‘The Navel of the Earth’

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August 20th 1999
Published: February 11th 2007
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1999……….6wks SOUTH AMERICA-ARGENTINA, PERU........Cusco is like the Kathmandu of South America. There are so many interesting & colourful items in the market. The large pottery plates are tempting but not in a backpack. The old looking Spanish Christian paintings done with oils are interesting. There is a huge variety of food here of all standards and largely all well priced. Most of the market activity centres on and around the Plaza de Armas. It is very picturesque with its Spanish colonial natural history museum, church and cathedral which are beautifully lit up at night. They look after this area well with police patrols and keeping people off the grass- a great place to hang out on the steps or seats and watch the activity and get the feeling of really being in the mysterious city of Cusco. Cusco is the archaeological capital of the Americas and the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city. Massive Inca built walls line most of Cusco’s central streets and form the foundations of Colonial and modern buildings.

The Inca legend tells us that Cusco was founded by the son of the sun & the daughter of the moon who materialized on the islands of the Sun & Moon in Lake Titicaca and journeyed together to Cusco, ‘the navel of the earth’. It was in the field of conquest and social organization that the Incas excelled. The Empire had its origins around the 12C and at its height the Empire stretched from the Ecuador/Columbia border to Southern Chile. At the time of the conquest of the Incas in 1532 the Empire was in a state of decline.

During the day of the 20th I spent a fair while down at the South American Explorers Club of which I am a member. The club is extremely well run, welcoming, and very informative and they all speak English! I hadn't realized how quite so isolated I had been feeling. The place is set up for areas just to relax with free coffee/tea/mate de coco, and various rooms with a variety of information. All the various guide books are available, files & files of trip reports from other members, maps, bulletin board to sell/buy gear or meet up with other trekkers to arrange trips, photo albums, book exchange, warnings board & a desk always with someone there to answer questions. Staff appear to be European, American or N.Z... The US$50 I paid will be well spent if I do ballooning next week after my trek as I get a discount as a member off that amount.

21.8.99 PISAC

I sent off some Emails at a groovy little cafe called Planeta Sur: sponged walls in orange & yellow with a huge Inca symbol on the wall, espresso coffee bar and three computers with fast modems. Cusco seems so well organized with well kept streets- the pavement is not broken up like in Asia or even Buenos Aires. This flows through to cafes like the Planeta Sur where you are given a receipt or in catching a local bus to Pisac where individual seats are sold from a ticket office and the bus is not filled to overflowing as in Indonesia. The 35km trip to Pisac for about 70cents had stupendous views of Cusco and other valleys as we wound our way to Pisac. Pisac is a starting point to visit the El Vall Sagrado or the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Above the Colonial village are the Inca Pisac ruins, a 5km walk straight up hill. I plan to do the 1-2 hours walk tomorrow after the famous market in the morning. A lot of the market was set up today and there was hardly anyone there as Sunday is THE day. It gave me the opportunity to stroll around taking photos f the handicrafts etc which are vibrant and varied. I had dinner in a restaurant by myself- where were all the other 'gringos'. There must be another place I didn't find. The meal was huge but the fried chicken was unbelievably greasy. I got a serviette and mopped up some of it. The central square here is lovely with a huge shaggy tree with the church as a backdrop. The market was set up under the tree. Its amazing how quickly one gets used to the women in their traditional dress of woven material carrying babies or loads of grass, materials for sale etc. While I was reading in my room I could see a man on top of the Church ringing the bells with ropes, which prompted a call to prayer and a procession of men in traditional dress playing drums, flute (yes they do play the Andes flute here!- you even hear El Condor Pasa) and trumpet. There was a bit of a procession of the mandatory Mother Mary. Inside the Church were more religious 'floats'. The inside of the walls of the church were painted beautifully in bright colours of religious scenes.

In the afternoon while having a ‘mate de coco’ on the plaza I talked with a fellow Gringo who had been in Peru for 2 months. As he left he spoke in Spanish for the 12yr old boy who was serving us to get me to practice Spanish and so with my phrase book in hand, we had a few laughs and I got better at pronunciation and learnt a few more words.

22.8.99 PISAC

I had the best sleep I have had since being away despite the bed being one of those where the sheet disappears. The pillow was great though and the fact that Pisac is 600m below Cusco may have helped. It was pretty basic accommodation with water on only at certain times; otherwise you dip it out of a big bin like in Asia. It was 15 soles, about $6.

I wandered around the market once it had got really under way. It was really colourful with all the materials, pottery and clothes and with many of the people being in traditional dress. Some boys, girls and women were obviously trying to look photogenic by holding puppies and lambs so that the ‘gringos’ would give them some money (1 sole) for taking their picture. This gringo was strong for a while but eventually gave in. The market includes a line of food stalls with some dubious looking things floating around looking vaguely like what a dog might throw up after eating a whole rabbit. Other things looked wonderful, like stuffed capsicums. The market spills out of the square flowing down the cobbled side streets. In one courtyard there was a huge earthen oven, where a guy was taking out fresh ‘empanada al horno’ which are meat or cheese pasties filled with rice, egg & olives. I bought one for my walk up the hill. If I’d realized it was going to be so delicious I would have had one there while it was still warm.

I started my walk up the hill at 10.30am and got to the central part of the ruins in 40mins. I was really pleased about this as most people take 1-2 hrs. It was so easy
Pisac MarketPisac MarketPisac Market

Polished stones,quartz etc
to get out of breath, even though the legs feel fine, as the body fights to get some oxygen in an atmosphere that is already depleted. I don’t think I have been drinking enough water (2-3 litres recommended). Even though it’s cold at night, clothes I have washed, like thick socks, dry out- its weird. I'm constantly blowing my nose which at the same time feels quite dry.

I shared breakfast with two lovely guys from the States who had been staying at Niños. One of them, who looked Spanish, was working with human rights in Lima. It took them 2 hours to get to the top. They are in their mid 20s but admittedly had a heavy pack as they were going to camp overnight at the top amidst the ruins. While it is not particularly useful to compare fitness with others, it did indicate to me that I was getting my strength back. The view climbing up & from the top is one of the best I have ever seen- far reaching valleys with high mountains each side with the baked tiled rooves of Pisac below, the square filled with activity & the river running through into the misty distance. The Pisac ruins are particularly well known for their stone agricultural terracing. Above the terraces are some cliff hanging footpaths well defended by massive stone doorways, steep stairs & at one point a tunnel carved out of rock.

After a brief walk around the market again I walked down the cobbled street to the bus. On the way I met an American woman who is married & living in Cusco. She is running a weaving cooperative with some local women to encourage the protection of traditional motifs and maintain quality despite the demands of tourists keen on purchasing cheap, inferior materials. It was easy catching the minivan filled to capacity with largely other tourists returning to Cusco. The van engine overheated and they stopped the van by the river to get some water. As we all know who have had old cars in their youth you DON’T take off the radiator cap when it’s still hot without taking extreme caution. They appear not to have learnt this bit yet as that’s what they did. Being a new type van, the engine is under the seat in the front of the vehicle and so steam and boiling water went over everyone. As I was one of the people in the back I didn't get full force as some older women in trad ional dress did. But what was really frightening was that we were trapped in there and couldn't get out and could only protect ourselves by covering with whatever we could. As a result of this drama we all got talking and I got friendly with two Australians who have been travelling in South America for 7 months. Getting back to Cusco we went passed the ‘famous’ Inca stone with its 12 sides set snugly amongst a wall of perfectly placed stones.

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