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Cusco and Environs

Qenco with an altar lurking beneath the rocks
Qenco with an altar lurking beneath the rocks
The highlight of breakfast were thin, shriveled, bright pink sausages (I think) that no one was brave enough to try. They were accompanied by the same spread as the day before, although a few new and interesting fruits were added. Our favorite find was one that was white with big black seeds and tasted like a mix between a banana and a pineapple. Over breakfast we accessed the casualties from the night before. My room had come out unscathed but my father had been attacked by altitude sickness and my sister had succumbed to the mighty traveler's diarrhea. (This is still a point of contention, however, as Carrie has a infamously weak stomach and E. coli for traveler's diarrhea takes at least 24-48 hours to incubate.) Carrie was feeling a little better after a late-night cipro but my dad was still on a strict bland food and water diet. Little did we know the worst was yet to come.

Wounded but not slain, we soldiered on and caught two taxis that brought us to the outskirts of Cusco to Qenco. Quite frankly, this site looked a lot like a pile of rocks. Teddy expanded on the significance of the site to the Inca and led us down and under it to a tucked away altar. It was cool and dark and suitably spooky. From here we walked up a dirt path towards Sacsayhuaman, passing on our way the Last Inca King (willing to pose for a picture for one sole) and a baby alpaca who managed to land a loogie on Teddy.

Sacsayhuaman (or as Teddy reminded us "sexy woman") was a large, two tiered site. The upper tier had a massive open oval surrounded by small stones, thought to have been a reservoir. There were some large stones scattered through the site with niches (perfect for sitting in) that had probably been altars. The impressiveness of this site resided in the lower tier. It boasted Cyclopian architecture; read really really big stones. It looked pretty cool from above but it was awesome to be standing beneath one of these massive stones. These were not roughly hewed boulders, though. They were incredibly graceful and perfectly aligned with their neighbors. Apparently the Inca used sand and gently rocked the stones back and forth, creating friction so the stones would interlock seamlessly. The site was also special for its historic significance. Legend has it that Cusco was laid out to represent a puma and Sacsayhuaman was the head. It had also been the first place the Spanish found in their hike from the coast. Ultimately, it was the hideout for the last Inca, Manco Inca, in the final siege of Cusco. This was the inspiration for the Cusco seal; the three castles represent the three walls of Sacsayhuaman and the vultures represent the birds feasting on the flesh of the slain Inca.

Speaking of food, from Sacsayhuaman we walked downhill to Cusco center and followed Teddy out to a huge, covered market. The market was full of stalls selling a range of products from fruit smoothies to nuts, bread, corn, potatoes and termites. By far our favorite section was the offal aisles, hawking such attractive wares as testicles, pig and cattle heads and chicken feet. While Teddy tried to convince us this would make up our lunch, we smiled and nodded and tried to avoid looking at the multitude of flies and dirty dogs that were sniffing around the place.

From the head to the heart, our next stop had at one point been the center of the Inca empire. We went to Koricancha, the sun temple, which had been converted to a monastery by the Spanish, probably because the walls were so well made they couldn't knock them down. Supposedly covered in gold in the time of the Inca, this ring of temples boasted the same attention to detail as Sacsayhuaman. The stark, grey stones served as a reminder of the atrocities the Spanish had inflicted on the Quechua. The monastery walls cobbled above and around the temple stones didn't begin to compare to the masterful Inca masonry.

Lunch was another deja vu experience but considering the quality of the food I wasn't complaining. By this point in the day Dad was positively white and beginning to flag. He opted for some soup and continued to take in lots of water. The rest of us were doing well and were impressed with what Cusco had to offer. After lunch we sent Carrie and Dad home for a little R and R and set out on our own to explore. We managed to find the 12 sided stone, representing the different facets of the Inca empire. When I say "we" I mean mom and I walked right by the brightly colored Last Inca King who was posing next to the stone and had to be beckoned back by the more vigilant Kevin and Brian.

After another nap and a round of postcards, we went to Limo for dinner. It boasted a two-pronged menu of Cuscan favorites and sushi. None of us trusted our stomachs to weather a round of raw fish so we stuck to the traditional. Dad was feeling a bit better and we were all looking forward to getting out of the city and starting our real adventure.

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