We got up early this morning and left the hotel at about 6 am to head to the airport for our flight to Cusco. The LAN flight was right on time, leaving Lima at 8:30 am and arriving in Cusco at 9:45. Once we collected all of our bags, Edwin split us into two groups for the duration of our stay in Cusco and Machu Picchu because the streets of both would not allow a bus large enough for all of us. Andrea and I were put in the Puma group. We then boarded the two busses and headed to the Eco Inn.
Edwin gave us a short briefing on the schedule for Cusco and some suggestions for our free afternoon after arriving at the hotel. We also got our first taste of coca tea during the briefing. I'm not a big tea drinker, but I definitely enjoyed the coca tea. Coca tea is purported to be good at alleviating the effects of altitude sickness (Cusco sits right at 11,000 feet above sea level), but it is also a mild diuretic, so Edwin recommended that we not drink more than five cups a day.
After the briefing, we retired to our room to rest for an hour or so before meeting Greg M, Amanda, and Rich in the lobby. Unfortunately Greg was feeling pretty sick, so he stayed in his room instead. We all hiked up Avenida El Sol from the hotel to the Plaza de Armas.
In the Plaza de Armas, we all headed over to lunch at Inka Grill, one of the restaurants that Edwin had recommended, at about 1 pm. For lunch, I had aji de gallina and Andrea had a green pumpkin soup. I also had my first Cuzqueña beer. The aji de gallina was almost identical to the version that we had in Denver.
After lunch, we looked around the Plaza de Armas and then went over to tour La Compañia de Jesus, one of two massive churches on the square. One of the guides took us through the church, showing us the massive cedar main altar that is covered in gold leaf. He then took us up through a tiny doorway that I had to crouch to get through and up a small staircase to the upper level. From there we could see the whole sanctuary, including some of the remaining damage from the 1950 earthquake. One interesting feature is that all of the windows were not made of glass, but of thinly cut alabaster. We then went and took a number of pictures looking out from the bell tower onto the Plaza de Armas before heading out.
We then walked over to Convento de La Merced just a couple of blocks away at about 4:15. We spent about 45 minutes touring this church and convent. The most interesting feature here was the ceilings of the corridors that were carved wood that was fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, holding itself up without the use of glue or nails. The convent also contained a number of examples of the Cuzqueña school of painting.
After La Merced, we headed back down to the hotel where we met the group for dinner at 6 pm. Edwin had ordered a number of taxis to accomodate the whole group and we had a brief ride back up to the Plaza de Armas for dinner at Andean Grill. For dinner, I had the alpaca dish, and Andrea had chicken, and we both had lucuma ice cream for dessert.
Following dinner we wandered around, taking a number of night shots in the Plaza de Armas before walking back down to the hotel. We finished off the night with a pisco sour in the hotel bar before heading to bed.