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Cusco |

Leaving the Chile which has the strongest economy in South America to travel to Peru, we knew that we would be in for a whole new experience.

We started our introduction in Cusco which most people would have heard about it as being the starting point for the Inca Trail. Well, this is true but its so much more. What a beautiful city! The main square has a fountain surrounded a beautiful garden and enclosed by wonderful arched buildings and cathedrals. Really pretty!

We stayed with a family home this time for a change. Real traditional feel to it which opens onto a courtyard that seems to be governed by a parrot. . . .

On exploration of the city we found out that we were on one of the main shopping streets so that will explain why it took 2 and a half hours to reach the square which should usually take 10 minutes. Wonderful textiles, wood carvings and jewellery in old Inca and Colonial (Spanish) buildings. Heaven and torture at the same time as we have no room for all these wonderful items before us! Eimear definitely has mastered the bargaining let me tell you.

Cusco is so relaxing and is tourist friendly while at the same time maintaining its authenticity. Its no wonder that it was awarded an Unesco award in the 80's. We just had to take a tour of the city and its surroundings not only to get a proper feel for the place but also to get away from all the markets....

Almost every street has remains of inca walls, arches and doorways. The stonework is unique in that it is tapered upwards, with each wall having a perfect line of inclination towards the centre from bottom to top. This is not surprising since it was the centre of the Inca empire which is one of the greatest planned societies the world has known from its rise during the 11th century to its death in the early 16th century. In their most treasured of buildings, mortar wasn't used. Each stone carefully carved so that a lock key system could be used and L shaped rocks used only at corners. Really amazing.

The Quechua tribe here in the Cusco area are descendants of the Inca empire. They dress traditionally and some don't speak spanish when I sat beside one of the older women on a local bus the other day. I was wondering had my spanish taken a serious dive when she didn't seem to understand me. Instead it wasn't my spanish but that she only spoke Quechan.

We then decided to immerse ourselves in some culture and went to a Quechuan traditional dance night. Not the best traditional show I've been to as the dance steps didn't seem to vary much. The costumes were interesting to admire though. The women are dressed in the most unattractive manner. Two long plaits of black hair down to their waist and joined at this point to form a 'u'. They then wear the fullest unattractive skirts to below their knees with no figures showing. I must compliment them though on the bright colours that they wear. A little like the tribes I saw in Laos and Vietnam. They all have really bad teeth and look far older than expected. Really wrinkly complexions. Its a good advert for me to wear moisturiser and lots of sun block!!

We went on a local bus to Pisac which is a town in the Sacred Valley surrounding Cusco. What a fab market. Huge. Lots of locals buying fresh veg and fruit. The butchers was classical. Just had to take a photo. The scenery was fab on the way.

The locals seem to live in mud huts. Mud is mixed with straw to form a block and then is dried in the sun. They just block the windows with loose blocks when cold to keep themselves warm. Lots of llamas running around. They also grow corn and potatos. There are supposedly 5000 different types of potatoes in Peru, 500 types alone in Cusco. I don't think I'll manage to get through all those types. Quinoa is quite a popular ingredient in most dishes.

Lots of women working in the fields and carrying wood. Young boys pulling carts up hills. Mad existence. The majority of the agricultural land is on terraces reclaimed from the Andes Mountains. Small patches really. They remind me of the rice paddy fields in Indonesia.

Well, we spent 2 and a half days in Cusco before starting the Inca trail as it is recommended to spend this time acclimatising to the altitude. Cusco is 3200m above sea level. You would definitely notice it when climbing a hill in the city. Usually you would be fine but here initially it was as if your heart was coming out of your chest. We drank lots of coca tea to help us adjust. The local cure for altitude sickness. On the Inca trail we ended up rolling about 15 leaves at a time and chewing them if a slight headache developed. The closest I will ever get to eating silage I think. . . . A great place to prepare us for the Inca trail!

Locations Visited: Cusco, Pisac

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