Cusco: Q’osqo, in Quechua, the language of the Incas, means ‘the navel of the Earth’. Legend has it that the first Incas, Manco Capac and his sister-wife Mama Ocllo, were created by the Sun God on Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca, furnished with a gold rod and told to settle in the place where they could plunge the rod into the ground so that it disappeared (aka the Navel of the Earth).
That place turned out to be here, a mountainous location 3300 metres above sea level, between the Amazon forest and the Pacific Ocean. The city, in the heart of what is now known as the Sacred Valley, is a pretty mixture of low-rise quaint wood and stone terrace houses, elaborately carved colonial buildings and evidence everywhere of when the city was the capital of the Incan Empire.
This is the oldest continuously inhabited city on the continent. It wears its history well, the perfectly carved stones of superbly skilled Incan stonemasons merging with the modern steel and glass almost harmoniously.
We’ve arrived at the height of tourist season and the streets and squares are riddled with tour groups and crowds of sightseers, touts and souvenir stalls. It’s overwhelmingly crowded and there’s plenty of hard-sell, but it’s easy enough to get away from the throngs – most tourists don’t seem to venture more than a block beyond the main square, leaving the rest of the city nicely affordable and fool of delicious authentic food.
The throngs have come here, like we have, to visit the nearby abandoned ruins of Machu Picchu. Tomorrow, we begin a five-day hike up and over the mountain passes to the lost city. Photos when we return.