Cusco, Peru

In retrospect, traveling to Cusco (aka-Cuzco) turned out to be to our advantage, because it made our visit to Machu Picchu much easier, but I have to admit that it was an error in planning that delivered us to this city for a few days first.  Of course, part of that had to do with the fact that flights from Lima, arrive in Cusco.  In planning for the visit to Machu Picchu, I had decided that it would be a good idea to hang out in Cusco for a few days before venturing on to Peru's most popular destination, so we could adjust to the altitude before our visit.  Everything I read about the Inca citadel indicated that altitude sickness could be an issue, so we were prepared with a prescription for Diamox (just in case).  Somehow, I overlooked the fact that Cusco, at around 11,500 feet, was over 2000 feet higher than Machu Picchu.  We were coming from sea level, so the transition was problematic for both of us.  Headaches, nausea, shortness of breath and exhaustion were a few of
Cusco Cathedral
the issues we experienced at some level during our stay, so we were happy we had the prescription to help alleviate the symptoms.

The modest climb to our hotel seemed to be increasingly difficult as the day progressed, and if we had been another 100 feet up the hill, I'm not sure if we would have made it back up to our room.  Our hotel offered hot coca tea 24/7; this is a local remedy for altitude problems and we drank several cups a day.   Dehydration is part of the issue, so we also made certain to push our water consumption as well.  Cusco is a city of almost half a million, but since we were staying in the historic center, it seemed like a small town.  Festival of the Crosses is celebrated in the final week of May, but festivities started early, and during our visit, fireworks, parties and parades in the streets occurred nightly.  Festivities offer thanks for the harvest.

La Compania Church
Downhill from our hotel, the Plaza de Armas is surrounded by 2 cathedrals, and numerous shops and restaurants.  The Cusco Cathedral was the first place we visited.  Built on the foundation of the Inca temple, Kiswarkancha, which was dismantled by the Spanish, construction of the church started in 1559, and was completed about one hundred years later.  Filled with beautiful religious art, one of the most interesting is the painting of the "Last Supper" with Jesus and the disciples dining on guinea pig.  Inca religious symbolism is overlaid with Christian throughout the Cathedral.  Across the Plaza, the ornate La Compania Chuch was built by the Jesuits starting in 1570, and rebuilt following its destruction by an earthquake in 1650.

At Sacsayhuaman
Purchasing a boleta turistica (tourist ticket) provided entree to a number of ruins outside Cusco, and in the nearby Sacred Valley.  Just at the edge of town,  Sacsayhuaman is an impressive fortress which overlooks the city.  Hiring a taxi rather than climbing the hill, we explored the magnificent site for a few hours.  Built by the Killke culture around 1100 AD, the site was taken over by the Incas in the 13th century, and then the Spanish in 1536.  It is believed that around 20,000 men were responsible for construction.  The largest boulder used is over 27 feet tall, and weighs as much as 300 tons.  Perfect joints of the massive rocks are seen throughout the project.  How the construction was completed is still a mystery. 

The following day, we boarded a bus for a day trip through the Sacred Valley.

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