Right now I’m in the historic town of Cuzco, population about 300,000, which used to be the capital of the Inca empire and is now Perú’s biggest tourist attraction. It’s a very high city — about 3,200 metres if I remember correctly — so a lot of people get altitude sickness when they first arrive here. I should be OK though, because I came from Arequipa which should have given me plenty of time to adjust to the altitude.

After the late arrival of my ‘plane, I found the local tour agent Nicos, who took me and two other guys to our respective hotels momentarily to drop off bags and laundry, before heading back into town for the 4-hour Cuzco city tour.

The first stop on the tour (which had already begun) was the Convento de Santo Domingo, a colonial building that was built by the Spanish conquerors right on top of the main Inca temple in the town, Qorikancha. Nicos deposited me with an English-speaking guide, Victor, who was already in full swing with an assorted group of about 10 English speakers.

He told us that the Inca building techniques were quite remarkable; unlike the Spanish conquistadors, the Incas used angled walls and laboriously complex stonemasonry (e.g. T-shaped stone blocks with 18 corners) to make their structures highly earthquake resistant. When a big earthquake hit around 1650, all of the Spanish Colonial structures built on top collapsed, whereas the Inca foundations survived unscathed.

After we finished the quick tour of Qorikancha, we all piled into a small bus and set off for additional Inca ruins in and around Cuzco: Sacsayhuaman (pronounced very similarly to “sexy woman”!), Qenko, Puca Pucara and Tambo Machay. It was definitely “speed tourism,” but a very good way to see a lot of sights and get a lot of information in a very short space of time — plus it was quite a friendly group, which made it more fun.

We finished up (predictably) in a huge tourist shop where skilled saleswomen tried to flog us wool and baby alpaca clothing; I ended up buying a hat and a scarf for $35 U.S., which hopefully I won’t lose once it becomes winter in NYC.

After the shopping expedition I returned to the Carlos V hotel, collected my laundry and met up with Nicos again, who informed me that I would need to be up and ready to go by 5:45 the following morning for the trip to Machu Picchu… Argh! Another early start!

Anyway, after sorting things out with Nico, I went out for dinner at a restaurant called El Truco, where they put a little Union Jack flag on my table, and where there was all manor of “traditional” Perúvian music and dancing. It was good fun I guess, although I found myself being quite skeptical about the authenticity of the various costumes and dances.

Anyway, that was today — tomorrow I’m off to Machu Picchu.

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