Monday, 15 December 2014

Exploring Cusco

We didn't spend long in Cusco, the former Inca capital, so did not have the time to experience the amazing nightlife that my friends (who had gone a few weeks before) had raved about, but we did manage to have enough time to get in a bit of culture and have a whistlestop tour of the beautiful city.

View from our bedroom window

Having previously been warned to take precautions because of the altitude, we made sure to take altitude sickness tablets before we went, and also rested for a little while before exploring the place. However, at 3,400 m, we still weren't reacting too well to being there, despite the pills and copious amounts of coca tea, the ubiquitous drink that you just can't escape from in Cusco - it apparently holds the secret to health in the highlands.

Coca tea

The coca tea is an acquired taste but I did get to quite like it. Although I came across some teabags, most of the time it is given in the form of leaves, to which boiling water is added, and then VOILA! - leaf-tasting water. The leaves come from the coca plant that grows abundantly in the Peruvian jungle, the plant from which is produced the dangerous drug, cocaine. However, don't be afraid of this little leaf - in its original form it is harmless, and actually very healthy.

Cusco itself is absolutely breathtaking and is full of charming little streets, elegant-looking buildings, and impressive churches that date back to the Spanish colonial era. The exploration had to be slow, however; the air is thin, and I found myself feeling faint whenever I tried to run or walk too fast, sometimes having to sit down on the ground until my equilibrium was restored.

The city was originally built by the Incas and has a unique shape - the layout actually takes the form of a puma. However, much of the original Inca architecture was destroyed by the Spanish invaders, and the architectural glories that exist to this day were built on the remains of the Inca temples by the Spanish in an attempt to quash the Andean culture. However, this wasn't completely successful and so nowadays the city is a fascinating mix of the remains of the Inca empire and its traditions and the relatively more modern Spanish influences.

 Many of the locals know exactly how to draw in the tourists

Unfortunately, because of the tourist pull (mainly due to the fact the city has exclusive access to Machu Picchu), Cusco is more expensive compared to other places in Peru, and so a shoestring budget will have to be put on hold. However, it is a must-see for those travelling to this country, and is chock-full of beauty, history, and tradition. I just wish I had spent more time there.

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