28 May | First stop: Cusco 

Flight plan: ORD -> DFW -> Lima -> Cusco

  
We met one of our tour guides, Augusto, as we landed in Lima and tested our Spanish tentatively as we bought breakfast before our next flight. Surprisingly, even after almost 2 years, my Spanish isn’t too rusty and I’ve been able to get by pretty well so far. The flight to Cusco was short but offered us a great view of the city, which, nestled in a valley between two mountains, is nothing short of gorgeous. After landing in Cusco, we took a short bus ride to our hotel, Hotel Los Apus. From just the bus ride alone, it was pretty evident that we are going to be a sassy bunch. Upon checking in to the hotel we laid down for a few hours as we acclimated to the altitude (~11,000 ft). We’ve been advised, in general, to drink lots of water and coca tea and apply lots of sunscreen.   

  

Since everyone was tired from our day of travel, we just took a short walk around Cusco as Helaine (Prof. Silverman – the professor leading our tour) pointed out various points of interest. The distinction between Incan and Spanish colonial architecture is quite interesting and very apparent and the city is an amalgamation of the two. We spent most of our quick peek into the city at the central feature: Plaza de Armas. This gorgeous plaza was bustling with activity and is bordered by large cathedrals, luxury hotels, small shops, and commercial restaurants (KFC, Starbucks, & McDonalds were the most visible offenders). In the center stands a large fountain topped by a gold statue of an Inca. Helaine explained to us with great detail the history of this statue. Originally,  by accident, the statue was of a Native American (or as Helaine said, “redskin”) for about 70 years. There was some clamor to replace it, but also some resistance to this idea after the city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, since the declaration occured with the redskin statue in place. About 4 years ago, however, the former statue was replaced with an Inca and at the end of 2013, the director of UNESCO stated that the city is a living cultural site, so it is appropriate for it to change with the times. Plus, I mean, though recent, the Incan statue is far more reflective of Cuscan culture than the fast food restaurants that popped up post-UNESCO recognition. 

  
The group split up for a late lunch. Hannah, Sean, Alex, and I grabbed soup at a nice restaurant called Pucara. I had a delicious quinoa soup before we rejoined the group and walked back to the hotel. A few of us played cards for a little bit before heading out once more. Even though it was only around 6:30 pm, it was dark, thanks to the fact that it is technically winter here (the equivalent of our November, roughly). We ambled around the areas Helaine had taken us to and half of our group made our first of – no doubt many of – our souvenir purchases: alpaca sweaters (with alpacas on them, of course). Warm and hungry, we walked back towards our hotel and stopped at the Blue Alpaca for dinner. I tried an alpaca burger, which was similar to a  lean ground beef and quite tasty. (My Reykjavik tour guide’s theory that “the cuter the animal, the tastier it is” still holds.) Exhausted from the travel and new altitude, we head back to the hotel and to bed soon after that. 

  

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