Throughout our family’s journey around the world we’ve learned that changes in travel plans can lead to very good things. If we go with the flow and have a little faith, even bad situations can turn into positive experiences. Such was the case when we wound up changing our stay in Cusco from just one day to ten. While it turned out great, this change in plan was prompted by a not-so-great situation.
I’ll back up a bit. Central heating is not a typical feature of homes in South America, so we’d expected to have some cooler indoor temperatures in Peru just like we’d had in Chili and western Bolivia. Unfortunately, our place in Peru took that to a whole new level. While our Sacred Valley house’s glass walls offered lovely views of the hills surrounding us, they didn’t offer much protection from the cold nights. Don’t get me wrong. We aren’t really high maintenance people. We’ve done a lot of camping and roughing it in our lives. However, at some point having to bundle up in a winter coat and gloves to make breakfast in a gorgeous kitchen outfitted with stainless appliances and granite countertops just started to feel a little ridiculous. Mama wants some heat!
After a couple weeks we finally decided to cut our time in the Sacred Valley short and find a place in Cusco where the temperatures were a bit warmer and the buildings had more insulation. As it turned out, this was a very fortunate turn of events. Our family really needed more time in Cusco. We would have been kicking ourselves if we’d only spent a single day in this unique, historical and beautiful city.
Cusco was the historic capital of the Inca empire from the 1200s until the Spanish invasion in the 1570s. Throughout the city and its surrounding regions, evidence of Incan agriculture, architecture, and traditions can be found everywhere. The distinct lines of farming terraces mark their way up mountainsides, their walls having withstood centuries of rain and wind. Perfectly joined stones set by the Incan craftsman serve as the foundations to the ornate Spanish colonial churches constructed over them. People stroll through town squares lined with historic buildings and along streets paved with ancient cobblestones. Quechua, the language of the Inca, is still spoken by almost a third of Peruvians, and in conversations with locals they often wind up referring to some aspect of their Incan heritage. Symbols of the empire can be found in billboards, store signs and even graffiti. This is a region which clearly remembers its ancestral roots.
Yet, woven into this evident history are bustling streets draped with power lines, crowded markets selling everything from souvenirs to bulls’ testicles, and what might be the largest number of vintage Volkswagen Beetles on the planet. We seriously saw Beetles everywhere which prompted unlimited “slug bug” punches among the girls.
One of our favorite areas of the city included the streets to the east of Plaza de Armas. Heading up the hill from the square, we could get beyond the crowded, touristy thoroughfares and relax in San Blas Plaza, a more casual area with a waterfall fountain, artisan booths and indigenous dance performances.
Walking past San Blas we climbed a maze of staircases, winding our way up through the residential zone hanging over the city. In certain sections the periodic doorways served as the only sign of the courtyards and homes lying beyond the walls. In other areas, trails veered off from the steps leading to houses along the hillside. Much to the girls’ dismay, we walked up the seemingly endless steps and then along the road to reach Blanco Cristo, the massive statue of Jesus which overlooks the city of Cusco.
With ten days in the city we were able to take our time and explore everything Cusco had to offer. So I guess the morale is YAY for unexpectedly frigid accommodations that lead us to shortening our stay and extending our time in a nearby city. It worked out for the best and serves as yet another example of how a frustrating situation can ultimately get you where you’re supposed to be.