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Inca encounters

This morning was a little more relaxed, since Vidal, our guide, was not meeting us until 9 AM. We showered and had breakfast, watching a parrot in the courtyard while eating. Almost by chance we climbed to the second floor of the inn and realized that we had a great view of the town, including the cathedrals in the main plaza.

Vidal whistled down a taxi; almost anyone who owns a car in Cuzco will use it to provide taxi service, all you need is a driver's license. For 6 soles (less than two dollars) the driver took us out of town to the Inca ruin of Sacsayhuaman. It's a huge ruin in a gorgeous setting with the what was once a man-made lake (now dry) underground passages, and natural rock slides. There is a zigzag line of Inca stonework variously attributed to be either a fortress or a religious construction. Items symbolizing the puma are often found.

We saw several local people enjoying the area, including some families and some school groups. After enjoying a long walk around the ruins, we continued downhill toward town and noticed narrow streets lined with buildings constructed on Inca walls. Most of the city now has a Spanish colonial feeling, but traces of the Inca past are easily found. For example, we toured the church of Santo Domingo, focusing on the archaeological museum inside containing old Inca buildings on and around which the church was built and which were the only parts of the church undamaged in a 1950 earthquake.

We took a leisurely walk back to the plaza, and then stopped to have lunch in a restaurant on the second floor of a building on the plaza. It had a great view of the cathedrals.

We received the two spare duffel bags that the Adventure Life Company provided for us. We are to put in those duffels the items that are going on the Inca trail with us. Anything we don't need for the trail will stay in our own duffel bags, which will be left at the hotel in Cuzco. We stopped at a small store and bought some plastic garbage bags so we can put our belongings in them inside the Inca trail duffel. It rains fairly often on the trail and the plastic bags will help to keep our things dry as the porters carry them.

We all met in the plaza and toured La Catedral, Cuzco's main church. The gold leaf and silver altars were totally over-the-top ostentatious. We saw religious paintings from the Cusqueno School, including one of the Last Supper where the main dish was baked guinea pig.

After this tour of the cathedral we walked to the San Pedro market area. Here you can find things like clothing, souvenirs, fruit, nuts, whole pig’s heads, chicken feet, sheep's stomach, and other fresh meat, all completely unrefrigerated. One section of the market is called the Witch’s Market where they sell things like condor feathers, powders, and dried llama fetuses to be used as gifts to Pachamama, as well as in love potions and other spells.

In the more conventional portion of the market I bought a plastic bag for one sol (about $.30) to carry home the things that we buy here. I enjoy having interaction with the local people and at the end of our transaction the older man selling the bags said that I was “muy amable” meaning very agreeable. I am pleased that my fractured Spanish allows some communication.

Next we went to the San Blas area of the city, newly gentrified and an artistic district. We watched a local craftsmen put bronze leaf on a wooden frame.

We stopped back at the hotel before dinner, which we ate in a nice local place. Bob ate hot peppers stuffed with meat, vegetables, and some cheese. I had a rice dish. The topper was Steve, who ordered the baked guinea pig. It came out completely identifiable, with its four stubby legs sticking in the air and worst of all the head was complete with eyes, ears, and teeth in a crackling skin covered with barbecue sauce. It was obviously very hard work for Steve to get at the meager meat (kind of like eating a whole lobster) and at one point, just like high school biology, we found something that looked like the liver. After the meal Vidal picked up the head, faced it toward us like a puppet and started talking in a high, squeaky voice! Bob and I both had a taste of the guinea pig and it had a strong flavor, although I don't know if that was the meat itself or the spices.

After dinner we did a little shopping, including spending three dollars each for two sturdy rain ponchos that were recommended for the Inca trail, then went home and to bed.

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