Cusco, Peru: Almost Touching the Sky

The thought of possible health issues like altitude sickness and stomach problems that travelers in Peru suffered made me apprehensive as we arrived at SFO (San Francisco International Airport) for our trip to Peru.   However, my mood changed after talking to a United Airlines representative who helped us check our luggage in for our flight from San Francisco to Lima.  She punched in our reservation number and said, “Oh you’re going to Lima. I’m originally from Peru.”  She got up from her chair behind the counter and started talking to us about partying in Peru, pisco sour and Cusco. She seemed so excited for us.  She said, “When you get to Cusco, it’s almost like touching the sky.”  Three days later, I found myself standing by the edge of Saqsaywaman - a walled complex on the outskirts of the city of Cusco - more than 12,000 feet above sea level, stretching my arms and pointing my fingers toward the sky.  The sky was azure blue in color with scattered white colored clouds like floating balloons.

We stayed in Lima for 2 nights before heading to Cusco.  I was once again reminded about the caveat in our travel documents about altitude sickness.  Other travelers in our group seemed to share my concern.  In fact, some of them had to take Diamox.   Our guide, nicknamed 24/7, addressed our collective apprehension and advised us to drink a lot of water and coca tea, chew on coca candy and eat light meals like soup.  We should be okay.  Our job was to drink plenty of water and coca tea and it was his job to find us a restroom.  Our hotel offered coca tea and oxygen.   
According to our guide 24/7, Cusco is 11,000 feet above sea level and its peak at 13,000 feet above sea level is higher than Machu Picchu.  It was the birthplace and center of the Inca Empire.  Cusco in the Quechua language means “the earth’s navel”.  It is a UNESCO world heritage site.   As such, it provided historical and mesmerizing attractions for us.   

We stayed there overnight and had a very educational visit to historical and architectural sites like Corikancha and The Church of Santo Domingo where the Spanish incorporated Inca stonework into the structure of the building. The stonework stood major earthquakes. From the courtyard, we saw the interlocking stonework.

We saw a few pieces of art and learned about Inca culture from these artworks. For example, from a painting that represents the Milky Way, we learned that the Inca does not pay attention to the stars. They pay attention to dark spots.

We walked the narrow streets of Hatun Rumiyog and saw the palace of Inca Roca and the Stone of Twelve Angles.  We visited Barrio de San Blas and visited the oldest parish church in Cusco (built-in 1563), and admired the carved wooden pulpit.   

Every spot at Plaza de Armas was a good vantage point for taking pictures.   I just had to point my camera upwards to capture the azure blue sky and the vagabond clouds.

As if to add one last photo stop, our bus crept uphill to Saqsaywaman, where it has stood for centuries, watching over the lands where Spaniard colonizers had passed, and the modern-day tourists setting out for Machu Picchu had stopped.   Past the Saqsaywaman entrance, I saw a herd of alpacas. 
Then a few yards later, I saw a wall made of interlocking basalt stone and then more walls. 

I entered through a stone gate to reach the top.  After gasping for air, I contemplated on what the woman at SFO told us.  I stretched my arms and pointed my fingers towards the sky.  The woman was right.  It felt as if I could almost touch the sky.  Way down beneath my vantage point were the brown colonial roofs. I lingered a while to enjoy a 360-degree view of Cusco and watch the sky transformed from azure blue to a pastel shade of orange with the last light of day.  

 All photos by the author



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