Cusco: Historic Capital of Peru

I apologize for skipping a write-up about yesterday, but since it was predominantly a travel day there really isn’t much to tell. I’ll try to circle back to it later…

Today, as we typically try to do, we started off in our new city with a walking tour. (After picking up some Latte’s and Mocha’s to go of course!) Our first stop was the Plaza De Armas. As I had previously written, pretty much any major South American  city has a main square due to a Spanish doctrine and Cusco is no different.



The Plaza de Armas, also known as the “Square of the Warrior,” was once the location of many former Incan Palaces. It seems that each ruler chose to build his own rather than matriculating into the house of his predecessor. Unfortunately, these palaces were plundered and demolished by the Spanish around 1535, only to have Catholic Churches built on the same foundations. It is in this manner that the Spanish sought to systematically illegitimize the indigenous religion and force their own beliefs on the locals.

After leaving the Plaza de Armas, we stopped by an open plaza in order to listen to some music that was being played by a man trying very diligently to keep the music of the indigenous people alive and thriving. (I wish I had video privileges with WordPress, but since I don’t I’ll have to circle back and post a video when I get the chance.) The accoustic experience was incredibly moving and I love how vibrantly music can represent the ‘color’ of the people.

 

There were also some very cute Alpacas. A local also brought a baby alpaca to roam, but when I tried to take a picture she angrily snatched up the kid and yelled at me saying that photos were not free (even though another lady had freely snapped some shots just before me). I had heard that this happens often in Cusco, but I was definitely put off that she hadn’t calmly mentioned it earlier when she was just sitting silently nearby. 

We then moved on to explore the old Incan Walls (which I will write about more later), and roam the streets of San Blas, one of the oldest and most artistic/picturesque neighborhoods of the city, before ascending some steps to wrap up our tour with a Pisco Sour and Ceviche demonstration. The view from this bar of Cusco city was just phenomenal!

On our way we also stopped in front of a store with a life-sized figurine of Eneko. I’m having difficulty finding online sources about this superstition, but apparently most local households have a 6-12″ figure of him in their home. If you have any troubles finding jobs, or love, or buying a house etc., apparently you simply tape a small model of the dilemma in question to his back and it will soon be resolved!

After the tour ended, Tom and I grabbed nachos for some minor sustenance (they were sub-par as a expected), before we decided to head the rest of the way up the hill to visit Saksaywaman (“Sexy Women” LoL). It was about a 30-min walk/hike through San Blas and upward. Thankfully we took stops as needed, and even accidentally stumbled upon the shop of Sabino Huaynan, a famous luthier that is only one of two in the whole of Peru!


Saksaywaman,p (spelled in a variety of different ways depending on who you ask), had its first sections built by the Kilke Culture around 1100 AD, and was expanded upon by the Incas in the 13th century. The stone walls were constructed of large stones cut and ground precisely to allow them to fit together without the need for mortar.

Cristo Bianco

I really enjoyed the site, but my only gripe is that a 1-Day entree fee to see 4 sites, 3 of which are not easily accessible by foot was a whomping 70 soles and they didn’t accept card! After we paid, Tom and I had a mere 10 soles between the two of us. 😦 We found out later that the Tourist Ticket, at 130 soles, gave you a total of 10-days to see all the major sites; not that either of us had enough cash on us at the time. Farewell $22! Lima was not expensive at all compared to this, the highest we ever paid for one site was 30 soles. 

Near the end of our visit, it started drizzling, and than raining, and then pelting us with hail. I knew that the weather in the mountains can be precarious, but neither Tom or I had packed our rain jackets, so not only did we get wet, but Tom received some battle wounds as well. Thankfully we were able to find temporary shelter until the worst of it passed and then made a precarious, slippery descent down the stone steps. 

We finally returned to the hostel around 6 PM, and after a brief reprieve headed out to try Papachos, a burger joint founded by the owner of Astrid Y Gaston. I chose it as an option because they had an Alpaca Burger that I simply HAD to try. Unfortunately Tom did not enjoy his meal as much as the temperature was more medium-rare, the meat not tender, and the flavor lacking.

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Copenhagen: A Perplexing Start

 

Tom had a perplexing start to his day. While we were waiting for our lattes at a table, we noticed a giant Rubik’s Cube right next to us. Obviously, being the engineers we are, we started solving it piece by piece. Ironically, neither one of us could remember how to solve the last layer, so we had to leave it behind with only 2 out of 3 of the rows solved. I also learned that my boyfriend is a nerd; Apparently he attended Rubik’s Cube club meetings while he was in college. 

 Our first stop was the National Museum of Denmark. Housed in the Prince’s Mansion, one of the earliest Roccoco buildings in Copenhagen, the National Museum has the largest collection of Danish cultural history in all of Denmark. Its  exhibition covers 14,000 years from prehistoric times to present-day lives. It would have been easy to spend our entire day there, but Tom and I had a lot more to see (not to mention, we’ve pretty much had our fill of museums for this trip). My favorite part was their collection of dollhouses, I always wanted one as a little girl. The scaling of each piece of furniture and the detail associated with it has always fascinated me. Tom couldn’t share my enthusiasm, because well, I’m pretty certain that he has never been a little girl. 😀

 We grabbed some Smørrebrød for lunch, a traditional open-faced sandwich of meat, fish, cheese, or spread, on a buttered piece of rye bread, before heading over to the Parliament building. Officially, the building is called Christiansborg Palace,  a metonym meaning, “Castle of the Realm.” It is the only one in the world the houses all three branches of the government, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial powers. We took two elevators to the top of the tower, the tallest tower in Copenhagen, and were greeted with some scenic views of the city.
 After returning to ground level, we took a closer look at the Børsen, the old stock exchange. We passed by it yesterday during the walking tour, but I wanted a closer look at its spire. Built by Christian IV between 1619-1614, the building is known for its  the Dragon Spire which consists of four dragon tails wounded together reaching a height of 56 meters. I really admire the expressive artistry that older buildings have. It’s a tradition that has been lost and overtaken by a desire for modern, sleek shapes. At the same time, it would be unrealistic to build elaborately carved or scuplted details into structures these days since I’m sure the cost would be astronomical.

 We stopped by a few historical churches and then took a stroll along Nyhavn. Nyhavn is a man-made port dug between 1670 to 1673 by Swedish prisoners of the Dano-Swedish War. It was constructed by Christian V and served as a gateway from the sea to the old inner city, Kongens Nytorv the “King’s Square.” The harbor area was notorious for beer, sailors, and prostitution. On our walk yesterday, Benjamin mentioned that the first tattoo parlor in the city was opened here, and the artist had a two sided machine. Back in those days it was common for sailors to put their names on their lady-friends, but it was also bad business for the woman. So if the woman handed the artist a few extra bucks, a wink, the tattoo artist would us the semi-permanent needle on his machine, allowing the name to wash away a few days later rather than being permanent. The famous fairytale author, Hans Christian Anderson also lived along this street for 18 years. 

 Our last stop today was to the Rundetaarn, or “Round Tower.” Originally built by Christian IV in the 17th century, the cylindrical tower is made of masonry with alternating yellow and red bricks, the colors of the Oldenburgs. It also has has an equestrian ramp rather than a staircase; this design was chosen to allow a horse and carriage to reach the library and for heavy and sensitive equipment to be transported to the astronomical observatory on top. Tom and I walked up the 7.5 turn helical corridor, and I couldn’t help but ask, “Are we there yet?”

Hammerfest: The Northernmost City

 We took a long day trip to visit Hammerfest, Norway. This city was originally our destination of choice over Alta, but for various reasons we’d decided not to permanently stay there. An interesting fact is that Hammerfest lays claim to the title of “The Northernmost City in the World,”although Honningsvag has disputed this title. There is also technically the town of Barrow, Alaska that is further north than both of these places. It was roughly a 2.5 hr drive for us from Alta, but there were plenty of exquisite snow-capped mountains for us to enjoy. 

  Once we finally arrived, we immediately geared up for a hike up Mount Salen. I was happy that Tom finally got to make use of his utilitarian snow boots (he does have a propensity to favor those boat shoes of his 🙂 ). In good weather, it’s supposed to be an easy 45-minute trail hike up a steady incline that spirals towards the summit. However, as it is March, the snow was still quite deep, so we followed footprints up the trail, carefully trying to place our boots in the existing footholes, and making our own where there were none. 

 Eventually the snow drift became steep enough that we found ourselves gripping the chain-link fence. If it had been a rigid, full-height fence we would have been comfortable continuing our hike. However, rigid posts with only two rows of chains did not give us a high level of confidence. When I found myself almost sliding through the bottom of the fence, after the snow underneath my boot had given way, we decided it was time to turn back. The sun was starting to drop from the sky, and neither of us liked the prospect of descending in the dark. Fortunately, we managed to get to a rocky outcrop just shy of the summit for a gorgeous view of the city and the archipelago. 

 

After returning to the car, we grabbed dinner. I had some Norwegian Fiskesuppe which I found really creamy and flavorful.

 We then stopped by for a quick visit to the Northernmost station of the Struve Geodetic Arc. It is a chain of triangulations that stretches through 10 countries all the way to the Black Sea in Ukraine. Completed between 1816 and 1855 by the German-born Russian scientist Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve, it was the first accurate measurement of a meridian. Tom wasn’t as excited about it as I was, but then again, I just spent the last year having to study the topic of Surveying for my P.E. licensing exams.

Then it was time to head home to Alta. The skies were generous and once again performed its dance of light for us.  

 

Travel: Waterfall Safari and Spices

A group of us woke up early today to embark on a day trip beyond the beaches. After all, there is only so much beach bummage that one can handle!

It took us about 2-hours by taxi to reach the the the small town of Kulem, a town located just outside the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park, a protected area located within the Western Ghats.

What I didn’t know at the time is that the Western Ghats are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and said to be one of eight “hottest hotspots”of biological diversity in the world. The mountain range is home to 39 properties in total with locations in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra.

From there, we hopped in a safari jeep for a 1-hr climb through the mountains up to the waterfalls.

As expected, the 4-wheel drive was more than needed as we climbed the mountain. We crossed over rocky terrain, small streams, and large pools of water at low points along the road. We parked and then there was a short hiking path to the base of the falls.

Dudhsagar Falls is one of India’s largest waterfalls with a peak height of 1017 ft. It sits on the border of Goa and Karnataka, and is a four-tiered waterfall. Its name can be translated to “Sea of Milk” because the monsoon rains transform the entire rock face into a jaw-dropping force of water. Unfortunately the monsoon season is from July to September, so we were just catching the remnants of water left behind.

I wasn’t aware that we were allowed to swim in the pool. Fortunately Tané had a spare bikini top and I decided to sacrifice my underwear for the cause. (I ended up having to ride home commando, wet panties in a pair of jean shorts is never a good idea.)

It was definitely an experience being able to lay our backs against the rock face and feel the pounding of the water run across our heads and shoulders.

We then swam back to the rocks, dried off, and had a quick photo-op before heading to take the jeep back down the mountain. After we hopped in the taxi, it was on to our next stop for the day.

The diversity of India’s culinary creations are something that no one should skimp out on. India is the largest democracy in the world, and its substantial geographic presence results in six, unique climate subtypes. From north to south an abundance of dish varieties can be found. Goa, for example, is well known for its Goan Fish Curry, and the south for its use of lentils, rice, and dosas, whereas naan, rotis, and samosas originate from the north.

Such variety would not be possibly without the use of spices, and we learned all about the difference flavors that each spice can add to dish on our tour of the Tropical Spice Plantation. We were able to see, pick, and taste all of the following: Pepper, Vanilla, Betel Nuts, Cardamom, Lemongrass, Piri Piri, Nutmeg, Cashew, Clove, Cinnamon, Bay Leaves, Chinese Coriander, Turmeric, Ginger, All  Spice, Gherkin, Cardamom, and Black Cardamom.

imageThey even had an elephant giving rides! (Although I can’t comment on whether he was being ethically treated and cared for.)  We then headed back to the hostel to relax for a bit before we all grabbed dinner together to celebrate my last evening in Goa.

Travel: Vagator

This morning with a heavy heart I had to bid Nick adieu. But before he disappeared into the wind, he helped me secure a rigshaw to ferry me away to a hostel for the remainder of my time in Goa. Nick then hopped into a Taxi headed to the airport.

imageIt’s somewhat surprising that we are such good friends, with very similar travel philosophies, despite our colored past. You see, once upon a time, many years ago, we dated each other, and, as with many high school relationships, it ended dramatically and emotionally, igniting a rift in our social circles. But, as is typical with age and college, our friendship evolved and adapted to the adults we were becoming. Even today I still find some irony in our story. Nick is one of a handful of friends that sees the world and travels in similar fashion to myself.

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But enough about our history! I am now on my own, savoring the rest of my days on Vagator Beach. Unfortunately, with the New Year’s traffic it took me over an hour to get to my new crash pad.By the time I had checked in and dropped off my luggage I was hot, sweaty, and tired. I used the lounge area to catch up on some blog posts, and after recooperating some energy, made the 10-minute walk to check out the beach before calling it a day.

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Travel: New Years

Last night while walking amongst the crowds on the beach and celebrating the holiday, my butt got grabbed twice. The first time I thought it was an accident, but the second time I couldn’t help myself from turning around and shoving the guy behind me. Nick, ever a great guy friend, backed me up and the group of males backed off. It took me awhile to shake it off and go back to enjoying the celebratory atmosphere.

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This morning, Nick and I slept in. We started off our morning with lunch consisting of traditional Goan Fish Curry and Fried Prawns. It was so tasty! After, we meandered on to the local beach and rented cots for the day to spend a lazy afternoon. We enjoyed quick massages from a peddler, and certainly couldn’t skip our daily tradition of Chai and Biscuits.

With a twinge of sadness we watched the sun dip below the horizon. This was to be Nick and I’s last night together as he was flying out in the morning to spend some time with his extended family in India. We celebrated our eye-opening Indian Adventure together by sharing one last dinner.

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Travel: Elephants

imageElephants are creatures that are revered in India. According to Hindu Cosmology, the earth is supported and guarded by mythical World Elephants at the compass points of the cardinal directions. Sanskrit literature even attributes earthquakes to the shaking of their bodies when the elephants tire of their burden.

The deity Ganesh(a) is the god of wisdom, and he is distinctively represented by a human form with the head of an elephant, which was placed after the human head was either decapitated or burned from the body.

imageHowever, this is not how the Elephanta Caves, with origins dating between the 5th and 8th centuries, received their namesake. In the 16th century, the Portuguese named the island “Elephanta Island” in honor of a huge, monolithically rock-cut black stone of an elephant on a mound; this unfortunately has been relocated to the Mumbai Zoo.

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 Despite being just 7 miles east of the port, the ferry ride took an hour to get there! Fortunately, I caught some great views of the Gateway of India, the exit causeway through which the last British troops passed through on February 28, 1948, signalling an end to British rule and the beginning of Indian independence.

In each of the caves, Shiva or Mahadeva, “Great God” is aniconically represented by a Lingam, a single rock rounded at the top. Aniconism is the avoidance of using images to represent divine beings, prophets, and religious figures.

However, I happen to find the monolithic rock to be an appropriate manifestation of Shiva.

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At his highest level, Shiva is considered limitless and transcendent, unchanging and formless. Why not abstractly represent him as something from nature that also adheres to these characteristics? Are rocks not powerful? Do they not withstand the test of the time?

I may not be Hindu, but even I was moved. I couldn’t help but place my palm against the rock and close my eyes, taking some time to summon my faith, and chant the Buddhist Mantra I learned as a child beneath my father’s wing.

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