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Taking a Break in Cusco, PE

April 19, 2018

History:  The city is surrounded by hills and there are many, many things to see and do in the area.  It’s one of South America’s biggest tourist destinations and the city has lovely whitewashed cobbled streets, lots of culture, a thriving nightlife and more Inca ruins than you can shake a stick at.  It sits up high at almost 3400m/11,100’ so it has fall like days: warm during the day, cold at night.  It is said to have the highest UV ratings and so sunscreen is a must!

The city was found in 1100AD and became the centre of the Inca Empire in the fifteen century – it was the place of residence of the elite and considered a sacred city.  If you recall from our time in Cajamarca, the famous and last ruler of the Incas, Atahualpa, was enroute here when he was killed by the Spanish, otherwise, he’d actually never set foot in Cusco.  To protect the city from invaders, Cusco was guarded by the fortress of Sacsayhuaman. It stood on a hill above the city and contained an arsenal, a temple, reservoirs, storerooms and a throne for Sapa Inca. In the Incan religion, Viracocha was the creator of the sun and the earth; Inti (the sun god and most important to the Inca), had a son, Sapa Inca (the earth god), who was born by rising from Lake Titicaca.

The inner city of Cusco was laid out in the shape of a puma whose head was the fortress of Sacsayhuaman. His body was shaped by the rivers Tulumayo and Huatanay and his tail was where both rivers meet in a place known as Pumaq Chupan. His heart was the Huacapata or holy square containing the Coricancha or Temple of the Sun.

The Inca’s engineering skills were tested in the building of this Sacsayhuaman. Its zigzag walls were made of enormous stone blocks that weighed 90 to 120 tons each. Without the use of a mortar they were able to interlock the stones.  This stone work amazed the Spaniards when they arrived; they had never seen anything like it.  There was an extensive amount of precious metal work as well, which they wasted no time looting. 

 Back when we were in Peru in 2011 we came to Cusco, saw many of the sites including hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu so we will not be doing any of these things this time around.  There are a few sites in the area we do plan to do during our month long stay here.


After saying goodbye to Donna and spending a bit of time on the internet, we left Quinta Lala and headed for the apartment Fran had booked through a recommendation of a PanAm Facebook acquaintance.  The timing for living outside of Tigger was good as Doug had found a carpenter to do some renovations inside the rig.    It will just make it easier not to have to live in the disarray during the work.

We understood we were getting half an apartment; in other words, our own private bedroom and the rest of the apartment would be shared with one other couple/person in the other bedroom, with hot water and internet.  Fran had explicitly asked three times if the parking area was large enough and was told by Alfredo, “Si, si”.

So we found the place and saw the garage door and knew there was NO way Tiger would fit in there but who knows, maybe there was a different place for us to park….. Alfredo showed up in about five minutes amazed with how big Tigger was.  WTH????  He said he thought his garage door was three metres (no way!) and that it was not possible that Tigger was less than that! (Tigger is 2.9m tall) He said he could arrange parking around the corner and give us a discount on the rental if it worked out.  Well, the parking was more than two blocks away and it did not look suitable.  He mentioned he knew of another place and Fran said, “First, let’s see the apartment”.  The building was beside his hostel and it didn’t look that great so before committing we wanted to see what we were getting – did it look like the photos he’d sent?  Well, first of all it was up five flights of stairs! It was quite small and there were four bedrooms not two, a tiny kitchen and today the water was not working (so we began to second guess ourselves here).  We’d paid a deposit already and after a couple of minutes discussion, decided no, this was not going to work and we asked for our deposit back.  Alfredo gave it back without any hassle but did message Fran later saying he shouldn’t have given it back as he’d lost reservations to which she replied, that this could have all been avoided if he’d just the messages about the size of Tigger correctly and knew how tall his garage door was but by that time Alfredo had  already blocked her off from his Whatsapp and FB.

So we looked on iOverlander and actually found a hotel on the other side of town that took rigs and was much closer to the carpenter which meant Doug would not have to drive thru El Centro every day and the price was good.  We drove to Hotel Cabaña and the manager gave us a room with a shared bathroom with hot water, internet, a place to park on concrete and let us cook in our rig.  We were only paying 5 soles more than we were paying at Quinta Lala!  So we unpacked what needed to come out of Tigger for the work to begin tomorrow and spent the night in the room after cooking dinner.

Friday, Doug left by eight and headed to Alex, the carpenter for the work to begin.  He came home by dinner time and the new walls were all installed!

We walked down the street to a chicken place and Fran stupidly ordered fried chicken and it didn’t stay down that evening.  She was pretty wiped the next morning and most of the day.  The plan was for her to go with Doug early, drop off laundry at a place about 1km away and walk back but she wasn’t up to it.  Doug took the laundry to Alex’s place and his wife kindly did it (for which we naturally paid her). Fran did manage to get out for a bit today and went to choose new flooring.  Since we’re in reno mode and we have the time and someone to do it, we decided to replace the vinyl tiles we’d installed back in 2012 when we tore out the original blue shag carpet.  The tiles have been separating over time, peeling and don’t look so great anymore.

Doug returned to the carpenter on Saturday all day and then half a day on Sunday,  and he was happy to return with the new table tops done, the counter installed, the cupboards no longer sagging and the loose boards around the door, no longer loose.  He’d also had the seams on the couch resewn (Fran had repaired it in several places by hand but that does not hold up well) and the floor of the bathroom had begun cracking so he had that redone at a fiberglass place as well as a large scratch on the top part of Tigger that had begun cracking.  All that was left was the back splash that needed to be attached, all the caulking around the countertop and the floor.  So we are still at the same hotel but on Monday moved out of a room (since we no longer needed a place to keep all out kitchen stuff) and moved back into Tigger for sleeping for a couple of nights  as Alex had to go out of town for three days.

Monday saw us run some errands; including taking Doug to see the flooring after which he reached out to Alex and advised he could purchase it before heading over on Thursday to save some time.

The weather in Cusco has been decent with some short showers at night but not every night.  It’s comfortable in jeans and a shirt with a vest (when it’s cloudy) but once the sun goes down it does cool off a good amount, some nights reach single digits Celsius.

So then all day Thursday and half of Friday, the rest of the work got done including repairing the entry step which we discovered was pulling apart when we took off the tiles to prep the floor and a few other small repairs.  Alex and his wife, Edida, invited us over for lunch and we met their family.

Upon leaving their home/workshop, Doug dropped off Fran and he went to get Tigger washed and the inside of the cab vacuumed and cleaned before putting everything back inside.  We spent a couple of hours putting Tigger back together and then had one last night in the hotel.

(Check the galleries if you want to see all the renovations.)

Friday night we received an invitation from our British friend, Mark, whom we met with his two daughters, Isabel and Isis, back at Swiss Wasi – the first place we stayed in Peru.  He’s been living in Cusco for fourteen years and told us to look him up when we got here.  He invited us to his home in Lucre, outside the city for lunch.  It was a nice afternoon.  He owns a simple little house in Lucre with an amazing view of the watershed and mountains.

He also gave us a better route to use to get to Quinta Lala which is located on the other side of Cusco so we didn’t have to through El Centro – made a HUGE difference – thanks so much Mark!  This is a super popular overlander spot as the pickings are slim (like most big cities).  During the final weeks we were here, there were anywhere from 4 to 16 overlanders camped here.

The route actually goes around the Sacsayhuaman site and we were able to get views of it from the road (later we walked back up the road and there are a few spots bare of bushes and/or gates that you can see the huge blocks of rock and a spot where you can see where blocks were cut from).

Upon arriving at Quinta Lala, Kim & Casey were back, the Brazilian couple was still there, and two other rigs were there (one VW van with a French family with three kids ranging in age from 6-14 that they home schooled) and another arrived after we got settled.  Darkness came quick and we called it a night.

Sunday a French couple, Sophie & Jeremy arrived and joined us with Kim & Casey for happy hour.

Next day 2 bikers from Australia, Paul & Neake pulled in and we chatted for a while.  They wanted to extend their visa and TIP here in Cusco and were looking for Mili’s (the owner of Quinta Lala) help.  They also wanted a room, not camping, so they parked their bikes here and went next door to the hotel but did join us for happy hour.  We learned that there is a brand new deep fire pit here and so that evening, Doug, Paul & Casey made a fire which made happy hour much more comfortable!

Over the course of that week, some overlanders left and others arrived; another French couple, a couple of Kiwis and Germans also joined us and the Brazilians returned as did John, the German.  He too, had been having some renos done and was happy to be back with other overlanders instead of a in a garage!

Tuesday, May Day, Kim, Casey, Neake, Paul and we went on a free walking tour of Cusco.  The guide, Paul, was okay but his accent and English were not the greatest.  The tour was about 90 minutes instead of two hours because today is a national holiday so some sites were not open.  It ended at an Andean restaurant where we all received a free pisco sour.  That  night we had another fire with Kim & Casey.  They were leaving the next day.

Wednesday, we did long walks down and back into town (twenty minutes downhill to the Plaza de Armas but more like 40 back up!).  Doug found himself a Spanish school and wants to take a half dozen lessons starting on Friday. Thursday we took a cab into the city looking for new floor mats to help spruce up Tigger but had no luck; we even looked into having them made and they would have cost the same as the new floor!  They are not just common here except for bathroom mats.  Most people have ceramic tile floors (if they have a real floor…).

Friday and Saturday Doug went off for his lessons, Fran did some chores around the campground resting her knee from Wednesday.  We had several more overlanders join us as well:  a couple of Swiss guys who were travelling in VW van plated in BC and they were travelling with a couple from Spain, to whom they were going to sell their vehicle to in about two weeks. A couple on motorbikes also set up a tent and we had a happy hour with a bunch of these people till it got too cold.  Today the sun never really came out so it didn’t warm up much and when it drops, it really cools off.

Saturday, our friends, Taylor  & KP joined us here at Quinta Lala and they told us that another couple that we also know should be arriving too!  They joined us for happy hour around the campfire tonight as well as the two new Swiss couples who arrived earlier in the day.

Sunday, Doug went for his lesson and Fran went to observe Mass at the cathedral; she’d read that mass was at nine but when we arrived it was half over.  She stayed anyway and got to see the church at least (tourists have to pay to enter this cathedral which allows tourists after 10am).

yes that’s the Last Supper and they are serving guinea pig (as this IS Peru!)

Upon exiting a large parade was beginning on the square so she hung around and watched.

Doug joined her after his lesson and we tried to go to a few spots on our list: Museo Inka and the Convento de Santa Domingo; former was closed on Sunday (despite what we’d read) and latter did not open until two so rather than hang around for three hours, we walked to the market, got fruit and veg, hit the supermarket for a few other things and caught a taxi back to Tigger where we spent the afternoon.

That evening we had another campfire happy hour with KP, Taylor, Harry & Romana;  in this cold, it is a much more pleasant way to socialize.

Monday we had an adventure: we booked a tour to the Sky Lodge.  This was something we’d read about well before we began this journey.  Back in January we tried to book an overnight stay once we know when we’d be in Cusco and when we were flying home.  Unfortunately, they were booked solid till August!  So instead we are doing a day trip.

The day started off with being picked up outside the campground and driven to the little town of Pachar in the Sacred Valley (in between Urubamba and Ollantaytamba enroute to Aguas Calientes where you can reach Machu Picchu).  The drive took about an hour and a quarter including picking up a young Canadian couple in Urubamba.

The Sky Lodge is composed of four “capsules/pods” of which two are bedrooms and two are dining rooms.  The transparent pods hang vertically at the top of a mountain and allow a 300 degree view of the majestic Sacred Valley.  They are hand made out of aerospace aluminum and weather resistant polycarbonate.

Our day trip consisted of climbing 400 metres of via ferrata, a lovely four course lunch including wine, then descending via 6 zip lines ranging from 150 to 700m long.

Upon arriving at the “base” we awaited another van load of 7 people who were joining our group; this included an American couple, a Scottish couple, an Indian couple who currently reside in Atlanta, GA and a young Australian woman.  Ten of us were doing the “Via Ferrata” and the Austrailian woman was hiking up.  We were given our gear: harnesses, helmets and gloves, asked to sign our lives away with waivers, and a short lesson/safety talk.

The ascent began almost immediately climbing up rungs with cables on the side for safety.  We had to hook and unhook from these cables about 300 times over the course of the day.  In the middle of the climb there is a 50’ suspension bridge which you are clipped on to and walk sideways across on two wires at your feet and one to hold onto with your hands (that was the freakiest part for Fran!).   Much of the climb is quite vertical with some side stepping sections and one or two “rest” areas.  The steps are not uniform in size and like most Peruvian staircase, parts were a challenge for Fran.

The climb up took about an hour and a half to the pod where were unhooked but continued to wear our harnesses and had a wonderful lunch.  It’s amazing what they could whip up on their little countertop stove.  We had a lovely soup, an appie, a main course and dessert served with wine, juice or water.

We left the pods around 3 (about an hour late…) and made our way to the first zip line.


The second one was a tandem which we did together then there were four other solo ones before reaching the “base”.

It was quite an exciting day and this is activity you don’t need a lot of experience to do but a fear of heights would definitely be an issue! We had very good guides, safety was never an issue.  We would definitely recommend this trip and if you want to sleep up there book waaaaaaay in advance; we’re sure it’s amazing on a clear night.

Upon returning to camp KP & Taylor joined us in Tigger, John arrived shortly afterwards and then Iaonnis and Rochelle (the Greek and Aussie we met back before doing Caño Cristales in Colombia).  As we had a late lunch, happy hour went till about ten pm that night with lots of beer, rum and snacks.  All those bodies kept the temperature quite comfy inside (the fire pit had been taken over by all the Swiss overlanders tonight! – there are six vehicles of them).

Tuesday was a quiet day; chores, Doug’s lesson, Fran went into town in the afternoon and we had a short quiet happy hour with KP & Taylor (they are heading out early tomorrow for Machu Picchu by train) in our rig as no one was around to buy wood from and Iaonnis & Rochelle were at the mechanics till well past 7pm that day.

Wednesday, May 9th, was our 37th anniversary.  So after Doug’s afternoon lesson, we wandered to the Artisanal Market to look for gifts to bring home with us, then on to tour the Qoricancha.

Originally named Intikancha or Intiwasi, this temple was dedicated to Inti ( if you remember from above: the sun god). Mostly destroyed after the 16th century war with the Spanish conquistadors much of its stonework forms the foundation of the Santo Domingo church and convent.

The Inca utilized ashlar masonry in the construction of Qorikancha. Ashlar masonry is composed of similarly sized cuboid stones in contrast to polygonal masonry which is composed of stone blocks consisting of multiple shapes. Ashlar masonry is much more difficult to construct because the Inca could not use any stone with a slight imperfection or break. By choosing to construct Qorikancha with ashlar masonry the Inca intentionally demonstrated the importance of the building through the extent of the labor necessary to build the structure. Through arduous amount of labor needed to construct buildings with ashlar masonry, this form of construction came to signify the Inca’s imperial power to mobilize local labor forces. The replication of Inca architectural techniques throughout Andean South America, such as those employed at Qorikancha, further illustrate the Inca’s control over a vast geographic region.

The Incan ruler, Pachacuti, rebuilt Cusco and the House of the Sun, enriching it with more oracles and edifices, and adding plates of fine gold. He provided vases of gold and silver for the Mama-cunas, nuns, to use in the veneration services. Finally, he took the bodies of the seven deceased Incas, and enriched them with masks, head-dresses, medals, bracelets, sceptres of gold, placing them on a golden bench.  The walls were once covered in sheets of gold, and its adjacent courtyard was filled with golden statues. Spanish reports tell of its opulence that was “fabulous beyond belief”. When the Spanish required the Inca to raise a ransom in gold for the life of the leader Atahualpa,  (if your read out post about Cajamarca) most of the gold was collected from Qorikancha.

The Spanish colonists built the Church of Santo Domingo on the site, demolishing the temple and using its foundations for the cathedral. Construction took most of a century. This is one of numerous sites where the Spanish incorporated Inca stonework into the structure of a colonial building. Major earthquakes severely damaged the church, but the Inca stone walls, built out of huge, tightly-interlocking blocks of stone, still stand due to their sophisticated stone masonry.

Walking through the site, photographs were allowed only “outdoors” and a few select areas.  It was a very interesting and worthwhile visit and we enjoyed both seeing both the site and the church built on the site.  There are still to this day Dominican brothers living in the Priory here.

We did learn a few interesting thing touring this historical site.

  • Incans viewed the stars in a different manner that we do. Instead of stars making up constellations, the Incans viewed the black spaces in between the stars as figures.
  • They did have a twelve month calendar which was adjusted annually for the winter solstice but the days of the week were not named and days were not grouped into weeks.
  • Similarly, months were not grouped into seasons.
  • Time during a day was not measured in hours or minutes, but in terms of how far the sun had travelled or in how long it had taken to perform a task

Fun facts: The Incas revered the coca plant as sacred/magical. Its leaves were used in moderate amounts to lessen hunger and pain during work, but were mostly used for religious and health purposes.  The Spaniards took advantage of the effects of chewing coca leaves.  The messengers who ran throughout the empire to deliver messages, chewed coca leaves for extra energy. Coca leaves were also used as an aesthetic during surgeries. Today coca candy and tea is sold to help foreigners with altitude acclimatization.

Compared to other humans, the Incas had slower heart rates, almost one-third larger lung capacity, about 2 L (4 pints) more blood volume and double the amount of hemoglobin, which transfers oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. While the Conquistadors may have been slightly taller, the Inca had the advantage of coping with the extraordinary altitude.

We’d read about a restaurant to “treat yourself” while in Cusco which was also recommended as the best restaurant in the city by the campground, called Cicciolina’s so we went there for dinner.  Fran had called on Tuesday to make a reservation (as it is recommended) and got one.

Fran’s been contemplating getting new eyeglasses as it’s been two and a half years.  Since we no longer have vision insurance, it’s a big purchase.  We know if we buy them in the US/Canada we are looking at around $800!

We were speaking to Iaonnis who said he got transition progressive for about $300 all in – that was more like it.  Doug had bought some online last time we went home but when Fran tried to do the same, the price was close to $400 and the transition was the wrong colour and the frame selection is limited and not great.  This also would mean going to get an eye exam on top of that.

So we went to an optical place before dinner and Fran found a pair of frames she liked a lot, and had a free eye exam and the price will be under $400.  They said they could get them done in four days but we know that probably means 5-7 so they’ll hold them until we get back.

Dinner was super nice. The wait staff was amazing, the food was delicious and ambience was peaceful.

Thursday we wandered back into town to see the Inka Museum – it was okay; then went to buy a piñata for our grandkids’ fifth birthday; you can buy them flat, buy a bag of candy or toys and assemble it yourself – that should prove quite interesting.  Fran went to the store for a few groceries and Doug went off for his last Spanish lesson.

The Inka Museum is a university museum located in the colonial house Casa del Almirante. The land held Huascar’s house during the time of the Incas. . It was built by Admiral Francisco Alderete Maldonado at the beginning of the 1700’s. Then it was occupied by the archbishop, the last viceroy and Government House. The house was damaged by the earthquake 1950.  It contains a collection of keros, textiles, mummies, tools, weapons and goldsmiths. It chronologically covers the history of Cusco from its beginnings to the twentieth century. The property of the museum is in charge of the San Antonio Abad National University of Cusco. 

Here no photography at all was allowed so here are a few pictures we borrowed from the web:

That night we had a campfire/bbq with KP, Taylor, Iaonnis and Rochelle after which we provided marshmallows, cookies and Hershey bars so we all shared s’mores.  (not my pic!)

Friday  thru Sunday we began the processing of getting ready to go back to North America; finishing up lists, getting laundry done, packing, eating all the perishables, moving to a new parking spot for the almost eight week duration.  Quinta Lala allows long term parking here so we are happy Tigger will be safe and secure all alone.

Fran has picked up a cold – not fun for flying on Monday!  She seems to always get one when we fly home in the summer so maybe this time she’s got it to give to everyone else on the plane this time.

Sunday (Mother’s Day) we went for a walk into town with Ioannis and Rochelle for lunch at Paddy’s Irish Pub (KP & Taylor raved about that place)

and then we wandered over to Plaza San Francisco to enjoy people watching on the square.  This square is said to be full of locals on Sunday enjoying the day.  Well we’re not sure if it was because it was Mother’s Day or what, but there wasn’t much going on.

We walked a little further until we encountered a Mother’s Day market and then Fran had had enough and needed to rest.  So we went back to the campground before Ioannis & Rochelle; Fran showered and rested a bit and Kim & Casey (who sold their car and arrived back in Cusco) walked over from the hotel in El Centro and joined us for Happy Hour around the campfire.  Just before they arrived a Kiwi couple arrived and parked beside us: Liza and Ian travel part of the year and store their rig part of the year.  We took out the remaining marshmallows etc from the other night and shared some dessert at happy hour.

Monday morning we parked Tigger a little further back in the campground after breakfast and chores and Edgar, Mili’s husband took us to the airport.  Upon checking in, the lady at the Peruvian airlines counter told us our 1:10 flight to Lima was delayed by at least an hour but there was room on the 11:30 flight so we checked our bags and boogied over to security and made the flight with time to spare.

We fly to the US at 12:50 AM tomorrow morning!  Yuck! Upon arriving in Las Vegas, we have a rental car lined up, a condo for the week, a room for three nights for Serena and Kurt who will arrive on Thursday night, as does Joshua (he’ll be sleeping in our suite).  Serena will be bringing us our Honda Civic and when our week there is over, we are heading on a long road trip.  Catch the next “episode” to hear about it.

North America, here we come!


Sidebar: Many of you probably wonder how much this lifestyle costs.  Naturally our biggest expense (due to the engine size of Tigger) is gasoline.  We also still have expenses at “home” like: our storage unit, insurance for the storage unit and insurance on our Honda Civic (which is currently with and being used by Serena in Big Sky).  Over the course of a year, including the aforementioned, as well as maintenance and repairs for Tigger, medical expenses, gifts, charitable donations, flights, cars and hotels at home, and of course, the day to day stuff like food, gas, camping, border costs, insurance and attractions, we on average spend less than $4000 a month, everything included.