After leaving Lima, we began our journey further out.
Although the flight to Cusco was a mere hour and fifteen minutes (or so) from Lima, getting off the plane in our new destination felt like a different world. The town, nestled in a valley and surrounded by high mountains was crisper — the air thinner and the temperatures noticeably cooler.
Though it sits in a deep valley, Cusco is situated at a relatively high elevation of 11,000-ish feet above sea level. The city's hollowed-out shape (but more importantly its position as the capital city and ancient seat of the Incan empire) earned it its namesake: Cusco means "belly button."
We came here to acclimate to the thin air for a five-day long, high-altitude hike along the Inca Trail we'd eventually take all the way to Macchu Picchu. Cusco is the traditional meeting place for backpackers starting on this journey, and a stopover that usually lasts many days.
It took Jason and I three days to acclimate in Cusco, and during that time, our bodies went through a bit of daytime exhaustion as our systems got used to living without as much oxygen as we'd been accustomed to all our lives. While we were literally catching our breath, we spent a lot of time at the hostel, swinging in hammocks in the sun, playing cards and reading. It was completely surreal. During the three or so hours of the day (usually in the late afternoon) we built up enough energy to walk around, we would venture out in town to people-watch and generally soak in the city.
It was a curious mix of old and new (yep, there was a Starbucks, a North Face store, a Patagonia store and some really nice hotels even in Cusco). But the evidence of this town's deep-rooted history was also in view. We were fortunate enough to be there during Holy Week ("La Semana Santa,") and as such, we witnessed parades, celebrations in the street and families gathering in the square to sell handmade Palm fronds for Palm Sunday.
Oddly, as Easter often marks the beginning of spring for most Northern Hemisphere residents, it ushers in the cold weather for our friends in the South. A few of the days we spent exploring proved to be particularly cloudy and blustery. Here are some of the moments we captured:
A view of Cusco showing how tightly it's nestled in the surrounding mountains. The statue of the crucifix at the very top of this picture is a testament to how Catholic this city is. There's another statue called the Statue of Christ or "Cristo Blanco" located on the outskirts of Cusco. It's one of the first hikes many visitors take when acclimating to walking at altitude.
A woman walking down the street: Pops of color abound in Cusco, and I loved her contrasting Orange sweater.
Another city view, and another pop of Orange.
A view of one of the large-domed Catholic churches that flank the town square in Cusco. The churches seemed at once old and also very grand.
Two women selling their wares on the sidewalk. In Cusco, it's common for people to sell scarves, blankets, drinks, chips, homemade food and more, all day.
I'm pretty sure this was a municipal building at one end of the town square.
It's common for women to carry their babies in large blankets on their backs in more rural cities and towns. Everywhere we went in Cusco, we saw sweet little faces peeking out of bright bundles.
A mother and daughter out on Holy Saturday weaving shapes and figures out of palm fronds: It's common for families to fill the town square on this day, to celebrate with friends and family and trade religious talismans.
Another group of merrymakers selling candles and palm sculptures for Holy Week.
I loved the expression on this mom's face and her sweet little girl's face as well.
There were street vendors on almost every corner.
Another view of the town square and people celebrating.
I just loved these guys. I remember looking at them and imagining they'd been meeting on this bench for 30-odd years. I have no idea whether or not this is true but hey, a girl can dream.
Have you ever been to Cusco? Tell me about it in the comments!