Lima taught me one lesson. Your cab fare is dependent on where you book your cab. That first night at 2 am I was in no mood to risk so I booked my cab from within the Airport in Lima to take me to the hotel. 40 Bucks US to boot. The next morning I drove down from the Hotel to the Airport ….. 40 Nuevo Sols (15 US bucks). Gotcha touristo…. So I decided next time I’ll hail a cab not book a cab. Cusco the next frontier- Cusco also the navel of the Incas. This was the cradle of the Inca empire and when the Spanish came here around 1533 or so they saw a city with gold carved temples and palaces, storehouses and the streets lined up facing sunrise and sunset. But before I got there I had to resolve if I was really getting there- Cusco, Cuzco and Cusquo yep they were one and the same place.
Determined I got out of the Airport to see a battalion of troops full gear and shiny automatics. Oh boy! What have I walked into, a thought that immediately crossed my mind. Quickly I grabbed a Cab 10 Nuevo Sols to the Hotel- I was right, it was cheaper outside. My man the cabbie informed me that Cusco was bidding farewell to the President of Colombia a neighboring touristo. From then on he took charge. No, he would take me to the best travel agency in town, the others not so good, not to worry, no extra charge for the longer ride, it was his solemn duty to take care of a visitor. He talked Spinglish and I surrendered, there was nothing I could do short of jumping out of a runaway cab. And with a twisted arm from a nothing to be proud of incidence prior to travel I was in no mood to injure any other limb. That was when I met Enrique (I think that was his name I could be wrong for he insisted calling me Surenka including that name in all my travel records). Probably the best Agency I have experienced anywhere in the world. His resources were limited but his focus and attention to my convenience unlimited. Let me try to put his contact here – Agencia de Viages Y Turismo, Av. Pachacutec Y Turismo N 313 and his Telephone 084-238742.
Patience, the first thing one needs to have in abundance. It took him over two hours to plan and book my travel. The planning was easy – I had lost a day and given the time there was no trekking to MachuPicchu. I had one day for Cusco, one for the Sacred Valley and one for MachuPicchu that was that. That took 10 minutes to figure out. The booking process was endless. It was mostly manual each part meticulously recorded on multiple copies and then some photocopies taken of the original of the multiple copies. With a flourish after almost two hours it was all over. I was ready to get out, not before a warning first day do not strain, relax get used to 12000 feet. Was I listening- I have done higher (painfully in my younger days – Kanchenjunga was a stretch, Dzongri was rough but then I was younger). Drink plenty Coca tea (unless you are planning a drug test) coca tea refreshes quickly all symptoms of thinning atmosphere and lack of oxygen. At the hotel, San Augusto De El Dorado I was asked to sit in the lobby as they prepared to check me in. Fresh cup of coca tea- and that was good awesome good and even though it was not a narcotic I wanted to ration my intake. That check in process was endless. After over 60 minutes with interim requests for passport, flight details I finally did get a room- almost 3 hours after landing into Cusco. This is where my life learned lessons of patience came so handy!
12000 feet was no cinch, I was breathing great and I stepped out to embrace the UNESCO heritage city of Cusco. Pictures – 4 albums on Cusco at surendra.smugmug.com View albums: Cusco Navel of the Incas; Cusco Navel of the Incas 2 ; Cusco Flaura Fauna People ; Cusco Flaura Fauna People 2
My hotel on Ave El Sol was walking distance from the Plaza de Armas, the historic center of Cusco. Plaza de Armas is laced with magnificent Cathedral Monasteries and Convents builts over Inca palaces and Temples. Funny though, the nuns lived in the Monastries and the monks lived in the Convent. I got some great shots of the Plaza and its near abouts during the day as well as at night. I also have one with a lit statue of Jesus up on a remote hill looking down on the city of Cusco. I took a picture of that statue during the day too. (Jesus on the Hill at Night ; Jesus on the Hill at Day time)
Warning! Cusco also is a city of stray dogs and my tripod gave me some confidence as I navigated narrow streets during the day and the night. By nighttime I was exhausted – age and 12000 feet of thin air was a heady cocktail and I staggered back to the hotel where a very helpful receptionist advised and arranged for a masseuse to come give me a massage with some coca tea supplement! That was probably the best advice. By the end of it all I was back but ready for bed as I had an early 6 am appointment for my tour of Cusco.
Cusco in and around were quite an experience. After a regular round of all Cathedrals, gold laced and awesome and Quoricancha – with beautiful paintings built over the Inca Sun Temple (When an earthquake struck the Spanish infrastructure crumbled the Inca infrastructure that the Convent was built on remained intact!). From there it was Sacsayhuaman (locals and tourists more apt to call it “sexy woman” —- Sacsayhuaman pictures on surendra.smugmug.com). Cusco originally was laid out like a Puma with Sacsayhuaman, which means festooned head, at the top of a hill was the head of the Puma. Fascinating to see how the Incas quarried and carried hundreds of tons weight of the rock to the top of that hill! This was also the place where the Pope came and gave a sermon. The rocks were joined to give an impression of people, animals and plants. (Go figure those rocks are at surendra.smugmug.com ). Next stop was Quenqo (Toad Rock Quenqo) a mysterious sanctuary with a representation of this world the “other world” and the world of the gods. The other world in a cave was a place for mummification as well as human sacrifice. A toad shape rock (surendra.smugmug.com ) represented this world. Next stop was Tambomachay a shrine dedicated to springs and water sources. At 14000 feet Tambomachay was awe-spiring, the gals selling corn and cheese added refreshment to an otherwise long day.
Back to Cusco, I stumbled upon Samir Sharma and his lovely bride who traveled over the world to settle down in Cusco. Samir was a Software engineer, his entrepreneurial itch drove him to Cusco where he built his first restaurant on Ave El Sol and a few steps away from the Plaza de Armas. Samir (E Mail firstname.lastname@example.org cell phone 51-943-753-602) and his lovely bride took great care of my food (after I had tried every Peruvian cuisine) including making a Dal Makhani with a local lentil and Parathas to boot! Samir should have opened his 3 Star hotel and added two additional Indian restaurants in Cusco. So to those who have asked me that question – Can I get “desi” food in Cusco the navel of the Incas 12,000 feet above Sea level. Yes, call Samir if you plan and feel homefoodsick.