We have traveled with the Hufford family of s/v Eclipse since we left Grenada. Through the out islands of Venezuela, Bonaire and Curacao and on to Cartagena and Medellin, Colombia, we have learned that their other passion besides travel is food. Our trip through the Sacred Valley consists of eating punctuated by sightseeing.
On the morning after the Huffords arrive in Cusco, Michelle joins Mike, Mikayla and me for mass. We’ve read that if we visit the cathedral between the hours of 6 and 10 a.m., we can view its interior without paying a fee and feel the spirit at the same time. We find a pew near the front and seat ourselves. A few more people arrive. Then still more. Then a whole lot more come in and Mike gives his seat to an elderly woman who nods her head in thanks. I turn around and discover that it’s standing room only in the cathedral. The place is packed and it isn’t even Easter. In fact, there are so many people present that there isn’t enough bread for everyone to take communion.
After mass we stroll through the church to see the artifacts. Soon we come upon the one we’ve read about, The Last Supper. This isn’t Da Vinci’s version. This is the Inca version with cuy, also known as guinea pig, smack dab in the middle of the table. It’s truly authentic cuisine, because cuy is served at some local restaurants.
Back in Michigan, we always had doughnuts and coffee after mass. We continue the tradition in Peru and stop by the Café Inca for coffee with lemon meringue pie for Michelle and Mikayla and omelets for Mike and me.
In the meantime, Geoff Hufford has researched our options for Machu Picchu on the Internet. He’s discovered that if we plan the trip ourselves, we can cut our costs in half as compared to a group tour. We like that idea. Good-bye Hotel Girasoles, hello Eureka Hotel.
After we move into the Hufford’s hotel ($60 per night for three), we organize ourselves for a hike up to Sacsaywaman, the fortress above Cusco. It’s a 45-minute walk up a steep hill. By the time we reach the entrance, it’s drizzling. We’re cold and hungry.
We seek food and shelter inside a mini mart with a restaurant upstairs that’s enclosed in glass. We have a great view of the city below, giving us an inkling of what the warriors saw from the heights of Sacsaywaman. Soup sounds like a great way to warm up, so we order choclo con queso. It’s not soup, though. We were fooled by the big pot on the fire outside the mini mart. It contains ears of corn, topped with cheese before serving, which is the dish that is set before us.
Peruvian corn is actually maize (“ma-aiz”), a far cry from Silver Queen corn grown in Georgia. It has a starchier texture and a flavor that resembles bread.
Just beyond the entrance to Sacsaywaman (Yes, it’s pronounced “sexy woman.”), we have a close encounter with a native Peruvian. A woman in native costume is standing in front of the giant stones with a ruddy-cheeked child and llama beside her. Of course, I must have a photograph of them. I make a fatal mistake: I fail to negotiate the price ahead of time. After my first shot, I step back for another, better shot. Then I discover that I haven’t got the three soles in my pocket that she wants. I try to tell her I have no more soles and the woman begins to whine like a teenager who’s been told she’s grounded. Fortunately, Geoff bails me out and the woman grins when I fork over the money.
Sacsaywaman, whose name means the fort of the satisfied falcon, plays an important role in Cusco’s history. It was built by Pachacuti, an early Inca ruler who envisioned the city in the shape of a puma. Sacsaywaman forms the puma’s head and its zigzagged walls are the teeth. And what big teeth they are! One stone weighs more than 300 tons.
The stones are stacked three levels tall to a height of 60’ and stretch for a third of a mile between two gulches. As the Incas built the ramparts, they filled in earth behind each stone to form a flat terrace on top. Thus the Inca warriors could defend themselves from a high vantage point and shower their enemies with volleys of stones and arrows. If attackers seized a wall, the Incas could retreat to a higher level and continue to defend their positions. Pachacuti shrewdly built Sacsaywaman so that the entire city of Cusco could seek refuge within it.
As the Hufford and Lezovich families descend from our climb, we find ourselves at the doorstep of the Hotel Monasterio, one of the city’s finest establishments. Needing a refreshing break, we head inside to the courtyard and the soothing sounds of a bubbling fountain.
We’ve learned that even if you can’t afford to stay at a five-star hotel, you can still linger there over a pot of coffee and dessert. We spent about an hour and drank in the lovely garden, the recorded cloister music and the 16th century chapel. For a little while, we were as rich as we desired.
Pachacuti didn’t stop at building fortresses. He also proved himself at architecture with the construction of Qorikancha, once the richest temple in the Inca empire. Its massive walls were lined with 700 sheets of solid gold, each weighing about two kilograms. The temple also held altars, llamas, babies and ears of corn, each made of gold. Unfortunately, these riches were ripped out and melted down by the conquistadors soon after their arrival.
Inside Qorikancha stands a fountain that once was covered with 55 kilograms of gold. On either side of the courtyard where it stands lie smaller temples dedicated to the moon and the stars. Sheets of solid silver covered their walls. The trapezoidal niches probably held candles. The niches follow the design of the temples’ doorways, each a perfect trapezoid made entirely of stone.
The Chocolate Museum offers a rare treat in Cusco: free admittance to view the exhibits. We had promised Mikayla, Jerome, Alec and Miles that they could participate in a chocolate class (about $23US). After donning aprons, they learned about making and shaping chocolate from the owner himself. An hour later, the kids walked out with chocolate treasures that they shared on the train ride to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu.