Cusco lies in a valley and is the oldest continuously inhabited town in South America. Poor housing on the outskirts, single storey buildings made of adobe bricks but as we got near the centre it became more interesting with old colonial buildings, churches and arcaded squares. The cathedral is magnificent, with parts dating from early Spanish colonisation – elaborate, golden rococo - doubled! So ornate, there wasn’t a spot in the Cathedral without an elaborate altar, a religious painting or complicated carving. The choir stalls were of dark wood, each seat ornately carved and each figure with a different face, robe and posture. A real treasure. Our next visit was to an old Franciscan Monastery whose central square was impressive with 2 storeys high of arched cloisters and potted plants balanced along all the ledges. The cobbled central courtyard had a monolithic, bath-shaped, sacrificial altar which was damaged in an earthquake (el terremoto!) in 1950. The earthquake also caused some of the painted, stucco walls to fall off, revealing Inca foundations. With more research into the foundations of the monastery and the emergence of national pride in their past, the ancient Inca temples to the Sun, Moon and Stars have been re-instated. Made of black basalt, the carved stones are a genuine feat of amazing engineering, fitting together with perfect precision, no gaps, and no cement. Simple strong, clean lined structures. A wonderful cultural heritage that was converted and almost buried by the Spanish invaders.
Cusco houses are made of adobe bricks (sun dried clay bricks) set on a
foundation of stone, with wooden-framed windows and roofs made with a layer of
bamboo, then clay then red clay tiles. All
are local resources, and we saw heaps upon heaps of adobe bricks lying drying in
the sun. A system of building that
is very cheap and hasn’t changed for centuries, even down to the plastering of
the adobe with white stucco. Walking up and down the steep streets of Cusco and then at the ancient
sites of Pikillacta and Pisac we all felt a bit breathless in the higher
altitude. Indeed, even in the Hotel there were quite a few pointers to
tell us we were high up! I
felt as if the shower was on a ship, Brian felt nauseous when he bent to tie his
shoelaces, Andy’s roll-on deodorant had ‘popped’ its ball, our Travel wash
tube had exploded into the rucksack and the Nescafe sachets had puffed to
bursting point! As well as
all that, during the night Brian kept waking himself up after bouts of sleep
apnoea, another of the symptoms of high altitude!
How shall we fare on the Inca Trail?
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