23.01.2013 - 01.02.2013 15 °C
What can you say about Cusco? After all the dust in Lima, Nasca and Arequipa, arriving in Cusco is like arriving in an oasis surrounded by lush green mountains. situated near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range. It is the capital of the Cusco Region as well as the Cuzco Province. In 2007, the city had a population of 358,935. Located on the eastern end of the Knot of Cuzco, its elevation is around 3,400 m (11,200 ft).Cusco was the site of the historic capital of the Inca Empire and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1983 by UNESCO. It is a major tourist destination and receives almost 2 million visitors a year. It is designated as the Historical Capital of Peru by the Constitution of Peru.
Peru has three broad climatic zones - coastal desert, mountain and jungle. Cusco has a subtropical highland climate. Its climate is generally dry and temperate, with two defined seasons. The dry season lasts from April to October, with abundant sunshine, and occasional nighttime freezes. The wet season lasts from November to March, with night frost less common. Although frost and hail are common, snow is virtually unheard of.
On arrival at 7am off the night bus at our fabulous family run hostal we were offered coca tea to help with the altitude. The tea is not very pleasant - smelling a bit like boiled seaweed so its best to hold your nose and drink it down!
Cusco city was a real surprise. It is full of Inca architecture and boy did those men know how to build. Many of the buildings dating from Inca times still survive and even better, are still in use. There are no disused buildings here. Almost every building contains a business of some sort or other and it´s great to see that this is still very much a living city. The buildings are generally of grand proportions with massive exterior walls and foundations built at a slight inward angle and comprising enormous stones which are all carved exactly to fit into each other. And no two stones are the same size or shape. This must have been the centre of the universe for stone masons around the middle ages.
You pop your head inside a door and suddenly you are in the middle of a cloistered courtyard. Very elegant.
We stayed a couple of days in Cusco to acclimatise ourselves to the altitude and to soak up the atmosphere. Everywhere there are stalls and shops selling fantastic local handicrafts made from Alpaca, or baby alpaca, as the sellers are keen to inform you. Gloves, hats, scarves, shawls, blankets, table centre pieces, you name it, they will knit or weave it. And then there are the stripy colourful trousers which ever backpacker seems to be wearing. Seamus seems very keen on them so watch this space...
The San Pedro market in Cusco is where all the locals buy their everything. We could have spent a whole day there. Well, actually we nearly did. You can find everything here here from freshly squeezed jungle fruits, to women working on sewing machines altering garments, breads of all shapes and sizes, corn and potatoes of all shapes and varieties, to our favourite section which had a big sign overhead stating "Innards". Despite the closeness of the food section to the innards section, we enjoyed a delicious hearty lunch of a cauliflower stew and rice for the equivalent of 1 euro. Rip off!
By the way, we have decided that we are going to blame Peru for the potato famine as this is the home of our favourite staple - the humble spud - having over 3000 varities of this knobbly tuber. Even the local Inca art museum has a very sexy looking 1500 yr old ceramic spud which resembles a Piccasso-esque reclining nude.
Outside the market women from the highlands (what do the men in this country do?) are selling their veg, corn, chickens and live guinea pigs (yes, you read that right) to anyone who wants to buy. Guinea pig, or cuy as its known here, is a real delicacy. You choose which little g piggy you want, have a good feel of it´s haunches etc and then they will bag it up for consumption later. We have yet to try it....but knowing us it´s probably only a matter of time!
Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire (13th century-1532). Many believe that the city was planned as an effigy in the shape of a puma, a sacred animal. Under the Inca, the city had two sectors: the urin and hanan. Each was further divided to encompass two of the four provinces, Chinchasuyu (NW), Antisuyu (NE), Qontisuyu (SW) and Qullasuyu (SE). A road led from each of these quarters to the corresponding quarter of the empire. Each local leader was required to build a house in the city and live part of the year in Cusco, but only in the quarter that corresponded to the quarter of the empire in which he had territory. After the rule of Pachacuti, when an Inca died, his title went to one son and his property was given to a corporation controlled by his other relatives (the process was called split inheritance). Each title holder had to build a new house and add new lands to the empire, in order to own the land his family needed to maintain after his death.