Saturday, February 23, 2002
We had told Norka we'd try to make some decisions tonight and we'd meet her at Gregory Tours at 10:00 a.m. As we were leaving our room, we spied Hector waiting for us downstairs. Now he was going to try to get a commission from the tour agency as well. We weren't having it, and Tom chased him away. When we arrived at the Plaza de Armas, we saw Sonia, Norka's co-worker who we had also met yesterday, who was evidently waiting for us. That's okay. At least she didn't show up at our hotel trying to stalk us. She walked us over to the tour agency through the crazy traffic.
The first thing we did when we got there was tell them "no mas Hector." I hope we've seen the last of him. His following us around is giving us the creeps. We booked three tours with Norka, the City Tour for this afternoon, the Sacred Valley Tour for tomorrow, and a tour to Machu Picchu for Tuesday. We don't normally do a lot of tours, but by this point in our trip we were getting a little tired of figuring stuff out on our own, so we thought what the heck.
La Vista desde Nuestra Ventana
The bus picked us up shortly after 1:30 at our hotel and we met our English-speaking guide, Herbert. Herbert rules. He's been to the United States several times and his daughter is married to an American, so he loves the U.S. He spoke not just English, but American English. He even gave out measurements in pounds and feet rather than kilos and meters, much to the chagrin of the Europeans on our tour. Ha!
First stop, Qorikancha and Iglesia de Santo Domingo. Franciscan monks built their monastery here on top of what had been an Inka temple. They left the small Inka temples to use as cells for the monks. The Inkas had in turn built their temple on the ruins of a previous civilization, so I don't feel too sorry for them. The architecture was extremely interesting. It looked like Bath, England, except for the small Inka temples, which looked very Egyptian.
Las Ruinas Inkas dentro de Qorikancha
Next we went to La Catedral. In 1996 the cathedral sustained major damage from an earthquake. Restoration is ongoing and funded by the Cusco Brewery. Herbert tells us that Jesus is the patron saint of Cusco. Why would anyone pick a different patron saint? The carvings in the cathedral were done by local artisans and are extremely intricate. I was surprised to find that this church was as gaudy as anything I've seen in Europe. One altar alone required 94 years to construct and contains two tons of silver.
The tour then proceeded to Sacsayhuaman (pronounced "sexy woman"). Sacsayhuaman is the most impressive ruin we've seen on the trip so far. It was built in the 11th century, and was used in the 1500's by the Inkas as a fortress from which to attack Cusco and win it back from the Spanish. Many historians believe that the loss of Sacsayhuaman to the Spanish solidified the Spaniards' conquest and sealed the fate of the Inka empire. As impressive as this large ruin is, it would be much more so if it had not been used as a municipal stone quarry until 1935. What remains are the massive stones that were too large to be carried off.
We then drove on to Qenco, a large limestone outcropping the Inkas altered for religious purposes, probably to serve as a shrine. The large rock in the center of the auditorium that was once probably carved in the shape of something wasn't too exciting. Since it's made of limestone, obviously it no longer holds that shape. The guide thinks it's shaped like a puma, but people in Cusco think everything is shaped like a puma. There's also a subterranean chamber on the site containing a pre-Inka altar used for sacrifices - llama, not human!
The next and last place of note on the tour was Tambomachay. Herbert described it as the Inka Camp David, a rest and relaxation spa for the Inka emperors. He pointed out the fountain of youth and the fountain of fertility. I double-checked which was which, then Tom and I both drank from the youth one. There are some great views from here.
The City Tour lasted from 2:00 to 7:30. There were 12 of us on a comfortable bus, we had an English-speaking guide, and it was only $6. The Boleta Turistica was an additional $10, but we would have had to buy that in any case to visit most of the sites in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. This was really a great tour.
We had dinner at an Irish pub, Rosie O'Grady's. The prices were a little higher than we had been paying other places, but the steaks were superb. After dinner, Tom greatly offended a little postcard-selling boy who wouldn't stop bothering us. Tom told him "adios." And the boy said "why you say adios?" He was very indignant about the whole thing.
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