Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Glories of Cusco...and Beyond

There is much unique about Cusco! It is over11000ft in elevation, which means that when you arrive it is necessary to move slowly, until you acclimate. August is in the dry season, and the skies are a deep and beautiful blue. Cusco was an early center of Inca cultural life and many of the faces that I pass in the street are Inca to the core. The city is built of well crafted stone blocks skillfully cut and fitted together in the tradition of the Inca. Many of the streets are beautiful in their stone work and classic narrowness, they are interspersed with large public plazas and many fine churches that give the flavor of the Spanish masters who ruled the country from very early years. Openinf off of the streets, many doorways open into comfortable patios. It is a city well suited to pedestrians, notably missing the traffic and smoke of Quito.

Yesterday early I went into the large enclosed market... Where the people of Cusco buy their daily vegetables, meat, rice, herbs, fruit, but also clothing and household items... The mood of the place in marked by friendly exchange between buyers and sellers... It is hectic but with a certain order... I was astounded to see the huge varieties of potatoes and corn varieties offered for sale... I loved using my Spanish to converse with the women selling medicinal herbs, the sellers of quinoa and chocolate, the stalls with incense and dried fish. I found it amazing to see sacks filled with coca leaves that the local people chew to prevent fatigue, especially when working at high elevation... Apparently there are a lot of coca leaf users here! Some guidebooks recommend to visitors to use the leaves or a tea to prevent headaches from the altitude. And no it is not a form of cocaine or other serious drug. There is also a section of the market that offers fast food service by local food sellers... providing either the sit down breakfast to the many merchants and shoppers.

The city has been skillfully planned to offer neighborhoods limited to the chic tourist trade... hotels and restaurants... But has maintained other sections that are very indigenous and maintain the traditions and life of the people. I fear that some visitors come here and never see the real city or encounter the marvelous people of Cusco. I feel totally safe wandering through the markets even though I am usually the only non local person in sight. I am very discrete in the photos of people that I take.

The history of Cusco is both wonderful and sad. This was the home of the greatest of the Inca palaces and temples... The center of a vast economy... The center of advanced knowledge of medicine, plant science, mathematics, cosmology... exceeding the knowledge in Europe at the time. Scholars still disagree about why the Spanish invasion succeeded, at a time when the Spanish Inquisitions were producing a reign of intolerance and fear in Spain. It was a time when cruelty and greed were normal. First the invaders stole anything made of gold... All the fine delicate work of the people and the institutions was melted down and shipped to Spain. The Spanish rulers required the people to produce or grow products which were shipped off to Spain...It was a time of impoverishment of a whole people. Finally the Inca people were forced to give up their cultural ways... As a result much of the knowledge of the Inca was irretrievably lost.As a last attempt to remove Inca culture the people were required dress as Europeans and speak only Spanish. It was a devastating period in human history! The brutality knew no bounds. Of course humans are resilient to a point... Of course the genetic pool of the Inca is still very much present. Here are now found nearly pure Inca people, Mestisos (those of mixed heritage), and those of European ancestry. The Spanish were ultimately driven out and remnants of the traditional life have been recovered and are now valued. Still the shadow of the great destructive Spanish period remain. Even the museums have only limited collections to offer.

Often the hostels and hotels where Judy and I stay are shared with European travelers and backpackers. We Prefer to stay in places that offer a flavor of the country and opportunities to talk to fellow travelers.. We are currently staying in the Ninos hotel in Cusco... The profits from this small hotel go to support a program that supports local street children. It is simple, clean, and provides fantastic breakfasts. In a place like this it is natural that everyone is your new best friend... We meet very interesting people from the world over! Some of the rooms have private baths... But we could not reserve one of these. The common bathroom is a bit different. It is used by both men and women... There is one shared closed off shows and two shared closed off toilets.. First come first served... One sink. This morning when I entered the bathroom, I found a young woman from Australia brushing her teeth, we greeted each other and both went about our business... I think these folks have a real common sense idea!

... Later...

We made it from Cusco to Alyatantembo in about an hour and a half! And it was an awesome ride in a 10 passenger collectivo minibus. Awesome especially because it was over a rugged Andean mountain road... Two lanes... And here in a land where driving is a competitive sport... And the object is to call the other drivers bluff! The scenery is awesome! We are now in a rugged valley of Alyatantembo...a charming of the most genuine Incan towns with its narrow lanes, fantastic stone work, and a stone channel for clear running mountain water in each lane