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Bird perched upon the rocky shoreline
Bird perched upon the rocky shoreline
The plan for today was an 8-hour bus ride to Cusco featuring numerous stops along the way. Adventure Life again handled our transfer from hotel to bus terminal. We departed the hotel at 6:30 for 7 am departure on the Inka Express. This time we sat at the back of the bus with 5 seats across, the middle occupied by a young student named Sara who was traveling alone but meeting a friend in Cusco. We noted that the buses appeared to be 'open drug markets', as for whatever ailment a tourist described, another tourist would be quick to offer a pill, which was usually happily accepted!

First Stop: Pukara, a small village located on the pampas, was a small dusty village featuring a large Jesuit church built in the 1600's, small museum featuring pottery, textiles, and a mummy.

Second Stop: Les Desea/Feliz Viaje (the highest pass at 14,250). Approaching the pass, large herds of cattle were grazing in the grass-covered valleys. Numerous small villages, several with indoor soccer stadiums, were scattered along the paved highway. Pulling off the road, we were able to view the jagged peaks of the snow-capped Andean mountains. With low hanging clouds, it was noticeably cooler and windy.

Third Stop: In the larger village of Solaris located at 11,515 feet, we stopped for lunch at a local outdoor restaurant that appeared to be a popular tourist stop. Shaded by umbrellas, large tables were setup in a garden setting. Musicians played the traditional pipe music, along with the ubiquitous Simon and Garfunkel songs, while we indulged on a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, meats and desserts served buffet style.

Fourth Stop: The ruins of Raqchi near the small village of San Pedro, looked like a large aqueduct from the road. These ruins are the remains of the Temple of Viracocha, one of the holiest shrines in the Inca Empire. Twenty-two columns made of stone blocks helped support the largest-known Inca roof. Although the Spaniards destroyed most of the structures, the original foundations remain. Numerous remains of houses for nobility and storage buildings were also visible. Large agricultural areas surrounded the ruins.

Leaving the ruins at 2 pm, and continuing our gradual descent, the landscape gradually changed to wide lush agricultural valleys. Cattle and sheep were grazing while the farmers harvested wheat, corn, potatoes and beans. The Urubamba River (Sacred River) flowed through the valley. Gradually the valley narrowed and we began a step climb through hills covered with the bluish green foliage of the eucalyptus trees.

Fifth Stop: The small village of Anyahuaylillas is famous for its lavishly decorated Church that is beautiful with its baroque embellishments of ornate carving and silver and gold. The church was built in the 1600's on top of the Inca temple with indigenous workers painting the murals. During the 1700's when the Dominicans forced the Jesuits to leave, the Dominicans covered the murals with large painted canvases. The church features a large famous canvas of the Immaculate Conception, as well as the two canvases named the Stairway to Heaven and the Stairway to Hell. It is said that local villagers take turns guarding the treasures of gold and silver hidden within the church 24 hours a day.

At 5 pm we arrived at the bus station in Cusco where Teddy Romano, our new tour guide from Adventure Life, welcomed and escorted us to our hotel, the Casa Andina Koricancha. After showering and a brief rest, we walked to the center of Cusco and its beautiful Plaza de Armas. Deciding upon dinner at the Inka Grill that overlooked the Plaza, we enjoyed pisco sours and cerveza with our meal. I ate beef in elderberry wine sauce with potato strata and asparagus, while Dick ate Lomo Saltado. After exploring the plaza and surrounding streets, we walked back to the hotel at 10:15 pm.

Cradled by the southeastern Andean Mountains, Cusco lies at over 11,000 feet above sea level. The city maintains the look and feel of an Andean capital with its blend of pre-Columbian and colonial history as well as its contemporary mestizo culture. Not only being the Inca empire's holy city, it was also the epicenter of the Inca network of roads connecting all points in its empire. After an epic battle at Sacsayhuaman, the Spaniards razed most Inca buildings often rebuilding upon the original foundations. After a devastating earthquake in 1650, it became largely a baroque city with its colonial era and Renaissance churches and mansions.

The focal point of life in Cusco is the Plaza de Armas that is located in the center of the old city. Anchored by its large central fountain, the plaza is filled with benches, trees, flowers, peddlers selling their wares, tourists and locals. Porticoes lining the sidewalks surrounding the plaza are filled with shops and restaurants featuring carved wooden balconies. La Cathedral and the large Jesuit church are also located on the Plaza.

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