Chaos on the streets of Cusco

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December 31st 2011
Published: January 25th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Having planned to meet up with Tim and Harrison for a few drinks later today, I was keen to try and do some more of Cusco's culture before entering into the alcohol fuelled madness of New Years Eve that would no doubt reign later. My first priority though, was a hearty breakfast to keep myself going. I had bought some eggs yesterday, and once I had manoeuvred myself into the little kitchen alongside Kathy, who was busy serving everybody else breakfast, began cooking them on the small gas stove. It was a pleasant change to be having scrambled egg rather than butter and jam on my rolls, although it did raise a few eyebrows amongst the other guests once I sat down to enjoy them.

Once I'd eaten I began the walk into town and my mission to find an Internet cafe with Skype. They were a lot more illusive than you might think in South America, and it took several goes before I eventually found one that also had video. I was keen to call home and wish everyone a happy new year, conscious that I had missed out on the usual holiday festivities. As soon as Mum's face popped on to the screen I began to smile properly for the first time in days.

Although I was a little sad as I broke the news that I would be home far earlier than planned, it was great to catch up on what had happened back home. As we spoke, Mum began to broach the painful subject of my early return, and asked if I had looked at my business account recently. I laughed and told her that she knew I never opened bank statements, just in case it was bad news. With a large grin on her face, that I knew all to well, she suggested that perhaps I should, because there was enough money in there to fund my trip across the states. I simply couldn't believe what I was hearing - the prospect of being able to finish my trip as I had planned, was once again in my grasp and I felt on top of the world again.

I left the internet cafe with a grin on my face and a spring in my step, savouring every sight, sound and smell as I walked into Plaza de Armas. I climbed the steep cobblestoned Cuesta San Blas to take a peak inside the fourth and final place on my religious circuit ticket, Iglesia de San Blas. It was a small unassuming church, that was nestled in amongst the narrow winding streets overlooking Plaza de Armas. It was quiet as ever as I walked in and took a seat in one of the many wooden pews. I thought it appropriate that I sit for a few minutes and say a quick prayer for the small miracle that had befallen me this morning, before I looked around. Yet more examples of colonial art filled the walls of this adobe church, but perhaps the best part was the pulpit. The intricate design had been carved from a single piece of wood, and perched on top was a scull that was rumoured to be that of it's creator.

Leaving the church with a couple of sneaky shots I had taken, I headed into the small market that filled the neighbouring square. Feeling suddenly flush with cash, I decided to buy some gifts to take home with me. I haggled like a man possessed with a couple of the Cholitas and managed to back a couple of bargains, before heading back down the hill to find some lunch.

As I wandered through Plaza de Armas into Plaza Regocijo, where I came across a small cafe selling all sorts of empanadas and pastries. It was rather quiet which I wasn't sure boded well, but the empanadas looked fantastic...and I wasn't disappointed. The soft, doughy pastry was filled with bite sized chunks of tender, juicy meat and the perfect amount of sauce to hold it all together. I had eaten a lot of empanadas over the last four weeks, but non had tasted as perfect as these. Having devoured the first within minutes, I ordered another to take with me as I ventured down the Inca walled Loreto towards Qorikancha.

Qorikancha was the former 'Golden Courtyard' of the Inca's, used for religious rites and monitoring celestial activity. As with many of the Inca sights of importance around Cusco, the conquistadors had levelled much of it and stripped it of it's gold before building the Santo Domingo church on it's foundations. Although the site had been protected, all that remained of this once rich temple was the impressive stonework. I walked around the sight and began to learn more about how and why the Incan's had carved such perfect rocks. The Incas had known of earthquakes long before the Richter Scale had been invented, and their way of combating the devastating effects was through their masterful masonry techniques. Each stone was specifically carved and polished to fit against another without the need for mortar of any sort, so that if an earthquake hit the stones wouldn't shift out of place. I suddenly realised the significance of the twelve sided rock I had seen yesterday and felt a little foolish. The Incas had been a people ahead of their time, and their knowledge had been all but obliterated by the invasion of the conquistadors.

Filled with a new sense of respect for my surroundings, I made my way back through the winding cobblestoned streets to the hostel. Traffic had begun to get heavy as cars had started taking detours around the now closed Plaza de Armas. As chance would have it, in one of the many taxis that I walked past sat Harrison and Tim, who were on their way to my hostel. They hopped out and we walked back together catching up on what had happened after we had parted company in La Paz. It was great to see the boys, and it felt like I hadn't really left them at all.

After a quick change of clothes, we made our way back into town to get tickets for a club which the boys had scoped out before coming to find me. After a brief visit to 'Groove' to pick up our S/.90 (£21.47) tickets and free T-shirts we made our way to Eco Backpackers where the boys were staying, and the madness began. The boys had bought a bottle of Inka Cola and some cocoa liquor that Harrison began to mix in massive quantities. The sickly sweet drink didn't go down as easily as he had first thought, so we soon switched to beer to get the evening started. None of us were sure quite what to expect from the night, but judging by the number of fireworks the boys had purchased during the day it wasn't going to unfold quietly.

After a brief stop for dinner we made our way to Plaza de Armas to join the growing crowds of revellers and see in the new year. The cocoa and cola mix tasted much more agreeable once we were amongst the hubbub of the crowds and being bombarded by young children trying to sell us either bottles of beer, fireworks or both. I was astonished that although police guarded the entrances to the plaza, there were absolutely no regulations as to who was selling what. The fireworks came in all sizes, from ones as big as chocolate bars with pictures of Bin Laden emblazoned on the side, to long thin ones that delicately fired shot after shot into the air. In amongst the beer and alcohol fuelled madness, we made a space and began to play the bizarre fire game that the boys had taught me in La Paz. As we passed the naked flame from person to person, using the same ridiculously strong alcohol we had before, we drew quite a crowd all fascinated by the seemingly new craze we had started.

Eventually the countdown to midnight began and as all eyes turned to watch the huge clock under the towers of the cathedral, utter chaos reigned. The crescendo of fireworks overhead and the riotous crowd led people to fire and throw fireworks vertically, horizontally and even at other people, causing mass hysteria amongst the already wound up crowd. Harrison and I were swept one direction and Tim in another, as a flaming firework was thrown in our direction. We followed the path of the surging crowd into the running of the square, a tradition which was meant to bring good luck to all of those who did it. Pushing and shoving our way with the rest of the crowd, we managed one lap of the plaza before the heavens opened and we fought our way from the square to the night club.

As much as the club slowly filled up with people wanting to party the night away, my thoughts drifted to home and the family and friends I hadn't seen in almost a year. Suddenly becoming hugely disinterested in killing more brain cells, I decided to head back to the hostel to try and get some sleep. Although I knew that the city would have the appearance of a war zone the next day, my roller coaster of emotions over the last few days had left me exhausted, and I needed to rest.


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