We had a fantastic day-time flight from Lima, up over the snow glistening Andes and southbound to the Sacred Valley of the Inka. We went from sea level to 3400M in an hour and it really had an impact on us for the first 18 hours or so. Nora slept 14 straight hours and the rest of us nursed nagging headaches over the few days. But what a lovely, special city Cusco is, spread out over a narrow valley floor overlooked by six hundred year old Inkan ruins. In this case, the famous archeological site of “Sexywoman” awaited our exploration – actually it’s called Saqsayhuaman but once an anglophone has heard the alternate it’s almost impossible to dislodge. The site is thought to have been built by the mighty Pachacutec Inka, the great 15th century pre colonial empire builder. The ruins sit high above the old town and feature massive stones quarried and transported from many kilometers away. The fact that this construction was accomplished without the use of wheels or powerful beasts of burden make the head spin. Incalculable amounts of human labour crafted temples and functionary buildings on a scale meant to convey absolute power and majesty to all whom confront them. Hundreds of years of erosion, Spanish sacrilege and relentless vegetation have taken their toll but the impression of advanced thinking and painstaking skill is still abundantly clear. One hundred tonne rocks are fit together and stacked in the most precise manner, leaving smooth walls in an eye pleasing zig-zag pattern.
Our afternoon of wandering the ruins, watching grazing llamas and taking in the pleasing views of the surrounding, sparsely forested hills was immensely pleasant. Being up high on a tall hill-side looking several hundred meters down to the bustling city below brings on a calm reflective mindset and somehow facilitates a view of the past where it is considerably easier to imagine what life among these imposing mountains might have been like. Conjuring images of townsfolk carrying out agriculture practices on ingeniously irrigated terraced plots is pleasingly possible when gazing out on lovely valley vistas.
On day three in the ancient city we happened upon a charming hotel across from our accommodations in a part of the city away from the hyper touristy main plaza. The hotel Ninos was a poignant reminder to all of us that having a vision for a better world is a critical first step toward living in a better world. The hotel had been established by a Dutch expat who after spending time in Cusco almost two decades ago became determined to improve the lives of the many street children she came upon in her rounds of the tourist sites. As a result, she set up a small foundation devoted to improving life for as many resource poor kids as she could with her initial meagre budget. Time proved that relying on charity was not sustainable so she established a hotel and restaurant as a way to provide steady funding to child services. We arranged a tour of their facility and found ourselves charmed by the abundant sweetness emanating from a washroom adorned with fifty coulourful small toothbrushes waiting for the next round of post meal action. The same warm feelings washed over us as we looked in on the wonderfully designed cozy library and multifunctional gymnasium. The biggest emotional impact came when we stuck our heads into the completely precious mini theatre built so that the children, like all of us, could be swept away by the action plots and preposterous situations presented in film. Our small tour was conducted by a thoroughly pleasant young woman who gamely conveyed various aspects of the operation to us through an assortment of pivotal English words, meaningful gestures and kind smiles. It was a delight for all of us to learn that she herself had graduated out of the facility while in foster care with a local family. She was bright, educated and obviously on her way to a successful life in Cusco. It was clear to anyone who cared to think about such things that the social conditions facing children in dire poverty in Peru would only rarely produce a young person with so much to look forward to.