Walking Around Cusco

A few days after I took the second of my two board exams after finishing my second year of medical school, I took off for a short vacation to relax and not think about anything school related before starting my first clinical rotation of third year. Applying the same principle to all my travels, I went online and looked for the least expensive international plane ticket I could find to a place I hadn’t been yet, and out popped Peru, specifically Cusco. Knowing nearly nothing about Peru aside from my assumption that it was a Country filled with Incan ruins, Pisco, and ceviche, I got to Googling and ended up buying a ticket to go to Machu Picchu and a hostel in Cusco for my first 2 (out of 10) nights, figuring I could just play the rest by ear once I got there. Of course, what I hadn’t really thought about was that while historic downtown Cusco is in a valley, if you go a few blocks in any direction, you’re literally just going up hundreds of steps… and then some more steps. It didn’t help that Cusco sits at about 11,200 feet above sea level (about twice that of Denver) and I, being clearly not accustomed to any kinds of altitude, not to mention having spent most of the previous 4 months sitting behind my computer, was a wheezing, panting mess after just a few minutes of walking. To combat this unfortunate turn of events, I decided to spend the first few days just walking around the city, which basically meant 9-10 hours of walking up and down stairs and stopping for an occasional light snack at a cafe. Here are some of my favorite photos from wandering around the city

One of my favorite things in any new city is to find the local markets and eateries that are popular with the locals, so I went to San Blas Market, a small local market in the San Blas neighborhood, where many local craftsmen and artisans live and sell their wares, for breakfast. The market was full of local produce, including a whole bunch of fruits, all kinds of beans and potatoes, pecans and other nuts, and my favorite – freshly made juice for 3-4 sol (about $1). Here’s a photo of the juice I ordered, made from mangos, bananas, cherimoya, kiwi, and probably 2-3 other fruits I can’t remember. It was an entire giant blender full of fresh deliciousness.

I followed that up with an avocado, egg, and ham sandwich, which ended up being equally delicious. Sitting at the counter and enjoying my 40oz or so of juice was a nice start to a long day 🙂

This is Plaza de Armas, the main square in the historic downtown section of Cusco. Bounded by two beautiful cathedrals and many shops, tourist agencies, and restaurants, all around a large green park, was usually a focal point of my wandering. I’d walk down from my hostel and just sit on the bench early in the morning and watch the city slowly come to life as the locals opened up their shops, let their dogs run around and play in the park, the indigenous Quechua women with their large colorful textiles unroll their wares around the square, and the taxis start lining up to take all the newly arrived tourists out for a tour of Valle Sagrada (The Sacred Valley) to see all the Incan Ruins and markets in the surrounding cities like Pisac and Ollantaytambo.

This is a view looking up towards the edge of the city as I’m walking up from the downtown area to get to one of the Incan ruins on the outskirts called Sacsayhuamán.

Just a block or two from my hostel was this beautiful mural on the wall of a house. I couldn’t really keep passing it multiple times a day without taking a photo.

One of many similar interactions I saw – a local woman selling some colorful shawls and scarves to a tourist.

This is the view sitting at a table at one of the cafes in the Plaza de Armas and drinking a pot of locally brewed tea.

Just walking around the city, this is another smaller square where I sat for a while enjoying the city (read: catching my breath and looking for snacks)

This is a nice view from the top of a very steep hill next to Sacsayhuamán. You can see parts of Cusco crawl up on the mountains that surround the city.

The city really came alive at night. Most restaurants didn’t close until 11 or midnight, with the bars and discotecas open until the early hours of the morning, many filled with rowdy tourists, hikers, and trekkers who either just came back from doing the Inca trail, or were just getting acclimated and getting ready to head out. Not only that, but I discovered that the locals LOVED fireworks. Didn’t matter if there was some sort of festival or celebration, I heard fireworks going off just next to my hostel every single night I stayed in Cusco. Sometimes for 10-20 minutes straight. After confirming that there wasn’t a giant multi-day firefight happening in my neighborhood, I figured it was just like the ambulance and fire engine noise you get used to if you live in a big city. Except its fireworks. At 3 am. Every night.

This was a very interesting find. I bought what’s called a “tourist ticket,” which is just a pass that gets you into a bunch of the museums in the city, as well as several of the popular Ruins in the Sacred Vallley, but it also let me in to the daily musical performance from the Centro Qosqo De Arte Nativo, which showcased local indigenous dancing and singing. It was a fantastic 1-2 hour performance where dancers representing small villages and different regions of Peru performed traditional dances that showcased some of the varied and fascinating oral history of their lives and culture.

There were SO MANY dogs everywhere. Both in Cusco, and most of the smaller cities and villages I spent time in around the Sacred Valley. Most looked to be pretty well taken care of, fed, and happy.

This was the scene just outside the San Pedro Market, the largest market in Cusco. A crowd formed around what was basically just two comedians pranking each other for an hour. All good fun, which was made all the more enjoyable by the close proximity of a girl selling giant churros for 25 cents.

Two shop dogs hanging out on the front door of a small crafts store in the San Blas neighborhood.

A few photos of the downtown section of Cusco a little bit of a ways from the more touristy section.

A family getting ready to watch a local festival (one of the many, many festivals that take place in the plaza on any given month)

Tilt-shift lenses are so much fun to play with – this is a view of the Plaza de Armas from the San Cristobal Cathedral.

A few photos from a different festival two days later.

The next few photos are from an animal sanctuary about twenty minutes outside of Cusco. There were animals there that were being rehabilitated after being found injured, or animals who, for varying reasons, could not be released back into the wild. It was an organization that lived primarily on the funds from the entrance fees and the purchases made in its gift shop, which I was only too happy to patronize.

This was incredible. This is a 80 year old Condor.

One of the dogs who lived at the Sanctuary – I’m pretty sure they belong to the owners… or the volunteers, but this one had a cool red shirt.

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