Monday, February 19, 2018

Cusco, Peru

Cusco is such a beautiful and cheery city in Peru that it's striking to think of how it holds within its heart a very dark and brutal past.  Built on Inca blood, sweat, and tears, it was then worshipped as the greatest citadel in the Inca empire for several centuries before it was completely ransacked by Spanish conquistadors.  Now, it is sustained primarily by tourism.  Indeed, we experienced Cusco as dutiful tourists would: we saw and appreciated how Inca roots, Spanish colonialism, and modern-day comforts intermix to form the hybrid culture that makes Cusco what it is today.  Cusco had so much to offer, and we tried to see as much of it as possible during our two days there before the start of the Salkantay Trek and the one day after we returned. Get ready for lots of photos of food (whole roasted guinea pig!), sexy women (okay, it's Sacsayhuaman), and TMI (when you travel to Peru, you'd better be prepared for lots of bodily dysfunction).

We came to Cusco simply because it was the starting point for the much-anticipated Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu.  All the guidebooks say that tourists should spend a few days in Cusco adjust to the altitude (Cusco is at 11,152 feet elevation), and if you were at all sensible, you'd follow the rules and rest often and eat lightly.   In a city as culturally vibrant and as walkable as Cusco,  you can't follow those rules.  Of course, it was literally impossible to resist indulging in Peruvian food and we unwittingly booked two tours within the first hour of our arrival.  We probably paid for it on our third day, eating plain crackers and tea for the better half of the day due to food poisoning (ice!!) and traveller's diarrhea (well, that's a given) - but overall, no regrets.  In fact, getting sick made us appreciate the hospitality and care of everyone around us so much more.