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South America and Mexico

Cusco Day 3 - Sacsayhuaman

PERU | Saturday, 5 October 2013 | Views [720]

Today was pretty amazing! We woke up to pouring rain and our hopes of horseback riding were dashed momentarily. But with rain, comes many things that you don't usually get to witness so we suited up and went out. We were driven up to Sacsayhuaman National Park with our tour guide, Ernesto, and dropped off to walk to this ranch that had these horses bred especially to handle the rocky and sometimes narrow terrain of the Andes. My horse was Chocolate and he was fantastic. Always trying to nudge Eric's horse in the butt to hurry up or trying to push his way to the front. Our horseman was named Frank and I was more than impressed by his stamina. As we rode all the way up to almost 14,000 ft, he just kept running along with us, keeping the horses in line. I could hardly climb a set of stairs in the city without getting winded and here was Frank charging up 2000 ft of rocky terrain like we're at sea level. 

We rode through the Andean hilltops, dismounted, and walked about a mile to our first stop, Puca Pucara, which means Red Fortress in Quechua. It is believed to have been an Incan fortress or military post as it sits on this hilltop right near the Inca Trail. You have a 360 degree view of anyone approaching across the entire valley. In addition, they have storage rooms for weapons and crops that are paid as taxes by incoming merchants. 

Across the road and about a 10 minute walk away was Tambomachay which was believed to be some sort of royal bath. There was a three layer stone bath that flowed down level by level and at one point, thought to be a tomb. But since no mummies were ever found here, the royal bath notion seems a lot more plausible. It was a beautiful sight surrounded by lots of grazing sheep, llamas, and even a few pigs. With the rain, we were able to witness the Incan aqueducts in the work.

We took a collectivo part of the way back to the horses and stopped at a local weaving place. We were shown the traditional looms they used and some simple machinery. All the dyes used are completely natural. The base color is basically this parasite that lives on a specific kind of cactus they have and they are mixed with various leaves or plants to create a myriad of colors. On average, it takes them about 5 days to make a scarf as there are many steps until the end product. 

We walked back to Frank and the horses and rode on to the Temple of the Moon. It consists of two small underground caves with a flat altar along the inner wall. During the full moon, the moonlight shines right through a hole in the roof onto the altar. Even today, many natives still come here with offerings or gifts. On the walls, there were carvings of snakes, pumas, and condors-the Incan trilogy representing the past, present, and future. 

After more than 4 hours of riding, romping, and climbing around the hilltops, we returned to the ranch to return the horses and continued on foot to the biggest ruins in the area, Sacsayhuaman. The Spaniards refer to it as a military outpost because of its towering terrace walls overlooking the city and also because this is where the rebellion against them started. In reality, it is believed to have been built for ceremonial purposes. It is so vast that the main plaza can hold thousands and thousands of people. Today, every year there is an Incan festival on the day of the winter solstice where tens of thousands of Peruvians flock to Sacsayhuaman to celebrate.

We decided to walk back down to the Plaza de Armas and boy, that was hard. In our 15 min walk, we descended about 1000 ft. The steps were so steep and angled forward. With the addition of all the rain, they became super slippery rounded stones and I was slightly afraid for my tailbone. Ernesto was an excellent guide and totally worth paying extra for. Otherwise it would have been us and Frank who spoke no English, wandering around the hilltops. 

6 hours of roaming at altitude will definitely work up your appetite. It is a bit hard to get food recommendations around here because I think everyone just assumes we want the nicer, touristy places no matter how much I say I don't want fancy. Since it was raining and chilly, I found this little restaurant that serves various soups, from Peruvian stews to Japanese Udon. Sadly, they weren't open yet when we went for our late lunch/early dinner. We kept walking towards the touristy Plaza to a restaurant that someone else had mentioned and then all of a sudden I spot the word pollo. Ever since we lived in San Diego and discovered Peruvian chicken, I have been looking forward to having it here. And I mean REALLY looking forward to it. Not the fancy schmancy chicken they serve you in those fancy schmancy tourist restaurants where it's smothered in fancy shcmancy sauce, but just some good herby roasted chicken with fries that puts rotissiere chicken to shame. We looked at the menu and it consists of 1/4, 1/2, or 1 pollo con papas fritas y ensalada. Literal moment where all my foodie dreams came true.

Leones Pardos Chicken is probably as hole in the wall as I can manage and it was AMAZING!! I'm pretty sure it was a little family run business because the waiter looked about 20 years old, his younger sister was in the back making the hot beverages, his mom was manning the cash box and roasting/frying chicken, his probably 6 year old brother would come around and wipe down the tables, and then there was this adorable 3 year old little girl toddling around the restaurant with her rubber duck. 

He said 1/2 a chicken should be enough for both of us and comes back with two plates with a giant piece of chicken and fries galore. As we ate, I thought I had misspoke and we each got 1/2 a chicken but after a day like today, I didn't think about it twice. We watched soccer and then some dubbed Jackie Chan movie with the other locals there eating. The aji sauce was amazing. The various pickled vegetables were amazing. The chicken was amazing. In the end, I learned that what we received was actually only 1/4 chicken each. Holy cow, how big are their chickens? So for under $10, we both ate our fill of delicious Peruvian chicken amongst a bunch of locals without a waiter who demanded a tip such as those in the fancy schmancy touristy restaurants. That was probably the best meal I've had here. And we didn't have to splurge for anything ridiculous.

Perfect meal to end a perfect day. 



Tags: chicken, hiking, horseback riding, incan, peru, ruins


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