traditional Andean dress too:
Finally Stu and I got so uncomfortably overheated and squished in the crowd that we decided to make a break for the exit. This was actually quite difficult, as we had to climb over everyone else to get out! But we managed it, and headed back down the hill to get a well-deserved ice cream from a street vendor. (The were loads of markets and snack vendors on the walk between the town centre and Sacsayhuaman, including several stalls selling charred-looking guinea pigs on sticks - yum.)
We´ve really enjoyed Cusco, which is a great place to hang out, eat great food, and buy souvenirs. But the real reason we came here was, you guessed it, Machu Picchu. And not just Machu Picchu itself, but the four-day trek along the Inca Trail to get there. But that story is for another post...