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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Peru Vacation Day 3: Half-Day Tour Of Cusco Part 2

I talked about the first part of our half-day tour of Cusco that covered the Coricancha, and the Cusco Cathedral here. The rest of the half-day tour took us outside the city of Cusco. We used a luxurious bus with nice reclining seats. The tour guide stood at the front of the bus and talked about various things through a microphone hooked up to the bus's public address system. She explained things in both Spanish and English.

tour busOur tour bus. Notice the large picture windows for tourists to enjoy the scenery out of. The bus ride was quite smooth, and the road quality was quite good too.

Our first stop was Saqsayhuaman (variously spelled Sacsaywaman, Saqsaywaman, Sacsayhuaman, etc.). It is about 3 km from Cusco along the road to Pisac. It took us about 10 minutes to drive there. The road climbs out of the bowl that Cusco sits in, resulting in quite a winding, sometimes steep climb to Saqsayhuaman (which is at an altitude of 3700 meters above sea level).

The purpose of Saqsayhuaman is mysterious even now. It is a walled complex built originally by pre-incan people around 11oo AD, and then expanded by the Incas starting in the 1200's. Our guide explained that it was supposed to be a temple to the Incas' lightning God. It is an impressive structure with several mammoth stones fitted together tightly to form massive walls. The weights of the heaviest stones used in the construction are estimated at over 100 tons!

Saqsayhuaman zigzag wallNotice the zigzag shape of the wall at Saqsayhuaman. Our guide explained that this represented the Incan lightning God, which is plausible, I guess!

Panaromic view of SaqsayhuamanA panaromic view of Saqsayhuaman. Most of the rocks from the upper parts of the walls were taken to Cusco to be used in the construction of the Cusco Cathedral.

The site is also famous for the annual Inti Raymi festival, which celebrates the winter solstice and the Incan New Year, around June 24th of each year. Entrance to Saqsayhuaman also uses the Tourist Ticket of Cusco. We were allowed to wander around the site for some time after the guide finished her explanations. We bought some stone carvings from vendors in Saqsayhuaman.

Woman with Alpaca at SaqsayhuamanA woman in traditional dress posing with her Alpaca for tourists. There are several such people at major tourist attractions who earn money in the form of tips from tourists for allowing themselves to be photographed with their alpacas, llamas, etc.

From there, we proceeded to Q'enqo (also spelled as Qenqo, Qenko, Q'enko, etc.). It is another 2 km farther along the same road. Q'enko is part of the Sacsayhuamán Archaeological Park, and is at an altitude of 3,730 meters. Our guide explained that Q'enqo served as a temple to the Incan Puma God. There is also a cave in Q'enqo which has a rock shaped like a flat bed. This rock was used for ritual human sacrifices to appease the Incan mother earth Goddess, Pachamama.

Puma God carving at Q'enqoPartially destroyed carving of the Incan Puma God at Q'enqo.

Cave entrance at Q'enqoThe entrance to the underground cave that served as a temple to the Incan mother earth Goddess, Pachamama.

Our guide explained to us that people volunteered to be sacrificed at Incan rituals, and they were later mummified and worshipped as Gods by the Incas. The Spaniards, as part of their subjugation of the Incas, destroyed these mummies (which were supposed to have been better preserved than Egyptian ones) along with the temples.

Sacrificial altar at Q'enqoThe sacrificial altar in the underground cave at Q'enqo. The surface of the altar was extremely cold to the touch even though the air around was quite comfortably warm.

View of Cusco from Q'enqoA view of Cusco, including its soccer stadium, from Q'enqo.

We then continued on another 3 km to another Incan ruin called Puca Pucara (sometimes spelled Puka Pukara). Literally, it means red fortress. It was a defensive fortification on one of the routes to and from Cusco. We stopped only for about 5 minutes here, just to allow the tourists a couple of photographs.

Puca PucaraRuins of Puca Pucara.

We then proceeded onto Tambomachay, about 1 kilometer from Puca Pucara. Tambomachay (which, quite surprisingly, does not seem to have any alternate spellings at all!) was the highest point on this tour, with an altitude of 3,765 meters. Our guide explained that this was a temple to the Incan God of Water. The site is also known as the bath of the Incas as it consists of several aqueducts, fountains and waterfalls, leading water out from several springs deep inside the mountains that have not yet been identified.

TambomachayOne of the water fountains in Tambomachay. It was too dark to get good photographs of most of the rest of this site.

Unfortunately, by the time we reached Tambomachay, the sun had already set, and it was getting quite dark. The visit to the actual fountains involves a 200 meter walk from the parking lot up a gentle slope. The ground is not paved, and is quite uneven at places, and it can be tricky navigating it in the dark. The tour could have had better time management so that we could complete this in the light.

After we completed this, we were driven back to an Alpaca garment factory and shop called Inca Gold, located in Sacsayhuaman. There an employee explained how we could tell Alpaca garments apart from garments made of synthetic fibers, and sold as Alpaca garments. Alpaca is supposed to be slightly heavier than most synthetic fibers and cooler to the touch. I doubt I would be able to use that information to tell fakes apart from the genuine article, but it was good to know!

The shop was quite large, and we bought some Alpaca garments here. It was more expensive than in the outdoor markets where we were approached by vendors with jackets, sweaters, shawls, scarves, etc., but at least we were reasonably confident that we were getting genuine alpaca garments here. Our guide was quite confident that most of the cheap stuff sold by vendors was acrylic.

We were then driven back to Cusco, and dropped off near our hotel (the bus could not drive down the alley the hotel was in to drop us in front of the entrance). We got lost a little because it was dark, and everything looked unfamiliar, but most locals knew our hotel by name, so they guided us back to it without much of a problem.

After resting for a little while, and putting away our purchases, we decided to venture out of the hotel for dinner. The hotel had a restaurant, but we wanted to try out the fare outside. We walked past the Coricancha, along El Sol to Ayacucho. At the corner of El Sol and Ayacucho, right opposite a Radio Shack store, we found a small pizzeria called Pizza Verona. It is a tiny restaurant that you get to by climbing up a steep set of narrow stairs.

Pizza Verona entranceExterior of Pizza Verona. We initially thought the name of the restaurant was "Pizzas A La Lena". Later, when we asked a local to guide us to it, he said that A La Lena just means "made on firewood", and was a description of the pizzas, not the name of the restaurant! Oh well, lesson learned. I guess it was a little like trying to order "Closed on Sundays" off the menu!

The decor consisted of many old black and white photographs of people like Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein, the Beatles, Laurel and Hardy and so on. The proprietor was very understanding about our need for vegetarian pizza, and helped us understand the menu so that we could make the right choice. Her English was not very good, but we were able to understand each other quite well. The food was very cheap (only 6 soles per personal pan pizza), but it was quite tasty. The pizza is thin crust, and delivered on wooden platters. We liked the restaurant a lot.

Pizza Verona interiorInterior decor of Pizza Verona.

Even better, they served us free garlic bread and glasses of Inka Cola without us asking or requesting for it, and they did not include these in our final check. So, in contrast with our dining experience at Al Fresco, our 6 soles/person pizza dinner really did turn out to be 6 soles/person before tips. We added a very healthy tip to show our appreciation for the free stuff the restaurant had given us (and also for giving us permission to take some pictures inside the restaurant).

It was a nice ending to a pretty tiring day. We wanted to make sure we did not over-exert ourselves on our first day at the high altitude of Cusco (it was going to be the first of several days at that altitude, so we wanted to be extra careful). So, after dinner, we headed back to our hotel for an early night in.


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