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Andy in the Andes (Part II)

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Last week, an exchange student from the U.S. took us along for the journey on her first few days in Cusco Let’s see how the rest of her trip went!Day 3 – Saturday

I’ve got to say, although it’s pretty hard to beat a day at Machu Picchu, the rest of the trip continued to bring new experiences. Friday we awoke to a sunny Ollatataymbo morning, welcoming us to this small town. Still amongst the mountains and the previous homes of the Incans, more ruins were awaiting our arrival.

The terraces and stone structures of Ollatataymbo lie on the outskirts of town, built into the side of a mountain overlooking the buildings below. We made our way through the stone-paved paths, marveling at the giant granite stones, hauled there from miles away. Humans, man, they can do some pretty cool things. From that vantage point the whole town was visible below – curving, narrow cobblestoned streets, outside markets, and a bull ring that still hosts _la corrida de toros_ every October.

Photo 1
_(Photo: Andrea Hucke)_

We then headed back to Cusco, our original destination, and city that’s home to over 300,000 people. The mix of locals and tourists, old and new traditions, and Incan and Spanish style architecture gives this place a unique atmosphere. Our hotel was just one block from the main Plaza de Armas, providing us the perfect location in the midst of the older section of town.

When it comes to Cusco, the Spanish are given credit (and rightly so) because when they arrived they left much of the city the same. Thanks to them many of the Incan structures remain there today. Most of the buildings are an interesting combination of the two cultures. The base of many of the structures are made from large stones, fitting perfectly together, while the top half is representative of Spanish villas – with their tall, white walls and ceramic tiled roofs. A tour of the city gave us an idea of the history and atmosphere. We made our way past churches, plazas, women with kids in one arm and goats in the other, and numerous markets.

Photo 2
(Photo: Andrea Hucke)

The rest of the day we were free to explore Cusco on our own. And there was much to explore. We just happened to be there during the last couple days of the Corpus Christi celebration. At this time each year the festival is held to represent the arrival of 15 saints and virgins, visiting the Cathedral of Cusco 60 days after Easter Sunday to greet the body of Christ. It consists of multiple parades, dances, fireworks, and music. That night we caught part of it as we made our way back to the hotel. The streets were filled with people, both participating in, and watching, the parade. Accompanied by loud, free-flowing music, performers in bright costumes danced their way through the city.

The rest of the night was spent on the rooftop terrace of our hotel, peering out over the dark silhouettes of buildings, lit by streetlights and fireworks. The sound of the festival below and the ongoing parade served as background music. As I sat there looking up and out I realized it was the first time I had seen the stars since leaving the states. And I was looking at the same big dipper, just from a different hemisphere, and upside down.

Photo 3
_(Photo: Andrea Hucke)_

Day 4 – Sunday

During the final day of the excursion we had the chance to further familiarize ourselves with the city of Cusco. As the Corpus Christi was celebrating its last day, after waking up we headed to the main Plaza de Armas in the hopes of catching more of the parade. Luckily, we found some comfy stone steps to sit on and watched as people of all ages in colorful costumes, accompanied by musical instruments, made their way through the streets.

I loved the parade because it was so different than what I’m used to seeing in the United States; it was actually quite opposite. Instead of the typical, perfectly straight lines of band members, marching in sync, looking as uniform as possible, these people were all moving to their own beat. The music was loud and full of life, perhaps not hitting all of the correct notes, but free and flowing. As were the dancers. While they were performing a routine of some sort, each had their own style and flair. Eyes closed, arms towards the sky, they danced in a way that was truly representative of how they were feeling. How many people do that?

Photo 4
_(Photo: Andrea Hucke)_

We didn’t stay at the parade long because we had a short day and much to see. Afterwards, we took a taxi up to the top of the city, where the ruins of Saqsayhuamán lie and the statue of Cristo Blanco. From there we could see Cusco sprawled out beneath; a maze of buildings, streets, and ceramic-tiled houses.

We also had the chance to explore the center market of the city. Immense and packed with people, the market took up a huge building and the streets surrounding it. Unfortunately, since it was Sunday, the indoor section was closed, but we still had plenty to see on the outside. That market had everything – from cow tongues to circular loaves of bread, pomegranates to quinoa, and even clothes and small trinkets. Although I didn’t feel 100% comfortable trying some of the fresh food that was being sold, it was interesting to walk around to see (and smell) all it had to offer.

Spending the last day in Cusco, exploring small cafes and stores, turned out to be a great and relaxing way to wrap up our weekend adventure.

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