This diary is an extension of 2 Weeks of Vacation - An Untold Number of Diaries to Come about our family vacation to Peru and Bolivia. Diaries are part travel, part photos, part politics and personal reflection. Links to more diaries in the series can be found in the original.
Welcome to Cusco, Peru - Part 2!
Day two of our vacation started pretty early in the morning. I hate to waste a moment, especially when there are things to see and photos to take! It didn't hurt that we gained two hours and that the sun rises early in the Peruvian summertime. Yes, did I forget to tell you? It is summertime here in the Southern Hemisphere!
I unfortunately discovered my first symptoms of altitude sickness. For future reference, it's a good idea to turn around and go back to the hotel, not climb more steps for views of the city, when the nausea hits. For those of you who have experienced morning sickness during pregnancy, all I can say is that the nausea from altitude sickness is even worse. I would have never thought that possible. And that getting sick is a good thing because you finally feel much better.
After a recuperation break back at the hotel, a little breakfast, and massive amounts of motrin and coca tea, I was ready to follow the rest of the family out the door of the hotel and back onto the cobbled streets of Cusco. There was no way I was missing any part of this trip. Our first stop of the day was the Pre Columbian Art Museum.
This museum should be on everyone's list of things to do in Cusco. Their collection is well-preserved, beautifully presented, and extremely well organized by era and by tribe. The maps in each room allowed us to follow the progress of each successive group of people that conquered the tribe before it. It seems that it wasn't just the Spanish who built on top of prior cultures in South America but that the Incans themselves did the same thing. The pre-Incan cultures were rich in ceramics, in wood carvings, and in jewelry made from shell and from stone. They had an impressive collection of nose rings and of weapons made from metal. The museum opened at 8am but no one else knew that but us; we basically had the place all to ourselves!The Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, located just off the inner courtyard. As we were leaving the museum, the Center was about to open for business. I tried speaking to the artisans out front but they were eating breakfast, getting ready for the workday and not ready to deal with a tourist. We found out from the man in the front that they would open for business in half an hour and that we could come back. That settled it... we found our mid-morning cup of coffee and snack at a nearby cafe on the Plazeleta de las Nazarenas, the same place where I was bombarded by sales people the day before. The difference between Sunday afternoon and Monday morning was amazing - it was quiet, still and calm and there were zero people trying to make a sale. It was a wonderful place to enjoy a peaceful moment. All vacations should have time like this.
When we returned, the two artists were hard at work. The gentleman was sitting in a chair up against the wall and was knitting a cap using five needles and several different colors of yarn. The woman was seated on the ground in front of a large backstrap loom, working on a piece about the width of a table runner, but potentially much longer. Both were dressed in brightly colored, local costume. I know that their items of clothing and the style of weaving could tell another local a lot about where they came from and if I ever had the chance to stay longer in Peru, I would like to learn more about each region and the weaving techniques they practiced.
Inside the store, we spoke for a long time with the shopkeeper and learned that the Center purchases the pieces directly from each artist. They don't have to wait for their piece to sell before they see any profit. Each piece is marked with the name and the picture of the artist who made it as well as their date-of-birth and the location where the piece was made.
Please consider visiting the website as they have stunning pictures of the art work, the artists, and the communities supported by our purchases. Each community has a very different style of work and all are worth seeing. Prices on the site are in US Dollars.
I like finding places like this. The artwork is often more expensive than that found in touristy stores but I know that the artist is making a fair wage. I might have found cheaper on the streets of Cusco, maybe even items made by the person selling the piece, but probably not. Certainly not with guarantees. For me, this kind of non-profit organization is part of the answer to some of the questions that I asked in my earlier diary, especially, How can a community get maximum benefit from the tourism industry and still manage to retain true to itself and its people?
After the museum and a light lunch, it was time for our scheduled tour of the city of Cusco and some surrounding Incan sites. It was part of our package deal, something we have rarely signed up for when we travel. We are generally not the types you would find on guided tours and our single experience on a bus trip to Amsterdam had scared me off them for a very long time. This afternoon had those moments that we would have loved to avoid - crowded spaces, limited time, and the rushed feeling of always needing to get to the next location. But the tour had it's benefits.
The tour started at the Iglesia del Triunfo and continued to the adjacent Cathedral of Cusco. Both Spanish churches were built upon Incan sites, the Iglesia on a ceremonial building called Suntur Wasi and the Cathedral on the temple, Kiswarkancha. Cusco was the center of the Incan Empire and by building on top of their important structures, the Spanish invaders sent a powerful message to the local Quechua people. They had hoped to replace the native beliefs with Christianity. Many believe that they failed and only managed to create a religion that combines elements of both Christianity and the ancient deities of the Incans. Rómelo liked to point out what he saw as the Church's failure - evidence that the locals retained their beliefs even while adopting Catholicism. He was not the only guide to point this out during our trip and it became a theme almost every time we walked into a Catholic church.
As we toured other sites in the city, we saw more paintings from the Cusco School. Rómelo pointed out a detail that kept occurring in many of the paintings, a branch or two of small, white, lily-like flowers. He told us that the Quechua artists found this method to identify their paintings. Brand new artists would not paint a white flower at all but artists who had finished one whole painting would paint a single flower. If they had other paintings that they had begun but were as yet unfinished, they would paint a flower bud. Some paintings we saw had as many as 5 or 6 full flowers and many buds; the quality of the work was obviously better, adding proof that the flowers symbolized the prior work of an experienced artist. I've looked for references and can find nothing mentioned online about this tradition.
The Spanish colonists built the Church of Santo Domingo on the site, demolishing the temple and using its foundations for the cathedral. Construction took most of a century. This is one of numerous sites where the Spanish incorporated Inca stonework into the structure of a colonial building. Major earthquakes severely damaged the church, but the Inca stone walls, built out of huge, tightly-interlocking blocks of stone, still stand due to their sophisticated stone masonry. Nearby is an underground archaeological museum, which contains numerous interesting pieces, including mummies, textiles, and sacred idols from the site. The site now also includes the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo.
Rómelo was full of stories like this - he also told us that when the Spanish first arrived and wanted to purchase land from the Quechua, they proposed that a single cowhide be used to determine the measurement of the land. The Quechua believed that a single cowhide meant its area. The Spanish, however, took that cowhide and cut it into a single long strip which they then used to mark the area of land they wanted to purchase. The longer we stayed in Peru and the more guides we met, the more we realized that history in this country depends very much on the person telling the story. Rómelo is Quechua and from his day guiding us, I would guess that he is not Catholic. He held obvious contempt for the actions of the ancient Spaniards and even more obvious pride in the culture of the Quechua. We were soon to learn that other invaders had earned his disrespect.
After Sacsayhaumán, we headed back to the bus, to head to a couple of last sites before we lost the sun. We briefly stopped at an old fort, Puca Pucara but only with enough time for a photo from the bus window. If I were to do this trip again, I would schedule much more time for these ruins because part of the adventure is walking among the stones and feeling the passage of time while standing among them.
As Rómelo told us a little about these ruins, he also took the opportunity to tell us more about his personal story. He shared with us a book that he helped co-author with American Carol Cumes called Journey to Machu Picchu which tells even more about his family, specifically his great uncle, Agustín Lizárraga:
in 1900, Agustín began to clear land by burning the dense vegetation at Inkarakkay, a valley at the foot of Waynapichu. One day after burning a great stretch of plant growth, he climbed the cleared slopes to explore an area he'd never entered. There, Agustín found an ancient stairway rising from the banks of the Urubamba River, west of the mountain and leading to a place that is known today as the Sacred Plaza of Machu Picchu.
For our final surprise, we visited a tourist trap, one of those locations that the tourist bus pulls up to and the vendors are all expecting you with open wallets in hand. Rómelo had told us repeatedly that we did not have time to buy from the vendors at each historical site and now we understood better why. And the questions started in my mind again, about sustainable tourism, about fairness to those who live in the area and what profit motive is at work.
Rómelo took us to one shop in particular so that we could learn the difference between acrylic, llama, and baby llama wools. Not a bad thing to learn, to tell you the truth. But the entire visit felt fabricated for the sole reason of profit, not for our edification. Rómelo stood by the cash register and made sure that each purchase from one of his customers was marked down so that he could get his percentage. This was no fair-trade store where I knew that a portion of the profit was going to a fairly paid artisan and I found myself uninterested in making a purchase. In the end, my son asked for a pair of knitted mittens (he had forgetten to pack a pair and summertime in Peru still means cold nights, especially on the Inca Trail) and I bought some. We found the same pair the next day at a village miles from Cusco. They were probably made in a factory setting where the salaries are low and the employers have little incentive to make any changes.
Upon returning to the city, we met up with our guide for the next day and that experience is best left for the next diary... after all, he was our guide for the 4-day Inca Trail hike!
In the meantime, if you would like to see some of the interiors of the locations that we saw and were not able to photograph, you can check out this short video: