Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Numero una dia: Cuzco, Peru and the Sacred Valley...

woke up feeling a bit mangy after too many Peruvian IPAs. I suppose drinking 8% alcohol brews is not the healthiest way to make entry in a city that sits at over 11,000 feet. The need to hydrate for altitude ain't easy in Peru. You can't drink the tap water without getting real problems. (Like "Lose weight, ask me how" issues.) 

The evening before, I got caught up in the moment when I found myself in a real honest to goodness bar and grill. The place was featuring the Bronco/Patriots game on its big screen TVs. They could have been showing synchronized swimming for all I cared. The bartender spoke New York. It felt like being back home. 

After a tasty breakfast with real coffee, I did some early morning sightseeing while Cuzco woke up too. I strolled around the Main Plaza with its Roman Catholic cathedrals, restaurants and hotels. There I saw street vendors who were starting to warm up. Their wares were as diverse as their personal appearances. Jewelry, knick-knacks, alpaca woolen hats, food items and sketches were being hawked. They looked at this Gringo as a possible first sale of the day. I disappointed the Peruvian entrepreneurs by saying "No Gracias!" many times. I'm not much of a shopper. 

At one time Cuzco was the "Navel" of the Inca Empire. Intricate stone work is still prevalent throughout the historical part of town. They employed a lot of muscle power in their building construction techniques. Hugh granite blocks were sanded, polished, scraped and cut to fit. It didn't take long for me to realize these stonemasons were not being paid at a Union rate. Civic projects did not spring up overnight. 

My favorite scene was watching a petite, pretty and well-coifed traffic cop. She was making a futile attempt to direct the mayhem of cars, buses, trucks and taxis from occupying the same place at the same time. She wore a white, shiny vinyl gun holster. Unlike the Carabineros of Chile there were no strings attached to her pistol. 

At about 8 am, a passenger van and our guide Alex showed up at the hotel. Me and a few fellow Inca Trail soon-to-be sojourners boarded. Introductions, handshakes and pleasantries were made. I sighed in relief when everyone appeared to be nice, normal, interesting and pretty smart. I was hoping they were thinking the same thing about me. Well, maybe I was reaching for the sky for them to think of me as "normal."

Our ultimate destination was the Sacred Valley of the Incas with a few stops along the way. If the tourist spot didn't grab me, I would wander about and snap photos. (See the Guinea Pigs? In Peru, it's what's for dinner.) 

Much of the day was spent in the van watching the Peruvian world go by. From my vantage point, villages appeared to meld into one another. Most had a hard scrabble look about them. Many of the housing units seemed to be in a construction or deconstruction mode. Dogs milled around piles of plastic garbage bags strewn along the roadsides. Long walls were painted up with presidential political ads. From my impromptu poll, I think Cuna will get the nod in the Cuzco district. Old women trudged by bearing enormous who-knows-what loads wrapped in red woolen blankets. They wore bowlers and other not seen in the USA type of hats. Lots of men just seemed to be hanging out. 

Si! But if you looked past the human side and gazed up at the natural side. Here's what you would see: lush green steep hillsides, distant 20,000' mountains containing glaciers and terraced farmland clinging to the angled slopes. I liked the Mother Nature side more. 

Yep, I was surely in a foreign country. 

We made stops at some ruins with Inca names I can't even begin to pronounce or spell. Then again, I can say the same thing about a multitude of places in North America. Alex would talk (sometimes drone on) about the site and its significance to the Big Picture view of what the Inca Empire was all about. I felt like I had enrolled in a freshman Machu Picchu 101 course. Alex didn't mention if there would be any surprise quizzes. 

It was an infringement of my Happy Hour by the time we returned to the hotel. Me and my fellow travelers would soon find out long days would be the norm instead of the exception. We didn't know it, but we had all paid to be in an ultra-marathon. The finish line would be Machu Picchu. 


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