It must have been quite a sight back in the day when it was nearly covered in gold, but that was all plundered by Pizarro and the Spanish conquistadors.
Before leaving on my trek to Machu Picchu I had to take care of a few errands and plan the rest of my trip, which is rapidly coming to an end.
In the evening I took a stroll around the beautiful town, walking to the Plaza de Armas which was full of activity as the lights lit up the churches, colonial buildings and surrounding hills. It really is a perfect little town.
The evening was capped off with a lovely chat with Alejandro, a lovely Bolivian bartender at The Lost City, who made me yummy popcorn and a hamburger (which I haven't had in ages!). No surprise I ended up staying way longer than anticipated.
I headed out for an abridged walking tour of Cusco, starting at Mercado San Pedro which was pretty quiet given it was a Domingo. For once Domingo (Sunday) worked out--- all those churches that are normally closed or charge admission are free when you sneak in during services (and there are a lot of them)!
Randomly outside the market I met Richard from Lancaster, PA who is embarking on a round-the-world trip. He ended up joining me for the pseudo tour along the cobble stone streets and alleys (originally made for llama traffic), stopping at the plazas and churches, including the Cathedral and the Jesuit's Inglesia de La Compania de Jesus where we had a private tour by someone with a Russian name (he pointed it out as odd).
Oddly, we thought we were entering that church, but instead ended up on the edge of a building overlooking the square- this can not possibly be sanctioned by any authority! It was cool-- a good bird's eye view of the Plaza de Armas.
The Cathedral, started in 1559 on the site of Viracocha Inca's palace using stones pilfered from nearby Sacsaywaman, dominates the square. Oddly the Cathedral is joined to two smaller churches on either side; Inglesia del Triunfo to the right is reportedly Cusco's oldest.
Seriously this city has a church on every corner--- why did the Jesuits, Dominicans, La Merced and Franciscans all need their own places?
Since yet another star gazing tour was cancelled, I was able to enjoy some tapas at Cicciolina with Richard-- I really think I may be able to get out of Cusco without eating any more rice- yay! :-)
Randomly afterwards I ran into the Aussies from Pichilemu, Val and Ryan, and had lunch at a charity restaurant whose menus are storybooks and chairs occupied by stuffed animals (sounds cheesy, but was actually kinda cute and could be a big hit in Brooklyn!). Instead of finishing my walking tour and wandering around San Blas I spent the rest of the day watching rugby.
The next 43km from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu would be spent trekking with 13 others, our SAS guides Freddy and Jose and 21 amazing porters and cooks---- only a zillion steps and three high Andean mountain passes in our way.
Before leaving we met all the porters and learned what they each carry. Egg man- huh! Decided I wouldn't want to be the guy that carries the gas tank. Freddy told me waiter was really the best gig.
I will say, seeing the sun come up while above the clouds was pretty cool.
Machu Picchu is an ancient city that was never found by the Spaniards and lost until American Hiram Bingham found it in 1911. Since there are no records, no one really knows what it was used for but speculate it was a trade nexus between the Amazon and highlands and a ceremonial center.
Forget the hike up Wayna Picchu- enough is enough. I caught the bus back to Aguas Calientes for some rest and lunch before taking the 5pm train towards Cusco.
The train was surprisingly fun as we compared tips (we were extravagant) and shared a few cervesas with the other groups. The real fun began when we met at Paddy's Pub (very Peruvian, eh!) for team drinks which turned into a 5am dance party at one of the discos.
I felt bad waking Coco up at 5am to let me in, but at least he didn't have to deal with me all day since I slept, only to rise for a massage late in the day and then headed back to bed since I had another early wake up to catch a flight to my next destination.