Agua caliente, porfavor!

Trip Start Oct 08, 2007
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Trip End Dec 16, 2008


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Flag of Peru  ,
Thursday, July 24, 2008

I open my eyes to a fairytale like view. We are flying over cinnamon colored sierras. Not a single tree disturbs the smooth curves of the landscape. It must be too high for vegetation. A perfect cone-shaped snow covered peak pears through the fluffy clouds colored baby pink by the sunrise. The sky is as blue as a sky blue can be. We are landing in Cuzco in 20 minutes. Local time - 6 am.
 
I have big plans for Cuzco. For once, I did make prior arrangements. I will stay here for at least couple of weeks and take Spanish classes in Esquela de Sol. I will be staying with a local family that according to an email I received two days ago lives in a nice part of town not very far from the school. After eight months of solid travel, I'm finally arriving at a place where I will stay for more than a week. I will settle in a private room and won't have to pack and unpack continuously. I will be taking showers daily. I will roam around the narrow streets of Cuzco, I imagine them to be narrow any ways, and look for cute little coffee shops where I can sit down with my books and do my Spanish homework while looking out the window occasionally to check on the world around me. I will study, study, study and soon, before I know it, I’ll be picking up conversations in Spanish and making friends with the locals.  

My host lady greets me with a hug, a chocolate cake and matte de coca (coca tea). I love this place already. Before anyone should jump into any conclusions, coca tea is as far from Cocaine as sugar is from alcohol. The tea is made out of the same coca leaves that are used to extract cocaine, but tea made out the leaves contains very little of the addictive substance and it is not addictive, just as alcohol is made out of sugar, but affects the body and the mind in a very different ways. Coca tea is widely used in the Andes, because of a believe that it alleviates the effects of altitude sickness. Mate de coca is the first remedy Cuzcenios recommend to the tourists, that are often left short of breath not just by the site of the city, but by it’s elevation - 3,300m above sea level.

My room is on the second floor of a tree level house. It has two walls of windows, like a corner office in New York, except the view is over the neighbors. There is a happy face sticker with marijuana shaped eyes on one of the windows and two sets of curtains are hanging on the sides - one of translucent chiffon and another of thick dark green fabric. There is a bed and a desk, and a set of open shelves. Excited, I arrange all, and I mean all of my belongings on the shelves, but they still look empty and lonely. It is a bright sunny day outside. I close the curtains and go to bed. I've been traveling for two nights and one day. I am tired and slightly breathless. My heart is pounding to make up for the oxygen deficiency in the air. After the stellar performance of my lungs in Nepal and Tibet, I thought I wouldn’t have any problems with the altitude, but here I am, barely keeping my eyes open despite the sugar rush and the coca buzz. The room is pleasantly wormed up by the sun rays, and I let myself drift into dream land.

But can you sleep for too long when you have just arrived in Cuzco. That same afternoon I take an exploratory walk around Plaza de Armas which is essentially the hart of the city. Just as every town in the US has a Main Street, every town in Peru has Plaza de Armas. That’s what the conquistadors would build firs – the Plaza the Armas, the municipality on one side and the church on the other.  The Spanish built on top of the Inca’s constructions, in many cases with stones from demolished Inca sights, which left a legacy of hybrid architecture that starts off with solid walls of heavy rock, cut-off in irregular shapes that were then matched to create a straight wall resembling a puzzle, then transforms from the first floor up into your typical colonial style.  The plaza itself is very big, about the size of a playing field and has two huge pillars with the Peruvian flag and a rainbow colored flag that conjures images of a gay pride parade. Not quite though - it has a few extra colorful stripes and it is in fact the flag of the Inca empire which was once headquartered in Cuzco, with which Cuzcuenos, most of which visibly from indigenous descent, are very proud. The plaza is your typical Spanish architecture, pretty, but not as colorful as I imagined it would be. The churches and cathedrals surrounding it are of that same earthy color as the mountains around the town. To the north and the west the buildings seem to be stacked on top of each other, build on steep hills that come to an end in the terracing of that side of the plaza. 

I wonder up the narrow streets, occasionally taking a break to catch my breath and study the colorful rugs, sweaters and ponchos on display at the tourist shops when I hear a brass band music coming from behind the top of the street. In a few minutes the lead participants of a religious procession carrying a statue of Virgin Merry immerge. Men and women in dark suits march with flags, religious I assume. Behind them follow nuns in chocolate colored outfits, each carrying a white calla lily in hand. Behind them, adolescent boys in white overalls carry a heavy cross. Yet behind them is soaring a tree-meter tall wooden statue of the Virgin, elaborately dressed in silk and adjourned with a crown. The brass band is at the very end. Someone is firing firecrackers, but I can't see who. What an incredible sight this is. I stop out of respect and observe the procession. I try to take it all in, as if I am studying a medieval painting, looking for the details. The men in suits that are carrying the statue are struggling under its weight. Their faces are stern. Looking at the others I realize that every face in the procession is serious, tense and carved with pure devotion. I feel overwhelmed. Never religious, never needing to worship, I can't cease to be fascinated by the devotion of others. It is incredible how this town can be both so touristy and so spiritual, all at the same street. 
 
I hear Cuzco is overrun by mystical tourists, because it is believed to be one of the seventh energy points in South America. The fist two are in Chile, the third is in Cuzco, then two in Ecuador, one in Colombia, and one in Venezuela. That's why Cuzco is called "The belly of the World". There aren’t strong enough words to express how much I don’t believe in this rubbish. I have heard this before, in a different country, in a different time. It was just around the time both inflation and unemployment in my home country of Bulgaria were well into the double digits when a marvel emerged that one of the most important energy points on Earth is in some remote village in the mountains of Bulgaria. Everybody knew it. It was like, duh, of course Bulgaria is the most important energy point, that needn’t be proven. When the economics fail, the land that is low on prosperity suddenly becomes high on energy. I have never heard anyone in the "first world" indulging in thoughts about living in a high energy spot. And Peru is poor. Everyone would tell you so - from the taxi driver to the teacher in my new language school. The politicians are corrupt, the prices are high, the salaries are low and there is no change in sight... because that's how it's always been. I can’t stop to be amazed by the backwardness of people that choose to believe they live in a special cosmic place, when the hitting doesn’t work and the fridge is empty. The real question is веатхер this attitude is the result or the reason for the state of affairs.

At nigh temperature in Cuzco drops significantly. There is no heating at home. There is no heating anywhere really. Electricity is expensive and alpaca sweaters are cheap. Alpaca being the signature animal of the Andies. It is one of the funniest I’ve seen yet. It can only be described as a cross between a giraffe and a sheep. It is a size of a sheep, with the adjacent short legs, but has a long gracious neck, topped with a small head with facial expression of a surprised camel. It is fluffy and cuddly, completely benign and it was designed by nature to survive in the coldest of conditions. So I'm sitting here, on the belly on the World, wearing my alpaca sweater, freezing my ass off, contemplating if I should really be staying for two weeks. Yet, I know better by now. There is no perfect place - if it's not the weather, it's the mosquitoes, if it's not the mosquitoes, it's the food, if it's not the food, if it's not the food it's the weather.

The problem of course extends beyond my frozen fingers. In my world, the cold always brings a sense of finality - the end of something. The end of my eight month long summer vacation for example. What a depressing thought.

***
WORLD CHANGE STARTS WITH EDUCATED CHILDREN! Give a girl the life long gift of education! Support my appeal 100 GIRLS BACK TO SCHOOL! Donate at: www.justgiving.com/100GirlsBackToSchool
Hugs & Kisses, Vik
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