I have a lot of catching up to do. Here it goes.
Variations said a temporary adios to Lima and boarded a plane to Cusco, Peru. The heat and humidity in Lima was replaced with cooler, drier air and also much higher altitude (a little over 11,000 feet above sea level)
So, basically, we went from this:
Cusco was the historic capital of Incan Peru before the Spanish took over. It is a very old city and is now an UNESCO world heritage site and it shows in many ways from cobblestone streets to the fact that churches are built on top of the foundation of Incan temples.
After settling into the hotel, we went on a local tour. First, lunch at a Peruvian buffet complete with local musicians playing for us. Of course, Variations had to return the favor and sing one of their numbers as well. Then, off to the Incan fortress called Saksaywaman. This structure is impressive in scale and the stonework – with the walls being precisely put together without the use of mortar. It was a lovely day and we spent time learning about the Incan culture, having a bit of fun with some resident alpacas and looking over Cusco from the vantage point that the fortress provided.
We then toured the Cusco Cathedral, which is a very impressive building and example of the ornate style of churches. We were not allowed to take photographs inside so I am sorry I cannot show you the grandeur but, rest assured, it was grand. The interesting thing to me was how the Peruvian artists who were commissioned to create works for the cathedral had to copy European styles of painting but still managed to work Incan and Peruvian influences. A prime example was a large oil painting of The Last Supper (not a representation, exactly, of the da Vinci version) which featured cuy as the main dish.
I guess I should let you know that cuy is guinea pig and it is a mainstay in the Andean diet. I don’t know if any of the Variations students tried it during our evening explorations for dinner. I didn’t. 🙂
The next day, we were up early and on the buses to head to the train station. We took a Perurail train to the village at the base of Machu Picchu.
Another, more thrilling, bus ride later and we were at the entrance gate!
Passports and tickets in hand, we entered into the base and started climbing up.
And up. And up.
The city was sitting right below us and the mountain of Machu Picchu (the city was named for the mountain by it. Researchers don’t really know what the actual name of the city might be). It was built around 1450. The Spanish never found the city so it remained only known to the local people until 1911, when Hiram Bingham was directed to it when searching for another Inca city. (However, I did read in our guide that the name Machu Picchu appeared in a cartographic document in 1874 as well.
We split into several tour groups and had a guided tour through the sites including the gate house at the top, the main gate, the astrological observatory, the temple of the condor, and agricultural areas including the terraces where crops were grown. The microclimates of the region allowed for basically year-round farming, which provided for the city.
We are here at the end of the rainy season, but we did have dry weather until right at the end of our tour. However, our lunch and exploration time in the village below was pretty wet. That didn’t dampen the spirits of Variations and I saw many of them sporting new hats, sweaters and ponchos from the local handicraft marketplace.
Our train ride back was punctuated with an appearance from costumed dancer of a Peruvian mischief maker. That was a surprise and great fun. Another bus ride back to the hotel and after a long day, we were very tired but had a great experience.