Cusco, Peru (1)

I fumbled my way through the Bogota airport at four o’clock in the morning (after a night out at Theatron) on my way to Lima, Peru. I was meeting Murray, my best friend from college, before everyone else flew in to meet up for our anxiously anticipated Peruvian adventure. Despite feeling groggy and exasperated, it was a happy reunion—she had come to join our Machu Picchu trek and the Juicebox Journey!

The flight to Cusco was a piece of cake and there was a car waiting for us when we arrived. It’s so much fun to see a dapper fellow holding a sign with your name on it when emerging from the chaos of baggage claim in a foreign country.

IMG_6358We had some time to explore Cusco before the others arrived, so we went to the main square, Plaza de Armas, to walk around and grab lunch. The Plaza is nestled at the base of rolling green mountains and flaunts picturesque ancient cathedrals. The town of Cusco is full of tourists on their way to or from Machu Picchu, so the many local businesses cater to that market—Plaza de Armas is loaded with multiethnic restaurants, souvenir shops and tour company offices.

After scouring Bogota for gay-friendly hot spots with Mark and Richard, my eyes lit up when I saw a giant rainbow flag waving above one of the main buildings downtown. Apparently Cusco’s official flag is a seven-striped rainbow design, the sight of which on buildings and bumper stickers reminded me of my hometown, San Francisco— although the Incan version takes on a completely different meaning.

IMG_0144Once Kyle and Meghan got settled into their hotel we all met up for dinner at some random joint by the Plaza and we were pleasantly surprised by a performance from an authentic Peruvian three-man band with tunes so lively we unquestioningly bought their ridiculously overpriced CD. The main guy was enthusiastically playing the guitar and vocals, another man played both the ukulele and the pan flute and the last guy kept the beat on a drum with his foot while playing guitar. They had one song, Pachamama, (which we learned means Mother Earth,) which got stuck in our heads for days. Even though the food was terrible we went back to the restaurant several times, bringing more friends and newfound fans with us to indulge in the vivacious music. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself bopping along to one of their jazzy tracks in the future if you’re ever hanging out with one of us…

The textiles and style in Peru are especially alluring, and once the rest of our crew arrived (Kyle and Meghan, the Sells, Skoty and Chris,) we did some major damage on the shopping front. There are tons of street markets and stalls throughout Cusco selling beautiful Peruvian sweaters, scarves and gloves made of brightly dyed alpaca wool. Each piece, although aesthetically similar, is a little bit different. The intricacies are beautiful and we loaded up on cold weather accessories for the trek as well as gifts for friends and family back home.

The locals in Cusco have such incredible fashion sense—and I don’t think they realize it! Instead of stressing over coordinating their outfits or wearing the latest trends, the men, women and children don traditional pieces that are individually stunning and look surprisingly attractive as a whole. For example—a fuchsia top embroidered with multicolored flowers, an olive knee-length skirt and black leg warmers over hiking boots. Sounds strange but looks gorgeous!!

IMG_6255The day after everyone got to town, we went for a hiking tour with the shaman, Greg. He met us early in the morning and led us through the city, giving us information on the landmarks and legends of Cusco. We were all able to feel the energy of the area. In Quechua, the traditional language in Peru, “Cusco” means navel—the city was named so because it was believed to be the center of the universe, the birthplace of men and the navel of the world.

Greg the Shaman also taught us a lot about Inca spiritual beliefs, which were fascinating. This is where we first learned about the Chakana, as well as the legend of the snake, puma and condor in Incan culture.

chakanaThe Chakana, or the Andean Cross, is a central symbol in Inca spirituality and is still ubiquitous in Peru today. Every step, point and axis of the cross has a specific meaning. It represents the phases of life, the levels of existence, the elements and directions. It also characterizes the snake, puma, and condor, representing the underworld, the middle world and the upper world, respectively.

We climbed about 500 steps to get up to Saqsayhuaman, an Incan archeological park abounding with llamas and sacred ruins. Greg led us through several prayer and meditation ceremonies in antiquated temples while we hiked through the breathtaking scenery. We had to get back to the hostel by nightfall for our Machu Picchu orientation, but the day’s journey prepped us for what was to come..

Posted on by Erica Duncan in Peru

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