Significant sites outside of Cusco
Peru: Sacred Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
The first stop today was at Sacsawayman. Much of the site is off-limits due to preservation, exploration, and repairs. But what we could see was unbelievable. The site sits about 1,000 feet above Cusco and is believed to be an old fortress or temple. Llamas and alpacas roam freely across the wide open area between what was some sort of pyramid type site and the large stone walls. The walls consist of stones that were easily 10 feet tall with some weighing over 90 tons. Similar to the Inca sites of the day before, you still can't pass a piece of paper between the edges of the stones. We also saw how the people who placed the stones did so in such a way that the stones formed figures in some spots. For instance, in one are you could see what looked like a puma paw and a sitting llama.
At an overlook where we could climb onto the walls, we encountered a group of Peruvian children. The giveaway was the hat and dress of one of the mothers with the group. I noticed she was carrying a bag of potatoes that Vidal explained was probably a snack.
Our next stop was Tambochay - a site where the remains included an active aqueduct. Despite the gradual paved incline to the site, we still had to go slowly or we would get winded. From an elevated altar opposite the temple we could look up the mountain to see where terraces would be fed by the mountain spring and looked down the mountain to another temple.
While many of the sites we visited were no longer complete, Vidal explained that much of the stone at the main Sacsawayman site is believed to have been transported down to Cusco to rebuild temples and walls as the city grew and expanded.
From the temple with the aqueduct we moved to another site that was previously set up with aqueducts and pools of water. A large featureless carving in front of a white stone wall is believed to cast a shadow of a puma during certain times of the year. Behind the wall where the shadow would be cast was a ceremonial area with altars and thrones and cutouts where mummies could be displayed. The mummies were likely stored in niches and coves carved into the stone walls in a cave to protect them from the sun and water.
After leaving the site, our driver dropped us off just outside of Cusco so we could take one of the original Inca stone walking paths into the city. We wound through the neighborhoods and stopped in San Blas to get lunch at a cute restaurant Vidal recommended (he was a great source of good local restaurants throughout the trip). The San Blas area is known as a neighborhood for artists and there are a lot of cute little shops and restaurants. I was amazed at how many dogs were in the streets and slept outside of doorways. We learned that dogs do not normally sleep inside Peruvian homes but are outside dogs who guard the house. They seemed very well-fed and happy. Nate and I were surprised at how they look both ways to cross the street (very street smart).
We ended our afternoon with a visit to the newly opened museum dedicated to Machu Picchu artifacts (supported by the Peruvian government and Yale University). It was very well done and included original correspondence from Hiram Bingham and pictures of the local boy who led him to the site.
Nate and I ended our day with dinner at a great Peruvian restaurant in San Blas, where I tried alpaca for the first time. This was our last night in Cusco prior to heading to the Inca trail via the Sacred Valley.