Our final leg of the trip, from Lima to Cusco, was also the most dangerous. Because of afternoon fogs that strike without little notice, travelers are advised to fly in the morning. It was now 2pm. The landing in Cusco is preceded by a narrow mountain pass through which all planes must fly. I've never flown to St Bart's, but I'd imagine it's similar.
Fortunately, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and our descent into Cusco revealed a vast sea of adobe. With its red-brown hue, the city appeared to grow organically from the earth beneath it. The region's climate is dry, with sun-drenched, grassy hills reminiscent of California. The landscape is kaleidoscopic- a wheat field yellow by day, and a fiery sandstone red at sunset.
Like Florence or Athens, Cusco thrives on its former greatness. As the crown jewel of the Inca Empire and a key colonial center, Cusco is richly layered in history, literally. The destruction-savvy conquistadors tempered their carnage to preserve the masterful Inca stone masonry, which forms the foundations of many buildings in the central historic district.
To our surprise, we saw rainbow flags nearly everywhere we went. Not even Christopher Street or the Castro could compare. Had they known we were coming? Not quite...the rainbow flag is also a symbol of Inca identity. From local Christianity, I knew the Incas were masters of double-entendre, incorporating traditional symbols seamlessly into the western canon (for example, there's a famous painting of the Last Supper featuring roast guinea pig). Yet something told me this overlap was more coincidental than contrived.
We stayed in San Blas, a historic neighborhood with an artistic, bohemian vibe. Its narrow, one-way cobblestone streets had the look and feel of old-world Europe. In some cases, Cusco's urban planners had the prescience to include raised pedestrian walkways, but these were only about 12 inches wide. Consequently, a walk around the block is no mindless task, but a continual testing of fate!