|Plaza de Armas, Cusco|
|Hotel Libertador. Si, por favor.|
|Homogeneous architecture, diverse pedestrians.|
Many of the colonial buildings are built on foundations of original Inca walls
|Spanish City Gate|
|moments on the streets of Cusco|
|Coffee break at Plaza de Armas|
|Handicraft gallery with masterfully camouflaged attendant|
|Inside Temple of the Sun complex - gold artifacts|
|Temple courtyard in its current form. Inside this colonial structure, original Inca walls still support the Spanish arcade.|
|The lightning rod design of Sacsayhuaman|
As you can see, there are some pretty impressive views opening up from this site towards the city. Cusco, in its entirety, is literally in the palm of your hand.
|A little reminiscent of Guanajuato :)|
History Lesson Break: Cusco was actually called Qosco in its native Quechua language, a word meaning something like "center" or "navel". It was renamed into Cusco because the Spanish couldn't pronounce it. For the record - and this was was new to me - the word "Inca" is used incorrectly as well by us foreign troglodytes. "Inca" was the term people used for "leader", sort of like "king" or "Caesar". The people themselves were called Quechua (KEH-chwa). At this point, there is, of course, no use in trying to correct the misunderstanding, but I thought it was an interesting tidbit, in any case.
The next morning, we boarded a bus bright and early for a 7 hour drive to Puno...
We did make a few interesting pit stops along the way, but yeah... it was a long ass bus ride.
|Bathroom break with a view. Somewhere between Cusco and Puno, at 14,000 feet.|
|Puno harbor, Lake Titicaca|
The Puno area is the cradle of Inca civilization; in their mythology, this is where life originated, and lake Titicaca is revered for its role as a life source. So, Puno, by association is a city rich in folklore and tradition, a small but flavorful place to visit.
Perhaps the biggest draw of the area are the Uros islands - over 40 artificial floating islands made of reeds, populated by the Aymara - an indigenous population that has lived in the area for over 2,000 years.
|The structures, as well as the islands themselves are made from totora reeds that grow in the shallows of the lake.|
|What's in a name?..|
|The welcome committee|
|Standing on reeds, with about 30 feet of freezing water just below.|
|Inside one of the reed homes|
|around the island|
|A shaman's tool? A midnight snack? A back scratcher? All of the above?|
|Me, my new friend Olga, Olga's house, and the solar panels she's very proud of. Solar panels are the only source of power on the reed islands, and used mostly for watching TV.|
|Taking in the view from the top of a reed boat.|
|The beautiful - and unusual vistas - of lake Titicaca, with totora reeds in the background.|
In the afternoon, we visited another Puno must-see: Sillustani tombs. These unique funerary towers were built by the Aymara people, and pre-date the Incas, although Incas also used this site following their conquest of the area in the 15th century.
|Sillustani funerary towers. The towers were designed to hold entire families, even "grave attendants" who were buried alive to follow their masters into the afterlife.|
|A chullpa at Sillustani|
|The location is very serene. Sillustani is located on a peninsula that juts out into the surrounding lake, with beautiful panoramic views in every direction.|
|The weather that day made the vistas especially spectacular.|
|Me, next to the biggest Starbucks cup in the world.|
|The lovely Yavari, framed by an even more lovely sunset.|
The next day we flew back to Lima, where we had but one afternoon to fit in some last minute adventures before it was time to head home. We decided to visit the district of Pueblo Libre, and specifically, the famous Larco Herrera Museum of pre-Columbian art and history.
|Facade of the Larco Herrera Museum|
The museum is housed in a 17th century mansion - home to the collector, Rafael Larco Herrera himself - that was built on top of an Incan pyramid (naturally, as seemingly all colonial buildings were). Herrera received a collection of pre-Incan vases as a gift, which sparked a collector's curiosity in him, and eventually ignited a lifelong passion for exploring and documenting pre-Columbian civilizations.
Despite being fairly compact, Larco houses a dizzying collection of artifacts. There are pieces here dating from 4,000 BC, and all the way up to the day the conquistadors arrived, without knocking, at the gates of Cusco.
What dawned on me very quickly after I started to explore the collections, is that pre-Incan civilizations are kind of a vague concept to the world at large. There's a good reason for this, of course. When the Spanish conquistadors returned to Europe with tales of the Incas - who were thriving at the time - it captured and held the Old World's imagination. Just imagine it - to 16th century Europeans, discovering these vibrant societies must have been akin to us running into space aliens. I can only imagine the wonder, bafflement, and terror with which conquistadors beheld the Incas - their gilded bodies, serpent gods and human sacrifice. What reason or incentive was there to even consider what came before? Besides, they had their hands full raping, pillaging and demolishing, none of which the Incas took lying down.
So, the pre-Incan civilizations remain largely unknown. Which is why a museum like Larco can be such an eye opener. Here, you can learn that Peru is one of only 5 locations on the globe where civilization developed independently. Hunting tools dating back 11,000 years have been found in caves around the country! Long before the Incas started raising their dazzling gold pyramids to the sky, a veritable carousel of cultures flourished here: Norte Chico and Kotosh, Chavin, Paracas, Nazca and Moche, Wari,Tiwanaku and Lambayeque, Aymara, Chimu and Chincha... Each with its own beliefs and traditions, its own unique systems of building, story telling, and artistic expression, creating things like this:
And even this (the saucy minxes):
But.. thanks to a quirk of history, most of their story remains shrouded in shadow.
We spent a good few hours at the museum, there was a lot to see and learn. It was a great wrap up to our trip, especially since we finally got to see the contents of all those magnificent ruins we visited, all the barren cities and vacant temples and hollow tombs; empty vessels stripped of their treasures. It's good to know that most of these treasures are not lost to history, but sit safely on the shelves of museums like the Larco, waiting to be discovered.
|The backroom: Larco's storage facility is open to the public. The collection is so vast that only a small fraction can be displayed, while thousands upon thousands of items sit in storage.|
Just before calling it a night we took our last insane cab ride (a Lima specialty) to Parque de la Reserva to catch the fountain show.
I read somewhere that if Peru didn't exist, guidebooks would have to invent it. There's really a little bit of everything here - from trashy beaches and dashboard Madonnas of Lima, to lush jungle, from ancient cities tucked into a foggy mountain side to arid deserts with their mysterious Nazca lines. We only had a little over a week, and certainly saw a lot, but it feels like barely a taste when you consider how much Peru has to offer. Due to the political instability that plagued the country up until the 90s, it remained relatively free of outside influence in the late 20th century, so it still exudes a hint of its unique flavor, though of course it's fading quickly with its increasing popularity and the march of globalization.
Now is a good time to go, if you like your travels with a side of character and eccentricity. So, pack some Acetazolamide, pop an Inca Kola, hop into a Lima cab (and cross yourself), and see what Peru has to offer.