Monday, July 22, 2013

Peru - Part 4!

The Andes – Cusco #1

The Monasterio is my newest favorite hotel in the world.  We stayed there twice, for three days the first time around, and then after two days in Machu Picchu we returned to Cusco for another three days.  The Monasterio was extraordinary from the moment we walked in.  We were greeted by Christopher from Guest Relations.  He took care of our registration and showed us to our room.  It was a standard room, smaller than we thought it would be, and our disappointment was obvious.  Without missing a beat Christopher said he would see if a Deluxe room was available.  He found one, we looked at it, it was perfect and so we were upgraded.  Christopher said it would be an additional $50.  No problem, we said.

The Monasterio was originally built in 1595 on the site of an Inca palace and then appropriated by the Spanish and consecrated as the Seminary of San Antonio Abad.  It was seriously damaged by an earthquake in 1650 and restored.  In 1965 it was remodeled into a hotel and declared a national historic landmark.

The hotel’s design reflects its heritage.  The stones around the entrance doors still bear the Spanish Arms Escutcheon and the image of Bishop Juan Serricolea y Olea from the 18th century.  At the heart of the hotel is a beautiful cloistered courtyard featuring a large fountain and a 300-year-old cedar tree.

The Monasterio is tranquil, breathtakingly beautiful, impeccably managed and the gold standard for customer service.  Every aspect of the Monasterio is seamless.  Sitting in the sunny courtyard for a drink or meal, with Gregorian chants in the background, enjoying a Pisco Sour and great food, is an unforgettable experience.  Like I say, my newest favorite hotel in the world.

It got even better during our second stay.  No deluxe rooms were available, but Christopher found a Junior Suite for us, again for an extra $50.  Given that the daily rack rate for the Suite is $225 more than the first room we booked, it was a bargain.  What I didn’t realize during these room changes was that the $50 Christopher mentioned for the upgrade was a one-time charge, not an additional $50 or $100 a day, which we would have gladly paid had that been necessary.

Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th century to 1532, when it was overrun by the generals of Atahualpa.  The Spaniards arrived the following year and, as was their custom, destroyed many Inca buildings, temples and palaces.  Cusco became the center of Spanish colonization in the Andean world, and thanks to agriculture, cattle and mining became very prosperous.  Most of Cusco today reflects the Spanish, not the Incas.

Cusco lies at an elevation of 11,200 feet.  Not being acclimatized and arriving from sea level as we did can be a problem.  On our first day we had a late lunch accompanied by our now mandatory Pisco Sours and wine.  Big mistake!  After lunch we were totally out of it.  No energy, disoriented, headachy.  All I wanted was a bed.  I assumed the next day would be difficult.  But after 12 hours of sleep we woke refreshed and ready to go.  Throughout our time in the mountains we were aware of less-than-usual oxygen, but we didn’t experience a recurrence of altitude sickness.  We considered ourselves lucky.

On our first full day in Cusco we took it easy.  This was Thursday, June 20.  When planning our itinerary I hadn’t realized that Cusco’s top local event, Inti Raymi, the Inca Festival of the Sun, was celebrated on June 24.  We were locked into a schedule that had us returning from Machu Picchu that day, so we’d miss the key event, but we would be there during the days leading up to the Festival, which were filled with happy, colorful, noisy activities.

The focal point for Inti Raymi was the main square, a short walk from the Monasterio, which is where we headed that first day.  When we arrived we were greeted by crowds of people standing on the steps of the Cathedral of Santo Domingo (built in 1539) cheering on a parade of bands and dancers dressed in traditional costumes.  They represented local indigenous groups and communities and were unrestrained as they marched past us.  It mattered little that they were sometimes out of step or uncoordinated; their enthusiasm was contagious.  

Again, Sandra had done restaurant research.  She found an eatery overlooking the square, where we had lunch, and a place called Incazuela, which featured uniquely prepared local food, for dinner.  Both were good, as was dinner the following night at a more upscale restaurant, the MAP Café.

The Andes – The Sacred Valley

The next day would be devoted to a trip through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, also called the Urubamba River Valley.  We arranged for a car and driver through the hotel, and it was to be a full day’s excursion.  As it turned out, the route we chose (which included two spots off the beaten path) was a mistake.  Our first stop was Pisac, Inca ruins that include temples, a citadel and agricultural terraces.  Sandra loves ‘old stones’ and Pisac, while not super-old, qualifies.  One needs a good imagination to make sense of the ruins, which are indeed a pile of stones.  But over the years I’ve been with her to see ‘old stones’ all over the world, so this was not a new experience.  We would see many more ‘old stones’ before we left Peru.

Next was Moray, reached by a long drive on a bumpy, unpaved road – not a place on the usual Sacred Valley itinerary, and for good reason.  It is another Inca ruin, this one circular agricultural terraces.  We looked down at them, found them mildly interesting, and then retraced our route along the long, bumpy ride back to the main highway.  Not a wise use of time.

Our next unscheduled dirt road jaunt was to the Maras Salt Ponds.  Since pre-Inca times salt has been obtained by evaporating highly salty water from a local subterranean stream.  The water runs down into several hundred ancient terraced ponds.  The way to the ponds is mountainous and dangerous, but the payoff makes it more worthwhile than was Moray.  Even so, the cost in time had a deleterious impact later in the day.

The key site to visit in the Sacred Valley is the town and ruins of Ollantaytambo.  Unfortunately, we didn’t arrive until late in the afternoon and then faced a gridlocked traffic jam that held us up.  Finally, we left the car and walked to the main attraction, the Inca ceremonial center built in the mid-15th century by Emporer Pachacuti.  We would have preferred more time in Ollantaytambo, but it was getting dark and we had to head back to Cusco.  Our trip to the Sacred Valley was worth doing but could have been planned better.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you ever thought about including a little bit more than just
your articles? I mean, what you say is fundamental
and all. Nevertheless think about if you added some great pictures or
video clips to give your posts more, "pop"! Your content is
excellent but with images and videos, this website could undeniably be one of the very best in its field.
Very good blog!

Feel free to surf to my blog post:
document_srl=54002 **

11:10 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home