Whether it was the Andean herbal tea prepared by the cook of our hostel in Pisac or the vegetable soup from the German expat friend – Judy is feeling better on Monday. “Something she ate” is the general diagnosis. Still, since she is not up to full speed yet, we decided that it would be a good time to move on to Cusco. Every day her energy level improves. By Thursday, food is again looking interesting to her.
6.17… Cusco is a ‘tale of two cities’. – If you visit the San Blas district there are wall to wall-fancy boutiques selling to the visiting tourists – much of the merchandise is identical between shops, and prices are high. The artisanal market is much the same… One of the leading industries in Southern Peru is tourism – mostly people headed to Machu Picchu. Wherever in the world you go, when you have a large number of tourists present, the culture and the economy change in an effort to make a profit from the visitors.
Cusco elevation 11,000 ft.
There is nothing wrong with traveling as a tourist – for some, time is limited, it may suit those who don’t know the language, or feel intimidated by a culture that they don't understand. Judy and I are tourists, but we have our own way of traveling. To see more, we limit the area that we hope to visit… We have sources like the Lonely Planet and Moon Guidebook series for each country to be a good starting point in planning our journey. We try to find a balance between planning time for cities and small towns, nature, and foot-travel rather than spending our time being led around by guides. Our goal, as we travel, is to connect with the local culture and people. We enjoy the process of fending for ourselves in a culture different from our own – solving problems and finding our way.
To see the second city of Cusco visit the San Pedro Mercado and the narrow streets below that point. This is where the indigenous community comes to buy vegetables, meat, beans, bread, cooked food, herbs and clothing, a place for shoe repair, a place to sell surplus goods, a section for the over 100 varieties of Peruvian potatoes, iron work, coca leaves, & chocolate. At the moment, in the market there are vast supplies of sugar cane and coconuts being offered. It is a vibrant place for meeting and talking, sharing and laughing. All prices are flexible and bargaining is expected. This style of market has changed little since ancient times. Judy is having a fine time selecting a variety of goods and bargaining for a sales price. Bargaining here is a friendly back and forth exchange – and if you don't like the final offer you can always walk away.
Peru is not a 3rd world country but a developing one – sections of cities and towns have growing middle class homes and well stocked shops…However the middle class people we have met still remain connected to their cultural roots.
It feels like an old friend for us to return to Cusco - In some ways it is a city version of the Incan villages we have been visiting…We are staying in a charming place – the Ninos Hotel – where profits go to support street children. A Dutch woman started the program years ago – and they now have 2 hotels and the Hacienda where we first stayed. By the front door is a wicker basket for left over buns from the hotel café. Any child can knock on the door and ask for bread – they get their choice.
The city itself was a center of early Incan culture in pre-Spanish times – it was a city of great riches, looted by the Spanish… who removed vast amounts of gold and other riches to Spain. Incan origins are apparent in the large closely fitted stone-work in walls and walk ways - an Incan landmark, in the layout of older streets, and the remaining indigenous cultural patterns among the people.
For the month of June, the city is celebrating three things: Its' history, both' Catholic , and Incan traditions. All of these are manifest in daily events, parades, concerts, and exhibitions. Each day there are a variety of special activities. We thought the parades in Ollantaytembo were grand – but here they are spectacular. An endless sequence of parade units go by – each unit has a 10-foot figure of a saint figure mounted on a large wooden frame carried by 16-20 strong men, who dance their way under their heavy load. The figures are brightly colored and surrounded by flowers. Each unit is followed by a brass band playing loud Peruvian music… (I will miss the variety of music here when we return home.) The streets are packed so full with people that movement is impossible. There is also an event called “Platos typicos de Cusco” that appears to provide food for all –donations accepted… I see piles of cooked guinea pig, chicken, cheese, bread, and the drinks popular in Peru… I asked who is buying all this food – and was told anyone who wants to contribute… they have tables set up to feed several hundred people at a time.
And to make it more interesting– Cusco is like a city following the ‘American world series’ - on steroids… now is the time of the World Cup of “football” (soccer to the US). This is truly an international event – and followed here with intense energy. It’s really nice that even smaller countries can compete well against larger countries. The blockbuster event so far has been that previous champion Spain has lost two times to be removed early from competition.
6/20 One last excursion today … Negotiated with cab driver to take us to the location to catch a 'collectivo' – found bus instead of collectivo to Pisac – got out at the 13,500 ft. mountain pass – explored three important ruins. It felt good to walk free in the mountains with strange birds, llamas, many wooly sheep, and the music of flowing water. The high mountains here are so different from our Sierra mountains in California. The people are so willing to be helpful when we don't quite know the way. Snow of the peaks above us, flowers along our way, llama and sheep noises as they graze.
If you have enjoyed these travel blogs – stay tuned. This blog is called “Spectrum” which allows me to deal with a wide range of topics. It continues weekly - A new blog is posted each Friday – To receive the blog automatically – click on the “Join this blog” button on the top right side of each blog posting.
We plan to fly home Sunday….