The next morning after breakfast, we drove to the bus station and said goodbye to our good friend Carlos. A special bond is formed between a good guide in a far-away land and it is always sad to realize that you will likely never see each other again. We then boarded our first tour bus of the trip for our journey to Cusco. This marked the half point in our trip and the beginning or our travels through the Inca Heartland.
As we caught our first glance at the Urabamba river, we were told about the importance of this sacred river and the key role it played in the growth of the Inca Empire as it spread from Cusco into the Sacred Valley. Not only did it hold religious significance but it also served as an important source of irrigation water for the rich farmland throughout the valley. The bus stopped at an overlook for pictures of spectacular mountain peaks covered with glaciers. The lighting was spectacular and golden fields of dry grass rolled into the tall mountains which took on a purple hue.
During our next stop, we encountered our first Inca ruins at the famous site called Raqchi. We were able to walk through the grounds and first viewed the remains of a large temple. Everything I have read about Inca stone work is true. The large stones forming the base of the temple walls are perfectly carved and each stone fits together tightly with its neighbor like a jigsaw puzzle. One could sit for hours pondering how this could be accomplished with such primitive tools. Even more amazing were the rows of large circular grain storage facilities. This experience wet our appetites for things to come later in the week.
All of the hotels where we stayed during our trip were fantastic. However, when planning our trip, I decided to mark the halfway point of our trip by upgrading our hotel in Cusco. We were to stay here a total of three nights and I thought it would be a nice treat for everyone. The Casa Cartagena is a beautiful boutique hotel in the heart of the historic district of Cusco. The rooms are luxurious and surround a lovely courtyard. The style of the hotel blends modern with traditional. The hotel is within walking distance of the main plaza as well as great shops and top restaurants.
We had a chance to meet Santiago, our second guide for the trip who would accompany us into the Sacred Valley. He lives in Cusco and is extremely knowledgeable in all things Inca. Santiago outlined our plans for the next few days and recommended that we try a crazy restaurant within walking distance of the hotel called “The Fallen Angel”. He wouldn’t be specific but laughed and said we would find it interesting. He was right! The interior of the restaurant reminded me of the Salvador Dali museum in Spain. Our table consisted of an old porcelain bathtub which had been converted into a fish aquarium with a glass table top. Dangling from the ceiling were pudgy winged angels and pigs. Strange statues and bizarre paintings were everywhere. The food was wonderful.