Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Peru II - On top of the World in Cusco

Colourful procession in Cusco -these seemed to happen all the time

Cusco, at 3228 metres, is the jumping off point for Machu Picchu. Despite the trials of getting there, it was a blast. The hostel was in a 400 year old colonial mansion and when I ventured out the door, a colourful festival was in progress. I asked a lot of people what it was about, but no one seemed to have any idea. Furthermore, this seemed to happen everytime I went outside. It was really frustrating not being able to speak Spanish and ask questions. They could have been practising for Inti Raymi, the sun festival  and the biggest of the year, which was being held on the 24th of June or perhaps they just like to celebrate all the time.

Not that I walked far. Only to the ATM, down to the Post Office and over to the booking office for the train and even that had me struggling for breath. The town itself consists of  a large number of churches and monasteries and narrow lanes bordered by fine old Inca stonework. Having been the centre of the Inca Empire, the Spanish conquerors were quick to demolish the Inca temples and build their own cathedrals on top. Most people still wear traditional dress and speak Quechua.

People on their way to the square

Young entrepeneurs
The two enterprising young ladies (above) carrying baby llamas allowed me to take photos of them in their beautifully embroidered clothes. Then they insisted on taking photos of me with the llamas. However, they then insisted on being paid. It wasn't much - maybe a dollar or two, but don't say you haven't been warned!

Inca walls underlie more recent structures

More typical costumes (The colour in these photos do not do the costumes justice)

Courtyard in the hostel - again, the colours are much brighter in RL. Is it the thin atmosphere?
There was no chance of getting any sleep in the hostel. Firstly I was in a ten bed dorm with lots of comings and goings. The very loud disco in the bar ran until all hours and between the late revellers and the 3 a.m. starters preparing for the Inca Trail - much rustling of plastic bags - there was seldom much peace and quiet, but the atmosphere was good -one of anticipation mostly, plus there were good hot showers and an excellent breakfast.

Typical scene in the dorm

Also had a chance to try Pisco Sours on the cheap at Happy Hour - one Peach, the other with Passionfruit - something my budget doesn't usually run to, except maybe in Cuba. I also discovered a coffee exporter across the road who made an excellent  coffee, also one of the best I'd had since Cuba. Mostly I drank Mate which was not only free but was supposed  to inure you against altitude sickness whereas drinking alcohol supposedly does the opposite. I had most other meals at street stalls - empanadas mostly, and small bakeries of which Cusco seemed to have more than it's fair share. I also enjoyed Pollo Assado (fried chicken) with Papas Fritas (chips) which were to feature on many menus from here on. Indeed, if I eat any more fried chicken, I'll sprout feathers and lay eggs.
Soon it was my turn to be up and away, although I returned here for a day or two after Machu Picchu - laundry, onward bookings, internet and so on, but I also happened to catch a free folkloric concert at the theatre opposite the hostel which was a nice finish to my stay here. Unfortunately I couldn't understand a word that was being sung, but music speaks all languages and the gouchos looked really hot in their silver trimmed leather chaps. Here's a snippet.


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