Suitcase and World: My day in Cuzco.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

My day in Cuzco.

...began bright and early. By the time I woke up, the side effects of the Diamox had worn off and I was ready to face the day. I armed myself with my travel guide and headed down to the hotel restaurant to grab breakfast. Like other elements of my days in Peru, what I ate for breakfast had become a ritual - two scrambled eggs (dos huevos revueltos), a roll, some ham, some cheese and two cups of the Peruvian coffee that I had become addicted to. The travel guide told me that the local tourist information office, located on Calle Mantas - just about a block off the Plaza des Armas, would open at 8am so that´s where I planned to start my day.

After breakfast, I headed to find the tourist information office where I got a map of the city and directions for where I needed to go to purchase the boleto touristico which would get me into see the sights of Cuzco. The ticket office was located on Avenida Sol and as I walked down the street, I quickly realized it was the same street that Simon took us to the previous night to go to the pharmacy and the bank.

At the ticket office, I learned about the different ticketing options and chose to buy a partial ticket that covered several museums that looked interesting including one for Korichancha - the Incan Sun Temple located near the hind leg of the megalithic Puma.

On the back of the ticket were the times and locations of the museums. One of the museums so happened to be located in the same building as the ticket office so I decided to head down there first. It was filled with "contemporary" Cusquena art which I did not find interesting so I left after a few minutes. The next point on my tour was the museum at Korichancha which was located just a few minutes walk down Avenida Sol, heading away from Plaza des Armas. The entire museum is located underground and unfortunately, all the exhibition signs and text are in Spanish so I could understand some of the information being conveyed but not enough that made me want to linger long at each exhibit. There were some interesting photos of¨"old" Cuzco and how it mapped to the megalithic Puma.

The exit to them museum takes you above ground to a small garden but I could not figure out how to get to the sidewalk from there (no Salida/Exit sign to be seen). I retraced my steps and exited the museum the same way I came in. From there, I walked up to the Convento Santo Domingo which in addition to being a convent, houses the Incan walls that once were part of Korichancha. It is a bit of an odd sight to see - a entire Catholic convent built by the Spanish conquistadors atop/around what once was a spectacular Incan temple. Reminds me of the Muslim mosque in Cordoba, Spain which was built around a Catholic church.

In the center of the Convento Santo Domingo is a courtyard - typical design of Spanish churches. On two opposing sides of the courtyard hang oil paintings depicting Christian events and icons. The other two opposing walls are the Incan walls that remain of Koricancha. One of the walls holds a double door jamb (with a 14 angle stone), signifying entrance to a room of great importance i.e., a room that only nobility could enter into.

The convent also houses a library and a few rooms containing valuable Catholic paintings and other artifacts. After wandering through all the rooms, I made my way out of the convent and walked back up Avenida Sol towards Plaza des Armas.

My next stop was the Cathedral which is reminiscent, though on a much smaller and less grand scale, of many a cathedral that I have visited in my travels through Spain. There were only a handful of people inside the Cathedral and so I took the opportunity to sit on one of the pews to view the main altar and to rest for a few minutes. The Cathedral is on the left in the picture below. To the right, is the smaller Iglesia de la Compagnia de Jesus - which I visited later in the day.
p.s. The admission fee to the Cathedral is not included in any of the boleto touristicos.

By the time I left the Cathedral, it was mid morning and Simon had mentioned that he would be at his shop at 10am so I decided to head there to meet up with him and firm up the plans for the next day.

Simon was in his shop as he said he would be. Apparently he had gone to the hotel, earlier in the morning, to look me up but I had already left for the day. In few days that I gotten to know Simon, it was evident he was a worrier by nature. By the look on his face when I entered the shop, I think he was relieved to see me. I assured him I was doing well.

Simon wanted to find out what places I was planning to see in Cuzco. I told him my itinerary and he added the San Pedro market to my list. More on the San Pedro market later.

When we were in the Amazon, I had asked Simon whether or not since I was the only person, in the tour group, travelling from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo, that I could go via local transportation instead of car/motorcoach - which he had assured me would be very "luxurious". He answered that it was indeed possible but I don´t think he took me seriously at the time. When I met up with him in his shop, I took the opportunity to remind him that I really wanted to travel via local transportation so I would have the chance to once again, mingle with the local people and get a feel for what it´s really like to travel from one place to the next in this part of the world. He again answered he was planning for me along those lines but I did not really get the sense that it would happen.

We quickly went over the general game plan for the next day and I made some mental notes on what I needed to do to prepare for the next few days of my trip.

After I left Simon´s shop, I headed for the Museo Inka. The admission fee for this museum was not included in my boleto touristico but it was worth every sole that I had to pay to get in.

The Museo Inka is a relatively small museum but it´s very well laid out - with most of the relevant exhibit information in English. You can also join a guided tour. The museum covers the history of Peru - going from pre-Incan civilization to colonial times. i.e., the period dominated by Spanish influence. It also covers the different native cultures that existed - what their lives were like and their contributions to agriculture, animal husbandry, metallurgy, ceramics, textiles, medicines, etc. and how they used astronomy and the position of the sun to determine planting/harvesting seasons. In the center of the museum is a courtyard which was ringed with local artisans - mainly weavers who were demonstrating their skills and showing off their wares. I ended up spending quite a bit of time at the museum and left with a greater understanding and appreciation of the various Incan cultures.

By the time I left the Mueso Inka, I was getting hungry and decided to pay my favorite tamales vendor a visit. With two warm, salty tamales in hand, I headed to the center of Plaza des Armas, sat on a bench and ate my lunch. It was beautiful, sunny day and perfect for a simple picnic style lunch.

After lunch, I decided to go to San Pedro market. Simon warned me that there might be pick pockets and to keep my wits about me. With that information in mind, I headed back to the hotel to drop off daypack and camera and carried just what I needed in the secured pockets of my hiking pants.

I made my way down Calle Mantas, past Plaza San Franciso, past Iglesia Santa Clara and walked pass the Arco Santa Clara. Something very odd happens as soon as you pass the Arco. All of a sudden, there are no longer any tourists - you find yourself being the only "non Peruvian" walking the street and the stores change from selling tourist trinkets to day-to-day items and foods that are of meaning to local residents. The San Pedro market is just a short distance past the Arco Santa Clara. It is the central market for Cuzco.

As you enter the market, the first thing that you see are clothes and other textile and home furnishing items. Next come the juice vendors. Juice is freshly squeezed and you can get a juice squeezed from just one fruit e.g., naranja (orange) or mixto (combination). After the juice vendors are the vegetable and fruit vendors. Most of the produce is easily recognizable to anyone from the US but there´s stuff that I have never seen before in my life.....and there are more varieties of corn and potatoes than I knew even existed. Next aisle over were the vendors selling rice, flour, dried corn, beans etc. Again, some of it recognizable but most of it not e.g., dried potatoes. Next came to the coffee and chocolate vendors and the aroma of the coffee was too hard to resist and I so bought a bag to bring back home with me.

Next was the fish aisle. Surprisingly, very little of the fish being sold was fresh. Most of it appeared to me to be salted. There were also shrimp (from local, fresh water?) and frogs that had been skinned and gutted.

I soon came to the meat vendors and one look at the slabs of meat and various internal parts of cows, pigs and chickens strewn atop wood counters and I finally understood why Simon only ate meat once every 3 months. I think if I were to live in Cuzco, my diet of animal protein would be restricted to chicken, fish and may be the occasional cuy. At this point, even I was beginning to get a bit queasy. I decided to perk up my senses with a walk down the flower aisle.

Scattered about the market, were vendors selling kitchen ware (e.g, ceramic pots for cooking, wooden spoons), spices, the local Andean bread (which is a flat bread like pita but a bit more "puffed" up), fresh and dried herbs (which are used for cooking, ceremonial blessings and incense), etc. There were also quite a lot of food stalls serving to hungry locals.

On the way out, one of the fruit vendors handed me a strawberry to sample. It wasn´t the sweetest of strawberries but it had been so long since I had had any fruit, I decided to buy a small bag.

On my way back to the hotel, I quickly stepped inside the Iglesia de la Compagnia de Jesus - a very pretty little church. I left after only a few minutes and retraced my steps back to the hotel. I dropped off the coffee and strawberries, picked up my daypack and headed back out in search of handicraft markets. I figured it was time to do a bit of souvenir shopping.

I am convinced that there must be a factory or two or maybe an entire town in Peru that does nothing but mass manufacture "Peruvian handicrafts" for sale. I have never seen so much of the same stuff being sold by so many different vendors in so many different towns as I have in my short time in Peru!! Though I had been told that Cuzco was THE place to buy souvenirs, I discovered that the same items would be sold in every town that I stopped in along my way to Machu Picchu.....and beyond. After a visit to just a few handicrafts markets, I was beginning to reach sensory overload and getting tired of negotiating with each vendor to save but a few cents. I quickly bought a few items and made my way back to the hotel.

I took a shower, did the laundry and decided to catch a quick nap - it had been a long day of walking and sightseeing. I woke up shortly after midnight and though I was hungry, I rolled back asleep - I would fill up the next morning.