Day I’m-not-sure-what … But I think it’s Friday.
Off to an earlier start with breakfast by 8 and then stuffing around organising everything from bus trips to communications. I have to say that I’m not doing much in the way of communicating. The Drummer and I are Skype chatting but not synchronously, I’ve emailed mum and Kik is working perfectly to message The Newby. I have trouble being completely connected with the world when I have to be, the last thing I want is to waste my time and energy on making communication work. Therefore Skype and email. Simples.

With our bus tickets sorted we headed down to the Plaza de Armas for a coffee in a cafe with a second floor balcony. A great way to orient to the layout of the square and paths leading away from it. Like “gringo alley”, where foreigners get targeted and ripped off. The joys of travelling. Post coffee we headed to the Plazaleto Nazarenas and got some more sols from the atm, bought cards and stamps for the children and ended up doing some shopping. I bought some little stuff for the kids including a beanie each. Actually The Piper’s is a balaclava, with a scary face. I think he’ll love it. The little arcade of stalls was run by some lovely people including a young lady with a new baby. The bambina was lying on one of the stall shelves. I wasn’t aware she was there until this tiny whimper suggested a little person nearby. Her carer, perhaps her grandmother, revealed her, under a cover, amongst the shawls and wraps and blankets. A most beautiful little face, hidden in blankets, but content once revealed. I met her mummy in another stall, lactating heavily, selling her wares and her husbands hand made sterling silver jewellery which now beautifully adorns my neck and ears.

With the shopping done we headed back to the hotel to deposit it and use the conveniences before starting the walking tour suggested by Lonely Planet. We have completed about half, with a plan to do the other half tomorrow. The half we have done took longer than the recommended 3 hours for the whole tour! The highlights were the guided tour of the church and museum of San Fransisco. The young tour guide showed us amazing art works, an ornate choral loft and two crypts, resplendent with human skeletal remains. One houses the remains of the monks, while the other houses the remains of a benefactor who paid for the repairs to the monastery after an earth quake. He requested that he be laid there, with the leg bones of his slaves spelling out “yesterday I was what you are now, today I am what you will be” on the wall beside his open coffin. As visitors we could go right into both crypts. I chose to look in from the outside and could see more than enough. Our 10 sols each was well worth it and koala 5 has a loving home with David, who was more thrilled with him than his 10 sols tip.

The art works in the monastery, in excess of 100 pieces, including the largest piece in South America, are all exposed to the weather and elements. They hang on walls around the open court yard, and show significant evidence of deterioration. They were almost entirely painted by indigenous people, except for two artists. Interestingly, the representation of Judas in the last supper is an indigenous person. Obviously that piece was painted by a Spaniard. If you get to Cuzco, I would highly recommend this place.

Following our enculturation we headed in search of food. As recommended in the Lonely Planet guide we ate in the Mercado San Pedro. Overseen by mumma in her high white hat, the kitchen produces a mammoth plate of food for just 12sols (Au$5). Mine was enough for two people, served on a bench facing the kitchen, in the second row, with similar kitchens to the left, right and in at least 5 other aisles. An amazing experience unlike anything I’ve seen before, except maybe Flemington markets in Sydney in the good old days. The sensory stimulation was huge, with fresh smelling fruit, whole pig carcasses on the chopping block, tiny children begging in the aisles, tourists and locals buying produce, and yet a sense of safety in numbers and familiarity in a market that replicates markets all over the world. During our indulgence, an bent old lady sat close by. It seemed she was hoping for a meal and sure enough, the couple in front of us bought her a huge serving, and her face lit up with joy. As she bundled the food into the plastic bag, she spilt a small amount. With the dirtiest of rags she went to a great deal of trouble to make sure she cleaned the bench before she left. There is a huge amount of colour here in Cuzco but perhaps some of it covers some significant hardship and difficulties.

After lunch we headed back to the hotel to use those clean and convenient amenities. It’s time to collect our washing from the lady across the lane. At 5 sols per kg we’ve got 20 sols of washing to collect. It’s such an underrated role, the washing lady. And now koala 6 has a home with the washing ladies daughter.

Having had such a huge lunch a unanimous decision was made to have dessert and alcohol for dinner so we headed to the plaza where we found a great seat, overlooking the plaza, and I enjoyed chocolate brownies and Pisco sour. Altitude seems to enhance the effect the effect of alcohol! Three was my limit last night. It’s now 06.00 on Saturday morning. Breakfast time.

Saturday 11th July
The second half of the walking tour of Cusco. So, now I’m spelling it with an s rather than a z, because it’s been explained to us that the z spelling was due to the King of Spain apparently having a hare lip and a lisp, so he changed the name to Cuzco so he wouldn’t be ridiculed. The indigenous people had it changed to Cusco post 1821 when war the war of independence occurred. Thanks Jorge for the explanation. More about Jorge later.

First though, we picked up our walking tour where we left off yesterday at the Av. El Sol. The intersection was very busy for a Saturday, but the traffic warden safely guided us across the pedestrian crossing. The lesson learned there is that the pedestrian crossing is only for pedestrian use AFTER the cars are all gone! Cars stop for no one. The tour took us around and back up the lane to the plaza. The lane though is adorned Inka stone work on both sides, with women at stalls selling their wares. Back in the plaza we headed north to the Plaza San Blas, past the stone with 12 corners. We listened to an explanation of the stone having 12 corners for the 12 palaces, the weight of the stone being 6 tonnes and the depth being 2m. A big stone, very carefully manufactured to interlock with its surrounding stones, and placed on a foundation of small stones to manage any damage from earthquakes. “Now contribution for the information”. Thank you very much!

Onwards to the plaza for coffee and cake at The Meeting Place cafe, run by the church (not Catholics) with profits going back into the community. One of the ways the money is used is to make backpacks for children as a reward for those who stay in, and do well at, school. With 75% of Cusco’s population living under the extreme poverty line, families use their children to make money, sending them to work in a variety of ways. Including the children we saw posing with their lambs for photos taken by tourists. In my head, tourists paying for this encourages it and perpetuates the problem. I noticed the children hiding from the police when they were around. Obviously the practice is discouraged but hard to manage. Anyway, I paid for coffee and then left sufficient sols for a backpack to be made.

Fuelled, we headed for Saqsaywaman. Now if you’re having trouble with that name then try this … Sexy Woman. That’s essentially what it sounds like but it’s not correct to use that name to describe this archeological site (not a ruin, thanks Jorge). In fact, that is the Spanish name for this site, not the Inka name, which we were told but I wouldn’t be able to pronounce, even if I could recall it. The walk to Saqsaywaman is intense, up above the city. The site is home to the remains of the temple that was destroyed by the spaniards after the invasion. They believed it to be a fortress (and the road signage calls it Saqsaywaman Fortress) but it was an Inka temple to worship the sun. The Spaniards destroyed the temple, forced the Inkas who had built it into slavery and had them move the quarried and shaped stones down to the city to build churches! We found all this out from our guide, Jorge, who lead us around the site. One interesting thing he talked about was the importance of the winter solstice. He was in awe when I mentioned that The Drummer and The Piper both have their birthdays on the 21st June. In fact, he said if they ever traveled here they could show their identification to officials at the university and get free accommodation and entry to everywhere. I don’t know how true that would be, but it’s a great thought.

Our guided tour took in the great view down over Cusco, the site, including the sun temple, and the 120 tonne stone! Jorge described the site through different anecdotes in a scripted manner, although he claimed to have a long education in volcanology, geology, anthropology and a number of other ologies. I have to say I very much doubt that, as he struggled to understand us when we spoke to him, smiling and laughing when our comments were anything but funny. But it’s interesting to hear a story. Certainly most things he said seem to conflict with the information on the interweb, but as with any history, it’s all about who is telling the story. I enjoyed this site but I think the ticket price was expensive. Having said that, the ticket (70sols, Au$30) was for 4 sites and we only did one. There was no single site ticket which, I think, is unreasonable, but the site is well managed, clean and free of hawkers. Not so, immediately outside the site, where rubbish, foul water and hawkers abound.

Having met Jorge’s family and paid him for his services, we headed to the Christo Blanc statue overlooking the city (and Saqsaywaman!). This huge statute of Christ attracted bus loads of tourists. Interestingly they appeared to be of Spanish origin and over represented. As Jorge said, and I observed, they don’t visit the Inka sites or hire guides, because they don’t want to hear about what happened. Again, perhaps his perception is skewed …

So, finally after two days of walking many kms, and having two excellent guides, we finished the 3 hour, self guided tour. The weather has been fabulous. Dry, warm and very sunny. We have thoroughly enjoyed Cusco and I would highly recommend this beautiful city of one million people to travellers from around the world. I haven’t felt unsafe here at all. The people have been polite and helpful when we’ve interacted with them. The food and drink options are great, and when you want it, cheap. The tourist sites have been well managed and the street vendors and hawkers are far less invasive than other places I’ve travelled. What a great place to adapt to altitude, and South America, before we head for Puno tomorrow.Click here to follow the adventure to Puno …

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