Captivating Cusco

Trip Start Sep 20, 2010
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Trip End Dec 18, 2011


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Sunday, June 26, 2011

We arrived back to Arequipa following our fantastic time in Colca Canyon all chilled out because we were actually organised and already had our onward bus, with just an 8 hour wait to explore Arequipa a little more. We rocked up to the Cruz del Sur desk only to be told that the strikes near to Lake Titicaca had now extended to the road between Arequipa and Cusco meaning that our bus was cancelled-and so were any other journeys in that direction- for the foreseeable future.  Despite being the biggest and most professional bus company in Peru they were pretty unhelpful other than giving us the initial information and basically said you're screwed! They wouldn’t even give us our money back even to start (they actually offered to when I got involved, Kevin’s just nicer than me!) and said our ticket was valid for 6 months.  How useful!  When he asked what we should do they said fly! So we looked at flights from Arequipa with LAN but couldn’t get a flight until the Friday (this was Sunday).   Then one of the stupidest things we could have done…instead of considering that there may be other airlines in Peru, we looked at Lima to Cusco, saw that there were flights and instead of taking the refund they eventually offered to me and starting from scratch with other bus companies or airlines, decided to change our bus to Lima.  They actually put us in their premier class for no extra charge so it was a nice bus journey, but a completely unnecessary one! When we made it to Lima, couldn’t get a bus from Lima to Cusco and got to the airport we were faced with multiple budget airline options and it occurred to us we probably could have got our refund and flown from Arequipa, just not with LAN! Ah well, no point dwelling.  We made it to Cusco just a few hours later than intended and happily checked into our cheap but lovely hostel with an amazing view.  And the fact that it was at the top of one of the steepest hills in Cusco just meant we started training early for the Inca Trail!

The first week that we spent in Cusco was crazy, with festivals and dancing going on every day.  The first night we went down into the Plaza de Armas and there was an indie band playing.  The next day we arrived into the plaza to see a massive parade of groups in different Andean clothes all accompanied by brass bands.  12 hours later we went back to the square and they were still going – up to group 118! That night there were brass bands playing in some of the plazas, loads of tasty street food on offer, and small stalls selling beer.  They saw the gringos coming a mile off though and tried to charge us more for a beer sitting on the street than it costs in a bar! Oh well.  The next day we met up with Brendan, who we had cycled around San Pedro with.  We knew he was in town but given the number of tourists and locals around we were quite lucky to bump into him.  We went for lunch and finally caught up on some of our Chile blogs and then went to the Choco Museum.  Probably not the most obvious place to go to in the centre of the Incan Empire where there are multitudes of pre-columbian museums, plus a load of colonial stuff too, but its name got my attention and off we went! Having read all about chocolate (100% convinced that it’s good for me after all), drank some chocolate tea and eaten some samples we went to meet up with Dad and Caroline who had just arrived in Cusco

The next day the town took a break from the Inca festivals for Corpus Christi.  We were quite lucky to get to see this as well as Inti Raymi because I don’t think it happens very often that they are within a day of each other.  Kevin and I had managed to wangle our way onto Dad and Caroline’s fancy lunch so we got to see the parade sat in one of the restaurants overlooking the Plaza de Armas, with window seats and a massive buffet of food.  Before the arrival of the Spanish the Quechua used to parade around the central square with the mummies of previous Inka’s (kings).  In order to buy them into Catholic ceremonies, the Spanish merely replaced the mummies with statues of the various saints.  This is still what the locals do and we got to see 15 Saints and 'Our Ladies’ from the various churches in the Cusco area carried past, some looking bigger and heavier than others.  San Cristobal looked the heaviest and a few of the lads carrying him looked like they were going to pass out.  They all lapped the plaza, again accompanied by a brass band each, and then went into the Cathedral where they supposedly sit for 8 days.  As we found out this didn’t seem to be a set timeline as we saw one being carried back after just 2 days and another, San Francisco, was taken back a good 11 days after Corpus Christi!  We got to see them all lining the Cathedral when we eventually got around to doing some sightseeing, which was quite interesting as most people obviously don’t get to see the Cathedral like that

The day after and more mayhem and festivals.  It was Inti Raymi, the biggest festival of the year to the Quechua people.  It is a re-enactment, or dramatization, of a ceremony that took place in the time of the Incas, whereby the people would worship the sun and make offerings to the gods.  It takes place in 3 stages, as it would have done back then, although the locations are slightly different – the location of the 3rd stage was actually added in the 1900s, and back in the day would have taken place in another location in the city.  We got up early and went to the first location, the Sun Temple, where the Inka (the King- the people shouldn’t really be called the Incas but what the hey) addresses the Sun God and thanks him for his blessings. The whole square below the temple fills with warriors and dancers in different clothes and then the whole thing moves up to the main square. Here, more offerings are made to the sun god and predictions using coca leaves are made about the end of the festival. As a modern twist to what would have happened in the past the mayor of the city is also involved as the Inca hands him symbolic control of his people.  We were lucky because this year the mayor replied with a gift of a statue of the most revered Inka, Pachacuti, which will sit on top of the fountain in the centre of the plaza. It was pretty hot and crowded in the square but all the colour and shouting was very interesting. The festival then moves up to the final and largest part in Sacsayhuaman, which involves even more people in costume, music, dancing, (fake) llama sacrifice and plenty of offerings to the sun god. We had bought seats for this part with our tour so had a really good view and all in all though a great day.  It was great to see traditions kept alive in some way.  The only irritating part was our tour group, which was a bit disorganised due to the huge crowds moving between each venue and the fact our guide had 25 in his group half speaking English and half Spanish.  Just proof that those really touristy things are never great value for money and you’re better off sorting it out yourself!!  After the ceremony we met up with Dad and Caroline for lovely Pizza.  Sometimes you just need a break from the local cuisine.  

The day before the Inca Trail most of the museums were open again, as they had been closed for the festival week.  We took the opportunity to look around the Sun Temple, the Cathedral and the Pre-Columbian Art Museum.  Interesting enough, although I’m not sure we were all that into it because the week had been a bit hectic.  We got into quite a debate in the art museum as Caroline and I were more annoyed than anything else that the artefacts weren’t in a proper museum where you could actually learn something about them (the signs are just waffle) while Kevin was convinced that they were art just because some of them were pretty.  I say think about your mixing bowl at home and tell me if you think it's art?  That’s the kind of artefacts we’re talking about, i.e. functional.  Some of them have nice patterns on them definitely, even very impressive decorations, but even the nicest plates we have these days would still be better placed in a museum in 500 years’ time if our descendants actually want to learn something about us.  Not sure Dad wanted to get into the argument and we just left!

Kevin, Dad and I had a briefing that night for the trek where we were informed that pick up would be 5am.  We thought it would be best therefore to get an early night, although by the time we had packed our stuff and charged cameras etc., it was actually still quite late when we finally got to sleep.
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