I would like to start this update off with a dummy public safety announcement as I would have really appreciated one this morning. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world. Wear. Your. Sunscreen. Chris and I have both worked in the Florida Keys for the past 4+ years where we preach coverage and protection...and yet it never occurred to either of us to lather up before heading out for a 7 hour walk around town and now we are crispy little ducks. Anyway...back to our scheduled program ;)
Chris had scheduled us for a city tour starting at 1:30pm that would take us to numerous historical sites around Cuzco. The thing is though, the sun rises crazy early here. At 6am there was full on sunshine leaking through our blinds. So by 7:30 we were ready to head down to the lobby for breakfast. You almost never know what to expect for breakfast at hotels but especially in a new country we were hungry and curious. Our hostess prepared our coffees and gave us an orange drink (turned out to be freshly juiced papaya...very sweet). Then she proceeded to place a basket of traditional bread with butter and jam...and that was it. Now, I am NOT my husband who thinks meat should be with any meal or it’s not a meal...but even I felt this was scant. It did, however, make me feel better about the fact that we will miss most of these breakfasts due to our busy and EARLY schedules for the rest of the trip. After our whopping 10 minute meeting with our Manu National Park guide (they are very thorough about schedules) we headed up stairs to relax. Only, I have a hard time “relaxing” when in a new space with so many things to see. So we decided to use the morning time to walk to the main square to meet in order to experience the people, smells, and foods of the area. It was an hour walk so we packed meticulously (minus sunscreen) as we read the weather is dynamic and can be hot, rainy, cold, and windy all in the same day.
We all know my generation (shout out 90’s babies) are particularly dependent on our technology especially in my case when it comes to navigation. While we did not purchase any international plans, we used the WiFi to look up step by step directions and used these to navigate for the day. Ironically enough, Chris and I had both done this and ended up with different but similar directions. So we set out on our journey, enjoying the people, places, and SMELLS (remember we didn’t have a filling breakfast). Unfortunately for us, we still had not exchanged our currency as we were planning to do this in the main square that day. So while many things looked and smelled delicious, we wandered on looking for Cuzco Cathedral, the starting point of our tour that evening. We had several issues based on unclear directions that resulted in numerous circles around the area. Eventually, we did figure out what street to take and arrived at our destination.
When we entered the final square, it became evident that we were in the...”tourist area” as we were CONSTANTLY approached by street vendors selling their wares. Now starving from our morning walk, we quickly asked where we could exchange our money. He sent us to the Main Street and the first place we found had a sign (pictured below) saying “gringo bills”. We had a good laugh before we entered the complex. When we attempted to exchange, we checked the rate (to make sure we were getting the correct amount) and handed her our bills. She began sliding some of the bills back and pointing at small writing marks and tears. We had read that Peru would not accept “tainted” bills but had forgotten about it until this moment. It wasn’t a big deal but it could have been if our cash had been limited so make sure you check your bills!
Now that we had the proper currency, we set out in search of food! The problem was that we were in that “tourist square”. The food was pricier and really didn’t look that good. We still had plenty of time before our meeting, so we wandered back towards the areas we had seen better food. The problem was we did not want to stray too far back so we looked and smelled until time was running short so we simply settled on a place not worth remembering the name but put some food in our belly. Finally satiated, we walked back to the Cuzco Cathedral a little early...only to find out we were not at the cathedral! A few kind strangers pointed us in the correct way as we rushed to the REAL starting point of our tour.
It was at Cuzco Cathedral that we met our guide Beto along with our 12 other companions for the tour. He sweetly, but promptly introduced himself, explained the itinerary, and escorted us into the church. Sadly, we were not allowed to photograph any part of the inside, but take our word for it; the craftsmanship and art coupled with the religious and culturally historical significance makes this site well worth a visit. Among the most impressive was the vast amount of gold and silver used for the decorations. It was a quick tour due to the nature of our agenda but one could easily spend 1-2 hours looking, reading, and marveling. Next we walked through the city in our group back to the building we had mistaken as Cuzco Cathedral. It’s true name is Qorikancha and it is the home of the sun garden. This was one of my favorites of the journey as it is a huge terrace style garden facing into the city of Cuzco. It featured many colorful, foreign plants mixed in dynamic displays. Beto also continued to provide unique Incan cultural facts. To my dismay, we were once again quickly ushered to our next destination.
From here, we rode by van to 4 more ecological sites: Saqsaywaman, Q’enqo, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay. By far, Saqsaywaman was my absolute favorite, displaying the ingenious Incan construction coupled with large fields and incredible scenery. The tour concluded at a alpaca wool shop where they explained the differences in quality and authenticity by allowing us to touch and feel different products. For me, tours like these aren’t quite satisfying. While it is cool to say you have seen so many sites, I would rather spend more of my own time on one or two sites and be allowed to explore and roam as I please. So when signing up for something like this, take it at face value. A simple taste tester of what is to be offered. If I were to do it again, I would hire a car and do a half day at Saqsaywaman before making my way into the city to see Qorikancha using leftover time to view the cathedral or one of many churches present in the square.
The guide brought us to the restaurant, Don Antonio, where we had a free dinner, courtesy of the agency, but apparently we were 45 minutes early...as in no food, no bar because they weren’t even open yet. To kill the time, we went to a close bar for some Peruvian adult beverages. First we had a pisco sour which is made with the grape based alcohol, pisco. Then we tasted the local beer Cusqueña negro, a dark lager that is only brewed here in Cuzco! Both were excellent and passed the time perfectly.
We were seated for our free buffet dinner (no drinks included, not even water!) and it was...what you would expect from a free meal. The food was not horrible but not good and it wasn’t labeled so you weren’t certain what you were trying. Due to our long day and our pending 4am departure the following day, we skipped the free show and headed in for the night.
Tomorrow is the long awaited Machu Picchu mountain so check back here to see how it was!