Saturday, June 21, 2014

Notes de Peru - 5

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 cafĂ©. 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….


Monday, June 16, 2014

Snapshots de Peru - 4

Last day in Ollantaytambo. The ’dueno’ in our pension suggested that we ‘had’ to go to “Naupaiiglesia”…other local people helped us refine the trip to make it even more interesting… and so after another incredible breakfast we walked down our narrow street with the flowing water in the stone lined ditch.  We went to the Mercado (market area) and climbed into a collectivo about ready to leave – and off we went… We were dropped roadside near a small pueblo and walked steadily uphill for a couple of hours up another of the amazing canyons of the Andes.  Incredibly steep walls, a river forming bends and turns in a narrow flood plane, a narrow gauge railway, and a very narrow road.  
Today the sun was extraordinarily hot – and we were relieved to climb high enough to find a breeze.  Farmers along the way kept us on the correct path…and we inquired frequently.  Finally the site.  We left the “camino” and walked along narrow gauge rail lines for a distance, until we located a trail that led up to the ruins.  At first it was easy going, but it became progressively steeper until we were climbing hand over hand past steep terraces and rock walls.   This site is different from others here – it predated the time of the Inca – and represents a different belief system.  For these people, when the earth was formed there was no light and no dark – only a constant twilight. During these times the spirits were very strong in the land.  When the Sun God “Inti” brought night and day, the Naupa spirits were forced to retreat to the high mountains. Here the spirits lost much of their power at all times except dawn and dusk.  The grotto we visited was considered a “portal” for the spirits – and was a place of worship.  It is said to be dangerous to health to visit the site in dawn or dusk, when the spirits were most active. (The sun was shining bright when we were there).  When I entered the grotto I found a fresh earthen pot containing a libation for the spirits, also burnt Palo Santo – a local wood burned as sweet incense, along with shells from the ocean. Such evidence indicated that the spirits are still held in high regard by some of the local people.  Here in the grotto it was cool and pleasant to look down on the valley below.
After a rest it was time to climb down from the heights to the trail and we started back to the main road… we were hoping to hitch hike – but not a single vehicle came by… So we walked back to the main road  where we had more luck and got a collectivo back to town  - just in time for a late comida. Note – here we are eating 2 big meals a day – one in the early morning, one about 2-3, and a light snack in the evening.

 6.14     The large  unified Incan nation was only possible because of the excellent foot trail system that united the communities.  A system of human runners could deliver a message from one end of the kingdom to a far distant region within days.  (Much like our pony express – but with human runners).  Yesterday we hiked 6 hours along a trail from Qantus Racca down to Acchapata and on to Pisac. There is a great elevation change in the trail so we started the day early with a taxi ride to the top - Qantus Racca. Here the elevation is well over 11000 ft.  We found masses of tourists from busses at the trailhead – but lost them quickly as we got a short distance along our way.   Along our trail we visited a variety of Incan sites – some centers of residence, others military centers, government, astronomy/science, and religious sites.  The entire trail offered us incredible views of the Andes; much of the trail was carved into rock with an intense cliff drop-off to one side, with a drop of several hundreds of feet, and a wall rising high above us on the other side. The trail was wide enough to lead a string of heavily laden llamas.  It has been said that next to Machu Picchu this is the greatest Incan site.  We came away with the thought that this is different but in many ways equal in grandeur of Machu Picchu… it certainly offers more variety of communities and structures, and offers grand vistas for the entire region.  At one point I was taken aback to look over the edge of the trail and realize that I was inches away from ‘yikes’!… with no rail or warning of any kind. Today’s experience was incredible! And we went immediately to a favorite restaurant for a grand comida, however a bit late.  It is operated by a German expat woman, Ulrike’s – she has a great take on Peruvian dishes – but also wonderful German deserts.

Today is market day in Pisac.  Many indigenous people come down from the high lands to sell vegetables, herbs, and craft items.  However much of the regular items for sale are tourist schlock – the kind of stuff you see in all tourist centers …much of it is mass-produced.   The tourists are rushed around on a “few hours here and a few there” tours, and they miss so much of the real Peru.

Judy seemed to pick up a strange ‘bug’ today – so she has slept a lot and I have been doctoring her.  Our favorite restaurant in town is the previously mentioned Ulrike’s. She helped me select food for Judy’s sick tummy. (Not cheese cake).

We are generally sleeping over 8 hours a night here – nights are cold as air moves down from the higher mountains… most hotels are providing us with thick down comforters – and we have often been so warm we open a window.  Our current hotel supplies thick heavy wool blankets – we are sleeping under the great weight of 3 or 4 of them…