“Life cannot be understood flat on a page. It has to be lived; a person has to get out of his head, has to fall in love, has to memorize poems, has to jump off bridges into rivers, has to stand in an empty desert and whisper sonnets under his breath. We get one story, you and I, and one story alone…It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it?”
We landed in the historical city of Cusco on New Years Day. We had read, and been warned, about altitude sickness which many travelers experience in the their first few days there, however we were unable to detect if that’s what we were experiencing or if we were suffering the wrath of too many pisco sours from the night before. Either way, we needed comfort food, so after dropping our bags at our cozy accommodations, Hostal Cusi Wasi, we made our way to the centre of the city, Plaza de Armas. Never before had we been surrounded by so many people of such diverse and eclectic cultures and backgrounds. It was apparent that Cusco attracted people from all corners of the earth and all walks of life. As a result, the restaurant choices varied from Italian bistros to Irish pubs and beyond. We landed at Papacho’s and had one of the best meals of our trip. The restaurant was nothing fancy and the food was not gourmet, but it was some of the best burgers and fries we had ever eaten; not to mention the place played nothing but classic rock and the walls were decorated with vinyl album covers. It felt like home away from home.
Cusco is small but has charm seeping from every street corner and store front. The Basilica Cathedral of Cusco is likely the most iconic and frequented site of the city, located centrally, towering over the Plaza de Armas. Travelers can be found gawking at its beauty, while locals are found sitting on its front steps. That being said, the real gem for us, was the Qorikancha Temple of the Sun, where the church of Santo Domingo currently stands. Originally built by the Incas for the Sun God, the ancient structure was once their most significant place of worship. Today its attraction is not just in the temple itself, but also in the beautifully kept gardens that surround it.
On our second evening in Cusco we were craving a good Italian meal and found La Bodega 138 down a little side street. Not only was the atmosphere alluring and the food, to die for, but the owner, himself, was what really put our experience over the top. He was visiting each table, checking in with the guests, when we sparked up a conversation with him. He sat down and explained to us that the restaurant itself was the home within which he and his sister grew up. In an effort to keep the property in the family, they decided to convert their childhood home into La Bodega 138. We were drawn to the warmth of the story and the delicious food, so much so that we went back for dinner there the very next evening.
The day before our departure for the Inca Trail we had a meeting with the company through which we booked our hike, Wayki Trek Tour Operator, which is a Peruvian based company, as we wanted to support the local economy. It was at this meeting that they prepared us for the hike ahead and answered all our questions. Wayki is from the Peruvian native Quechua language meaning “family”, which was also explained to us at this first meeting and it is precisely how we were made to feel. We also met our tour guide, Edgar, and the other travelers in our tour group, of which there were only three. We were shocked but grateful to be in such a small tour group. As we were introduced to mere strangers, we had no idea that they would become our Andean wayki in the days ahead…