It was with a sense of anti-climax that we boarded our last night bus in South America, settling as best we could in the state of dishevelled panic that comes with all bus travel on this continent. The trip took us back through Juliaca at the northern tip of Lake Titicaca before turning towards Cusco and the Sacred Valley of the Inca.
Arriving (as has always been the way) well before our check-in time, we camped in a cafe beside Plaza de Armas in the shadow of the Cathedral. Our first impressions of Cusco were that it is a tourist trap, besieged by fake tour guides and dubious massage therapists. However this view was largely due to our spending the last few weeks in quiet country towns and regional cities more off the regular track. Cusco on the other hand is at the very heart of Peru's tourist trade. Anyone visiting Peru for the first time wants to come to Cusco. So much like Juliaca is the country's crossroad for transport and trade, Cusco is the crossroad for tourism.
For our first night we moved out to the suburbs into a quiet flat with fast WiFi in preparation for Rose's phone interview for a job back home. This gave us time to relax and give the city a second look when we moved back into a more central B&B the following day. It is too easy to be overwhelmed and dismissive of a new city when it is your umpteenth new destination in as many weeks. On top of this, stepping off a night bus into a fraught and bustling city is not everyone's idea of the perfect introduction.
The next day we wandered the streets and made a visit to Qurikancha, the site of an Inca temple that was partly demolished and then replaced by a Catholic church and convent. The original Inca temples sited here are believed to have been the religious and political centre of Cusco.
The solid stone plinth upon which the Christian basilica now sits was originally an Inca Temple dedicated to the worship of Inti, the Sun God, and was clad with sheets of pure gold. The stonework is of such high quality that joints are less than 20mm wide, with no mortar used.
Here there was a complex of multiple temples, not only to the Sun but to the Moon, Venus and the Stars. The Convent of Santo Domingo was built up and over the layout of the Inca temples, with original walls left in place and covered in plaster to allow for the painting of Christian frescoes.
In 1950 there was an earthquake that caused severe damage to the Catholic church but the temple walls stood strong, perhaps one last sign of defiance.
Rose made the observation here that the temple walls are capable of surviving a massive earthquake but are unable to stand up to the squashy bums of Cusco's many tourists....
With the gift of a few extra days in Cusco than originally planned, we set about drawing up a list of things to do during our time here. A haircut featured high on the list!