Thursday, August 28, 2008

Navel Gazing

If you ask Nina what were her favourite places we visited, she would answer Sydney and Cusco. Nina and I are very alike.

It's been two weeks since we left Cusco, and I haven't yet blogged on the town itself, even if I have mentioned it obliquely a number of times. Time and distance, if I give them the chance, are waiting to rob me of my memories of this wonderful town, and so before that happens I'd like to take you on a walk.

When you turn left at the door to the Hospedaje San Blas, you walk downhill on the narrow and impossibly slippery footpaths of Cuesta San Blas. The cobbled road is wide enough for one car, and it's rarely free of traffic. At the end of the road, you cross to the pedestrianised route that leads past the famous 12-cornered stone, expertly set in place by the Incas and now supporting the Archbishop's Palace.

That's the story of Cusco: It was the capital city of the Inca Empire (its name means navel in Quechua - it was the bellybutton of their world) and most of it was torn down by the Spanish and used as a platform to built the city that you see today. At this corner you might see a very tall gringo, smiling and holding up a copy of a small magazine.

In his US accent he might call out something like:"Cusco Times*. Summer edition. Get it while it's hot!"

You may want to intervene at this point. I certainly did.

Short Frowning Gringo (Me): "That's a bit Northern Hemisphere of you isn't it? Summer Edition? It's the middle of Winter here!"

Tall Smiling Gringo: "Yeah - but it's so warm and sunny here that it just feels like Summer".

This seemed like a weak pretext on which to attempt to impose - once more - Northern Hemisphere order on a Southern Hemisphere people. But the Tall Smiling Gringo really did have a nice smile and my frown was starting to falter.

SFG: "Hmm. How long have you been here?".

TSG: "I got here 8 months ago, but now Cusco is my home. We're putting this magazine together in English and Spanish, and the proceeds are going toward helping out some of the poorer locals."

I had promises to keep and I had no change to buy the magazine so I promised the Tall Smiling Gringo that I'd buy the next time I passed by.

Walk past the TSG and the Archbishop's Palace and you will arrive at the prettiest plaza I have seen in South America. It's big but not vast. It's beautiful but not imposing. It's green, but not overgrown. Lively, but not overrun. Each side has its own character, but they all seem to get on with each other.

If you are lucky, to your left you will find somebody selling tamales. You can buy both sweet and savoury versions of this delicious street food - just make sure you try at least one.

Oh go on then - have three:

To your right stand three churches all attached to each other, the central and biggest of which is the cathedral. Inside, you will find more gold and silver than any European church you have ever seen. The tour guide will point out what you otherwise probably won't be able to see for yourself - that the artwork in these churches, created by indigenous artists commissioned by the clergy, contains hints of the religion that preceded christianity in these parts: the worship of the Sun, of the moon, but above all, of Pachamamma. In Cusco, most of what's on the surface is Spanish, but underneath, it's still Inca.

Around the main plaza (yes, called Plaza de Armas) there are many other plazas and streets worth visiting, especially to the north where a little road leads up to the Plaza Nazarene where the famously luxurious Hotel Monesterio is located. We could afford to have an aperitivo of Pisco Sours here, but not to stay. (One night in their junior suite costs the same as the 12 nights we spent in our modest hostel). On the way up, you'll pass a little street called Purgatorio - it would appear that Purgatory is a pedestrianized street (which makes sense given the relative hell of Peruvian traffic).

Heading east of here, we do a loop on our way back to Cuesta San Blas (that was a short walk, wasn't it? but with the lack of oxygen and the upward slope on the return journey, you're still puffed out I bet).

One one such return trip that I took, it was actually raining lightly. As I approached the Cuesta, there again was my tall smiling friend, still selling his magazines.

Me: "Summer edition my ass" I offered.

TSG: "Yeah! I know. Now I'm telling folks 'Get it while it's wet!'"

Nothing got this guy down. And I think that some of this must have rubbed off on me. I've been back for over a week now, and the routine of moving from place to place has washed right off us like it was never there. And I still feel great. I know the trip is over, but it'll never be gone.

(*I can't actually remember what the name of the magazine is, as I forgot the copy that I bought.)

1 comment:

Duncan said...

Just read a description of the (slightly underwhelming) 12 cornered stone as 'just another brick in the wall'. Up there with the disappointed Australian in Florence - "David's a bloody rock"