Flying into Cusco (Peru :)), you know your landing is going to be a little tricky because the air is thin at 11,000 feet. As you approach the city, you see that there isn’t much room for error because you will be landing in a small valley surrounded by mountains, and the landing strip is flanked by 3 and 4 story apartment buildings. A modified helicopter landing! You land safely and wonder how this isolated place could have been the the center of an empire.
Here’s the short version — between 1438 and 1533, the Incas governed 10 million people speaking 30 languages from this hidden spot in the Andes. The empire spanned 3400 miles north to south, from Ecuador to Chile. The Inca were accomplished engineers and accountants with a strong system of governance. They had a strong connection to nature and a lot of gold (tears of the sun)and silver (tears of the moon). Then the Spaniards came and destroyed the empire.
Cusco is no longer a place of power but a place of charm. Cobblestone streets wind up and down the hillsides. Music. Craft shops. Red tile roofs. Amerindians in traditional dress amble through the streets with lambs and llamas. It’s a hippie paradise, with vegan restaurants and hostels but also plenty of boutique hotels. We have spent a lot of time just walking and, er, gawking.
Last night, we took a cooking class. We met our chef, Chris, at the San Pedro market, a giant complex designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel. Chris gave us a tour of the market, where vendors sell every imaginable food as well as crafts and housewares.
After the market, we walked to Chris’ kitchen, where he first taught us how to make the national cocktail, pisco sours, which made us very agreeable sous chefs. For dinner, we cooked a variety of “updated” Peruvian dishes, including mushroom quinoa risotto and a dessert of Peruvian fruits with names you don’t know, topped with candied almonds.
Today I got to ride through the Cusco countryside to the ruins of 5 Inca complexes. The landscape was breathtaking — green hills and small villages overlooking high valleys. My horse, Apu, (spirit of the moon) was a Peruvian Paso, a breed that is famous for flashy and very smooth gaits. Riding Apu was so comfortable! You can see examples of how the breed moves here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aO_ODNUFRBU
My horseback riding tour guide, Gabriel “born-on-a-horse,” is a passionate historian and loved sharing his knowledge of the Incas as we traveled from one site to the next. He told me why Cusco was the center of the Inca universe. Basically, it is the Incan equivalent of a vortex — a place the gods designated as magical. I believe it! There is something here that is so special.
Something special for everyone….