Viva la Peru

Trip Start Dec 22, 2012
Trip End Aug 01, 2013

Flag of Peru  ,
Sunday, December 23, 2012

Coming in on the plane from Lima was quite the experience. Even at full elevation it didn't feel like we were that far from the ground. As we began our descent the pilot had to navigate between mountains, turning the plane so you would see only sky or only mountains. It got to the point that when I was taking pictures out of the window it looked like they were taken from level ground. Landing at around 11000 feet above sea level, I was higher than I'd ever been. Yes, even higher than that one time in Denver. When I was enjoying copious amounts of white powder. Skiing. 
 We arrived at the hotel to abodes straight out of Eurotrip a la Bratislava. "Gotta love that exchange rate" was all I was thinking. Gian introduced himself as our personal butler and took us on a tour of our room that was a mix of Incan and Spanish architecture that had been modernized with technology. Pictures tell a better story than I can. From there we met our tour guide Elga. She is mestisto, a mix between Inca and Spanish, as are nearly 70% of people in Cusco. She took us first on a tour through the well adorned and balconied streets of Cusco, your classic, "On your left you'll see..." type deal. Then the bus, driven by the sure handed Carmelo, began to climb up one of the mountains to the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, pronounced almost like 'sexy woman' for anyone not talented as I in the Quechua tongue. 
 Now lemme tell you, I've seen some rocks in my day, rocks in the foundation of the Temple in Jerusalem that were the size of a school bus and rocks in caves that seemed to be covered in gold, even rocks that seemed painted by Edvard Munch, but I've never seen rocks like these. To put it in perspective, the Incas did not have the wheel, or beasts of burden, or steel, or iron, or written language for directions, or flat ground. They dragged rocks weighing up to 200 000 pounds up a mountain with ropes, felled trees, and a whole lotta tugging. Without tools like a hammer and chisel they were able to fit these gargantuan rocks so tightly together that the tiniest of spiders had a hard time finding a nook to escape from the sun. The sun was actually out, which apparently doesn't happen all that much especially for an entire day but, we lucked out. The ruins were enormous, spanning thousands of hectares, all built by hand. Unfortunately the Spanish arrived in 1532 and used what was once the holiest place in the heart of the Incan Empire as a quarry for their Catholic churches. And once that started the locals started doing the same; destroying their own temple was better than seeing the enemy enjoy its riches. Now all that remains are the foundations of what once was a spectacular 'construction' as Elga called it. The structure was so large that when the Spanish arrived they couldn't believe it was a holy place, took it for a fortress, and attacked it. We also got a view of the valley within which Cusco rests and the 'Viva la Peru' carved into the mountain. A blaring white super tall statue Jesus also did its best Christ the Redeemer impression as it watched over the cobbled streets of Cusco. There was much more to see like the intact system of water reservoirs that the Spanish were so bewildered by that they thought the devil himself built them. Many of them were destroyed for that reason but some were left untouched and continue to function as they did five hundred years ago. 
After an hour or two at the former temple, Carmelo drove us down the lanes back to the city centre to the Santo Domingo Church. It was also a former Inca structure that was taken by the Spanish and Iberianized. They noticed that the Inca foundations were far better than their own. The Incas devised a way to build their foundations to withstand an earthquake. When the earthquake of 1650 tore apart terracota roofs and toppled stucco walls, the tight fitting trapezoidal stones of the Incas remained and still do to this day. It was these foundations that the Spanish built Santo Domingo and countless other buildings upon. Into the temple and behind the sun kissed arches that lined the Spanish style courtyard were mural-esque Catholic paintings, all but indistinguishable from the European masters, though they were painted by Incan artists and framed with stolen gold. The temple was a jambalaya of juxtaposition and was surrounded by well kept gardens. As we are a few short days away from Christmas, Cusco was littered with nativity scenes and the scene outside Santo Domingo was the most ambitious. There stood a seven foot tall paper mache South American looking Virgin Mary holding a whicker basket full of god's DNA beside her seven and a half foot tall pet paper mache llama. Yes, for those of you who don't know Jesus grew up with a pet llama named Tina. I thought this was a little strange but after seeing a five foot Santa doll playing a fake saxophone in a garden full of cactuses, well I guess Christmas doesn't always have two baby polar bears sliding down a hill to be met with a cola bearing St. Nick, not that that makes any more sense but I guess we both just make it up as we go. Again Carmelo took command, zig and zagged, weaved and darted through traffic and took us to the key Plaza in Cusco.
The Plaza de Armas was busy for a sunday, so I was told, and we walked into the Cusco Cathedral as the sun was setting. They had a strict no camera policy but if they took all the gold off the alters, and gates, and painting frames, and everything else they could probably get started on that lost city of gold everyone's been talking about. There was a lot of gold and silver. Again the paintings were done almost exclusively by Inca converts and one was a floor to ceiling (about 80 feet) rendition of Da Vinci's Last Supper, except Jesus' plate wasn't empty. A scrawny guinea pig was splayed on its back for all the apostles to enjoy. Also, he made Judas look like a Moor to satisfy the Spaniards. 
 The cathedral took over 100 years to build as five architects wrestled over the plans, sometimes posthumously - hardly a fair fight. The result was a cathedral with influences from around the Old World and the New. It was a massively impressive structure, its roofs a series of domes supported by arches, supported by columns thick as redwoods that led to it gaining the reputation as the safest building from earthquakes in Cusco. I would like to see what the Incas would say to that as they figured out how to build on fault lines far before Europeans did. 
From there we went back to our hotel where I was greeting by a crushing loss in the finals of fantasy football. Goddamn Seahawks/Marshawn Lynch. But after a long day and round one in fighting altitude sickness over, some downtime was much needed. After an hour or two we headed over to a Tapas bar that mixed Spanish and Peruvian food in an all red room with waiters wearing all red shirts. The food was delicious and at about the start of the main course lightning began to shock its way through the sky. The flashes grew brighter and closer through our downhill window view of the night sky. Then came the rain and this was some rain that Forrest Gump himself would have trouble describing. I wouldn't have called it upside down rain, or sideways rain, and I'd never go so far as to call it big ole fat rain. It was more like one of those showers that shoots water from every direction at once except the shower was a half a million person city. Tomorrow we go off to Machu Pichu to see the mysterious mountain citadel of the Incas on Orient Express. And so ends day 1.
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