Karencita de Perú

Cusco Part 1 – Cuzco Parte 1

Posted on: August 5, 2010

Cusco, also spelled Cuzco, is located near the Urubamaba Valley and the Andes mountain range.  It was the historic capital of the Inca Empire and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983.  Almost a million visitors come to Cusco every year to learn about the Inca culture and travel to Macchu Picchu.  In addition to Macchu Picchu there are a lot of other interesting things to see around the Cusco area.  We did a tour of the Valle Sagrada (Sacred Valley), a City Tour that covered important Inca ruins just outside the city and we went horseback riding.  I’ll write more about these things in future posts, but today I want to focus on the city of Cusco itself.

One of the most striking things about Cusco is the elevation.  It has an altitude of 3,400 meters (11,200 feet) above sea level.  In comparison, Vancouver is 2 meters (7 feet) above see level.  That is a big difference.  When you fly into Cusco it is interesting because the plane is in the clouds but you are very close to the tops of the mountains.  When you land you can feel the change of elevation immediately.  The air is thinner and you become out of breath much easier.  For the first day I had a bit of a headache and Luis had a really bad headache that lasted two days.

The most common remedy for altitude sickness or soroche is hoja de coca (coca leaves).  The leaves can be chewed, you can drink them in mate de coca (a tea made with coca leaves) and you can even buy them as candies.  Hoja de coca has always played an important role in the Inca Civilization and continues to be used today for spiritual purposes, medicinal purposes and even commercial purposes.

Chewing coca leaves will not make you “high” like cocaine.  In order to produce the drug cocaine there must be a chemical process at different determined temperatures with elements such as tartic acid, pure clorhidric acid, ether and anhydrous soda sulfate. The coca leaf contains 14 alkaloids, from which the most popular and broadly used is the cocaine, the others are wasted or simply ignored.

The Plaza de Armas and the surrounding area is the heart of Cusco and  is the area most popular for tourists.  The plaza is surrounded by over-priced restaurants that cater to tourists, discos, souvenir shops and tourist agencies.  However, the plaza itself is lovely with a fountain and beautiful flowers.  The two most prominent structures that surround the plaza are La Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesus (The Church of the Society of Jesus) and The Cathedral.  Both the Church and the Cathedral were built between the years 1560 and 1668.  The photo on the left is the Church and the photo on the right is the Cathedral.

Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire from the 1200s to 1532 so it is very old.  As well, a good part of the city is located on the side of a hill.  As such there are a lot of steep, narrow roads and walkways in Cusco.   In one of the pedestrian walkways, famous for its Inca walls where huge stones were precisely carved to fit together without mud or concrete, you will find the masterpiece, a 12-angled stone, about halfway down the street.  In Spanish it is called “La Pierda de Doce Angulos‘ and no matter what time of day there are always people around the stone taking  their picture with it.  Click on this link for more details.

Next time I will talk about the food, the people and the dogs of Cusco!


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