This region either side of Cusco stands out from all the other places I've walked because there is a sufficient number of villages for periodic rests and reliable potable water supply, the people are kind and welcoming (though not so inclined as to offer refreshment without first being asked), and the history and culture rise to meet your feet. The altitude and daily elevation changes add challenge.
Before the pilgrimage, I had the idea that Peru in particular would be a place similar to Mexico, since they share a common history of having a strong empire and complex culture in place when the Spaniards arrived - the Spanish colonials arrived in Mexico City in 1521 and in Cusco in 1531. However, other than the similarities of the general appearance of the colonial-era towns, they're quite different from each other. I have the sense that the divergence of the Spanish cultural impact was the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The experience of the Native American, baptized as Juan Diego, in 1531 in Mexico City sparked a mass conversion of the natives. Once converted to Catholism, the Spaniards intermarried and established a firm mixed culture. In Peru, there were several apparitions in diverse localities before the end of the 16th century, but none had the widespread impact as OLoG. While the work of the missioneries resulted in many conversions, there wasn't the emotional devotion in Peru as in Mexico. Today, not many people in Peru know who OLoG is, there are relatively few practicing Catholics, few shrines, annual feast days aren't centered around a patron Saint. The present culture of Peru is fascinating and diverse, but not as similar to Mexico as I had thought it would be. Interesting. And for this reason too, a particularly savorous place to make a village-to-village pilgrimage.
Walking village to village as I do, without a map to speak of, I tend to show up in unexpected places to the shock and amazement of the locals. I ask the shepherds for the footpaths and sometimes just take their vague advice - 'over the next mountain is another mountain, over that mountain is a stream...follow the stream down to the village, there you can meet my cousin and stay in his house for the night, or better, rest there for a week'. Though in this sea of mountains, over every mountain in another mountain, but good enough direction for me, and off I go - the worse that can happen is not so bad. Often enough I find remnants of the Incan trail - a properly engineered path wide enough for two to pass, zigzagging up and down the high mountains. Sometimes, though, the non-Incan paths aren't engineered beyond a hoe-scraped line traversing a steep slope making for a rather daring passage. Don't look down. I climbed one a few days ago, in a light rain, passing a young goatherd... the little boy and I had to take hold of each other as we delicately passed so neither would risk the 1,000-foot can't-see-the-bottom deathdrop - ok, so on the list of quals for the appeal to pilgrims above, add that it's not a place for acrophobes.
And I walk with joy and happiness...
Oh, and just when I'm comfortable speaking Spanish without having to think about it first, I'm now in a region where Quechua is so engrained that not everyone I meet during a given day remembers their Spanish from their schooldays...I'm picking up some words, can ask for water and almost discuss the location of paths, but to my dismay, the language apparently lacks a word for 'pilgrim', so it's not possible to say 'Hi, I'm a pilgrim!' in the local idiom.