Peru, April 27, 2013: Cusco and The Sacred Valley
Rays of sun greeted us through our hotel window this morning for what would begin our first whole day in Cusco. We had arrived early the day before after a red-eye flight from Boston. Both Danny and I were a bit foggy after the trip, which included stops in Miami and Lima, and although we mustered the energy to walk around the city some, we were certainly not at our peak. Despite a mid-afternoon nap, the lights in our lovely Casa Andina hotel in the San Blas neighborhood of Cusco were out before 10:00pm.
Today was a new day, though, and feeling rejuvenated from a good night’s sleep, we set out early to take in our surroundings.
Traveling to Peru to conquer the Inca Trail and see Machu Picchu had been on my bucket list for years. Peru, along with South Africa and Australia, was one of my dream trips, and earlier this year my boyfriend Danny and I decided to make it happen. We researched trekking agencies and settled on one called Enigma, which according to our guide book – a 2011 edition of “Cusco & Machu Picchu” from Moon Handbooks — was one of the newer agencies. It also provided gourmet meals, which, while not an essential for hiking the trail, did catch our eyes. The trek was not set to start until April 29, but as advised by our guides, we’d arrived in Cusco a few days early to acclimatize to the altitude.
Today we had signed up for a half-day tour of the Sacred Valley, a fertile area once farmed by the Incas that remains a big producer of grains and vegetables to this day. We were made aware of the tour by a promoter who had greeted us in the hotel when we arrived the morning before. At the time we had assumed he was affiliated with the hotel, given how he lingered in the lobby and freely approached guests. As it turns out, that was not the case. He was simply trolling hotel lobbies in an effort to attract tourists. Slightly dubious, but we wanted to see the Sacred Valley – billed as a must-see site in Peru – and the price was right.
The day ended up being quite enjoyable. The same tour recruiter who initially sold us met us at our hotel to escort us to the start site in a teeny tiny Cusco taxi (Danny looked comical with his knees squished up to his chin in the back seat). We met up with a small crowd of tourists, presumably plucked from other hotels in the area, who were milling around a couple of busses in La Plaza de Armas. Shortly after arrival, we boarded one of the busses and headed out, through the neighborhoods on the hills that surrounded Cusco. The tour included three stops: a textile center, where women in traditional Peruvian dress demonstrated the process of weaving goods with Alpaca and Sheep wool; Moray, a set of agricultural ruins that formed cylindrical depressions in the earth; and salt mines, which produce “Peruvian Pink Salt.” The half day of touring set us back an easy $17 USD each – not bad for a packed morning of activity.
Back in Cusco, we wandered up to Plaza de las Nazarenas, a smaller plaza located just up the road from the La Plaza de Armas, in search of lunch. There we found a small café called Mama Oil, where we each ordered a sandwich and shared some tasty guacamole that ranked high on the limey scale (a good thing) and was filled with tiny chunks of tasty cheese – an addition I never would have thought of, but one that I welcomed.
Following lunch and a quick pit stop at the hotel we wandered down to El Mercado San Pedro for a bit of shopping. It wasn’t quite what we were expecting. I had envisioned artisans, but the market was primarily food stalls. We took our time wandering back toward the hotel, stopping into a couple of shops along the way. Danny picked up a water bottle for the trek, and I bought some postcard prints of paintings in a little shop. Turns out the shop owner was the artist who created the paintings, which I thought was cool.
For dinner we headed to a place called Pachapapa, opposite La Iglesia San Blas, not far from our hotel. To start, Danny and I shared a bowl of a traditional Quinoa Soup, which was quite good, and then I moved on to a tasty pork dish. All in all it had been a good day. We saw a lot, and we were very active, which explains why we were back in bed with the lights out just shy of 10:00pm.