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Published: August 18th 2010
Arriving in Cuzco
was an interesting experience. Having come from the Amazon jungle, the thin air was instantly noticable, and within a few hours, my head was thumping and I had no appetite. I wandered around the very pretty town like a zombie for several days.
Our first real day in Cuzco, we wandered around in the morning, visiting the museum at the Qorinkacncha
site where the Santa Domingo Church
currently stands on top of the old Inca temple of the sun. Amazingly, earthquake has destroyed the church twice yet the Inca stonework here is great. Unfortunately the museum has no English so we get little benefit. We spend most of the morning wandering around the Plaza de Armas
which is a very pretty plaza.
In the afternoon we do a city tour which takes us inside the Cuzco cathedral
which is obscenely massive, taking 94 years to build with 5 chapels, 350 pieces of art and way too much gold leaf, although has some pretty funny paintings. Why does Cuzco have the biggest Catholic church? Because in 1533, the Spanish had to convince the 15 million strong Inca Empire they just conquered to convert to Catholicism. And this
empire which so proudly worships their gods and spent so much time building their temples of course dropped everything and suddenly became Catholics. All of them. Amazing. I´m sure they wouldn’t have used torture or killed those that resisted or anything like that either. What is funny is that much of the artwork in the cathedral was brought from Spain but much was done by the Inca artists after they converted. Some of them are quite funny, like the last supper painting which has Jesus and his disciples eating guinea pig and drinking the traditional Peruvian corn drink. Others have Jesus as a woman or black. I guess this was the Inca´s way of sticking it to the Spanish catholics! Good on them, if I was an Inca (of course I would never of survived as an Inca because my stomach can´t handle the water - although I am sure they would have used my fur to make ponchos), I would have converted to a catholic and then stuck it to them in a subtle manner such as through dodgy paintings. Of course you get charged 25 soles (A$12.50) to enter the Cathedral and at the entrance and exit of
the cathedral is many, many, many homeless locals begging or knitting or drawing to try to somehow get just one or two soles out of the tourists.
This is the first place we have seen real poverty in its masses. We have been incredibly impressed with Peru and Peruvians who have been very patient with us and our Spanish attempts. The people on the street trying to sell you stuff are nice to you even after you decline. People on the streets want to show you and explain to you the significance of where you are (albeit for tips). There are many, many stray dogs on the streets of Cuzco that are incredibly placid and the kids are always smiling.
The tour then takes us to the massive fortress of Saqsaywaman
with 200+ stones fitted perfectly together, some of them of monumental size and we marvel at the engineering feat and physical strength which must have gotten the rocks to where they are. We go to a couple of other Inca sites most notably Q’enqo
which is a cave fashioned by Incas with a very large sacrificial table made of stone inside and Tambomachay
which was a ceremonial
bath - 2 springs were supposed to symbolise if you drink from the left one you will have a boy and right is for a girl. I can’t get over the amount of people selling tacky touristy things at each of these sights, just hanging out by the side of the road waiting for tourist buses to hassle. The funniest was a guy who as we walked out of Q’enqo had had a postcard printed with our photo on it from when we walked in - we aren’t even looking at the camera! He wanted 10 sols for the postcard - crazy.
On the way back to Cuzco we stop at a wool factory where someone explains to us the difference between wools - sheep, llama, alpaca, baby alpaca and most precious and expensive wool, Vicuna, where a scarf costs $100, which is much more expensive than the maybe alpaca scarves you can buy on the street for $2. Sarah gets her photo taken with a little girl and a baby alpaca for 1 sol, although the little girl wants more! I can’t believe how many people approach you in Plaza de Armas, the biggest crooks are the clipboard
ladies who claim they are deaf and mute and ask for a donation - they seemed to hear fine when you say no though, the kids are the hardest to deal with. We had a kid hassle us for ages with very good English trying to sell us finger puppets which was annoying.
We visited some crap museums (popular art and regional history) which had no English at all. In the afternoon though, things picked up as we started at the centre of traditional textiles which had weaving displays and excellent information on weavings origins and history. Following that we went to the fascinating Monumento Pachacuteq
which had information on all the Inca leaders and their stories as well as great views from the top and then to the Centre of Native Art
for a 2 hour folklore concert featuring traditional dance and music which was great. We then went to a tiny restaurant called Chez Maggy’s
and tried some llama while being entertained by some great Andean musicians, so impressive that I bought their CD.
Cuzco is a buzzing place, due to the fact that so many people stop here for a few days to adapt before
embarking on the Inca trail. The touristy centre around the Plaza de Armas is perfectly safe despite the beggers, but drift through the narrow cobblestone streets a little further and there is an edgy, poor side that tourists generally don't want to see. Cuzco was a "necessary step" on the travel plan, and we enjoyed our time their but were glad we were staying right near the Plaza de Armas.
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