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Take Me Back To: Cusco

Monday, July 1, 2013

This past fall when I traveled to South America, I became profoundly infatuated with the city of Cusco. It didn't take long after my flight from Lima to Cusco landed until I fell more and more in love with Peru. I've dreamed about coming here since I started taking Spanish classes in eight grade, and ten years later here I am, able to say that I lived out my dream.

Peru is nothing like I've ever experienced before. Despite a complex history and a bloody past involving the Spanish conquest of the Inca empire,  the culture of Peru embodies resilience. On our first day in Cusco, we toured the city and visited many sites of ancient Incan ruins including Saqsawaman, Quenko and Tambomachay. The fact that many of these ruins were preserved through the destruction of their culture by the Spanish conquistadors absolutely astounds me. Although in the 1500s the conquistadors dominated and destroyed the Inca people and their land, the native soul of Cusco remains intact. The people are incredibly generous and kind, and are unfailingly in touch with their roots. The contrast between Cusco and Lima is rather stark, for Lima is an urban metropolis while Cusco is quaint, rustic and cozy. Cusco is the beating heart of Peru.

They say the Incas chose Cusco as their capital because the high altitude brought them closer to the gods, and I personally don't doubt their decision at all. This charming town is surrounded by stunning mountains, colorful skies and sheer magic. Vast, ornate cathedrals lie atop historic Incan ruins, narrow cobblestone streets run through the city like a winding river - bustling with people and honking cars that can hardly fit. The scent of spices wafts through the air, and strangers engage in friendly conversations in the plazas and small antiquated shops.

When I wasn't sipping on hot cups of coca tea, I indulged on sweet glasses of peach juice or bubble gum-esque Inca Kolas. Peruvians make excellent use of one of my all-time favorite foods: quinoa. Quinoa soup with vegetables, quinoa salad, quinoa cakes for breakfast; you name it. Peru is quinoa heaven. Meats are tenderly cooked with savory spices and mashed potatoes, and locals celebrate with bold pisco sours. Peruvian food far exceeded my expectations, and needless to say, I am in love with the cuisine of Cusco.

To be quite honest, I love everything about Peru - not just the delicious food or magnificent sights. This may have been my first and only time to Peru, and by no means do I see myself living there, but I love it dearly. Peru is a country with real soul. A blend of ancient and modern, a juxtaposition between a difficult history and a bright future, Peru - and Cusco especially - will always have a piece of my heart. The culture is incomparable to anywhere else I've traveled to, and I was moved by every moment I spent here.

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