The first morning in Cuzco, we went down to the Plaza de Armas, or town square. The idea was to book a bunch of tours. On the way, we stopped in a café to get some strong coffee, and we struck up a conversation with a Dutch couple who were doing just about the same thing as we were. They came through Bolivia, and had to place so many bribes that they were very impressed with the honesty of the Peruvians. We all went to the travel bureau together, thinking that there would probably be some strength in numbers.
I was very pleased with myself, because as the Spanish speaker in the group I got to do all the wheeling and dealing. Because there were six of us, I got them to knock about 25% off the price of the trip to Machu Picchu. Of course, they had probably added 35% to the first price they asked, but as long as everyone walks away happy, who's to say who got the better part of the bargain? I also booked myself a city tour of Cuzco, a tour of the Cuzco area, and one of the Valley of the Incas.
The five of us walked around some more. We saw art galleries, artisan workshops, another large square, and various other parts of town. Off the square, we stopped into a restaurant which was empty before we got there. We should have known something was up when they were genuinely surprised to have customers. They were out of mostly everything, and the service took forever. I had both the worst coffee and the worst chicken sandwich I've ever had in my whole life (they tasted alike), and certainly the worst I had in Peru, where every other meal was exceptional. Later, after the trip, I thought that this chicken sandwich could have been the cause of some woes. It was certainly the cause of some fluttering.
The city tour started in the afternoon. We started around the Plaza de Armas. The Plaza de Armas (and Cuzco, for that matter) was loaded with churches, and every church, it seems, was built on top of an Inca temple. This was an amazing coincidence. Our tour guide was an excitable fellow with a dented head, and these coincidences didn't quite fit with the tour that he had in mind, since his only objective was to present Peru in a totally positive light. As we went through the Cathedral, there was a very interesting version of the Last Supper on the wall. It had been painted by local Peruvian artists, and there on the table were indigenous animals. "People say that they had llamas for supper," croaked the tour guide. "They didn't! They were viscachas." I'm glad he got the point.
Later on we went to some Inca ruins. The stonework was flawless. The Incas carved each stone to fit exactly with all the others, and didn't use any mortar between the stones. This makes perfect sense in a place where there are many earthquakes. At Machu Picchu 3 days later, the sole damage over 7 centuries of earthquakes was that one of the stones moved an inch. San Francisco would be grateful for that type of record. Also, the guide informed us that Inca builders didn't have any measuring tools, doing their remarkable work by eye. Stones, walls and windows all lined up perfectly, so I do find this a bit hard to believe.
Cuzco is a very comfortable, very likeable city. There's plenty of stuff to do. That night we met for dinner again. Interesting little tidbit: many of the signs for tourists are not only in Spanish, in English and in French, they're also in Hebrew. The restaurant menu that evening was also in Hebrew. I asked the waitress why. The Israeli army is a pressure-cooker situation. When they've finished their service, many of the soldiers are a little crazy and need time to decompress. They go to cheap and out-of-the-way places like Peru. So, it's not only the hippies, but also their admirers.