Machu Picchu is far and away the top destination for those traveling to Peru. But virtually everyone stops first in the town of Cusco, also high in the Andes Mountains. They stop here for two good reasons : 1) this was the birthplace and center of the Inca Empire, and therefore the first capital of the Americas, and 2) at more than 11,000 feet, it’s a good idea to pause and acclimate before seeing the star attraction.
Eleven thousand feet! That compares to 10,000 feet for the top of Jupiter, Park City Ski Resort’s highest peak, and about the same as the very top of Vail. No snow here though, as we’re close to the equator. Our group is staying two nights in Cusco, as many people do, before we descend to 8,000 feet to Machu Picchu. Meanwhile, we’re drinking lots of water, as well as the local Coca tea.
Cusco is a charming spot today, with its Spanish Colonial architecture and stone-paved streets. The most fascinating thing about the city, though, is the collision of cultures that occurred here in the 1500s, and is still evident today. Spanish conquistadores conquered the Incas, and proceeded to destroy their sacred temples and loot them of their silver and gold. All over the city you see where adobe walls, wooden balconies and tile roofs are built on top of pre-Columbian Inca walls that serve as foundations for the 400-year-old ‘new’ construction. The Inca walls are so finely crafted that the massive basalt stones fit tightly together with no need for mortar between them. The Spaniards even built a church and convent atop the most sacred Inca site of all, the ‘Sun Temple’. But you can’t blame them for appreciating this location, where mountain slopes of green grass meet blue skies filled with billowing white clouds.
The clash has become a bit of a ‘blend’ today, with Catholicism still strong, but many also following the beliefs and traditions of the Incas, who revered nature and worshipped the sun, moon and stars. Women wear hats that come from a combination of the two cultures. And the big event is the Winter Solstice, which occurs on June 21, the start of our summer at home. I’ve celebrated the Solstice annually with a group of sun-worshipping friends for 27 years running. A shout-out to Michele and Tom, Don and Lori, Terri and Mike and Linda! I’m happy that, here too, they’ve kept the party alive.