Cusco is a small city full of ancient traditions, mystery and distinct culture. Sitting 3,400 meters high it once stood as the capital of a proud Inca empire. Now, the streets crawl with tourists such as me on their way to Machu Picchu and Peruvians catering to them to make a sole. But underneath the tourism, throughout the tight corridors, pulses a heartbeat of hidden antiquity. It breathes through the pores of the Inca laid stones and churches that were once temples to the sun and moon. Everywhere you turn, if you pay close attention, you find silhouettes of a proud history passed down. Modern day Peruvians dressed in traditional garb posing for pictures with the llamas they lead through the city. Starbucks claimed space in the upper rooms of an old Inca house. Modern and old mixed together. Tourist and tradition side by side.
Throughout my days here, I fell in love with this city. Wandering around you can find almost anything imaginable throughout the streets. Meats, cheese, pastries, handmade dolls, clothing, even household items like pens and cleaning supplies being sold by independent vendors on every corner. Casting your eyes to the borders in any direction and you will see tan homes with the occasional brightly painted house specked throughout the mountains enclosing the city. Several main squares space themselves out in the center, each adorned with a great cathedral. In San Pedro Square an expansive market displays rows of food grown from the rich and fertile ground. Mangos that burst with flavor, avocados piled high, quinoa and chia seeds as a regular staple. A woman named Carmencitas makes me fresh juice of choice and gives 2 free refills if I stay to talk with her as I drink, all for about $1.50. She teaches me the Spanish names for the fruit while I sit.
Peruvians have a deep food culture. While it has become better known only in the last 10 to 20 years, the tradition for healthy and well made food runs deep. A tender steak stir fry with thick gravy and fresh peppers and onions called Lomo Saltado is one of the Peruvian favorites.
Just outside the city, mountains tower so high that earth and sky mingle with the clouds connecting them. It is as if heaven is earth. Green moss and trees give the illusion that the ground is a soft green bed of pillows. Most days the sky is bright blue with virgin white clouds giving it depth.
Peru is truly a paradise of the senses. The epitome of which is the lesser known mystery of Rainbow Mountain. A three hour trek through high altitude breathtaking countryside leads me to one of the most bewitching scenes I have ever witnessed. Passing by flocks of alpaca and sheep, rolling hills and small rivers twisting along the path, you top the crest of a large hill and see a mountain layered with color. As if a rainbow found itself too close to the earth and the earth captured it. Giving witness to the idea of earth and sky becoming one.
A country of mystery. Of tradition. Of beauty in all forms. An exploration for dulled senses and a place overflowing with memories waiting to happen.