Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Day 96 (January 19, 2013)
Cusco, Peru
Day's Ride: 0 Miles

After yesterday's slog, taking a day off in Cusco was a well needed respite from the road. I took the opportunity to sleep in till 7:00 AM, eat a leisurely breakfast, and see the sights. I was also waiting for Mike, one of the guys who rode the Independence with me, and the Canadians (Kurt and Corey) who were all supposed to show up today.

The first stop on the Cusco tourism circuit today was the Plaza de Armas: the central square in Cusco. This is one of the more picturesque central plazas that I've seen in any Latin American city so far. Moreover, one of the amazing things about Cusco is that it used to be the capital of the Incan empire and much of the city was built on top of or even with the old Incan buildings.

The first church that I stopped at was having mass, so I slipped in the back and sat through a portion of the service. There's something about attending the "misa" in a cathedral with all of the ritual, the architectural grandeur, and the mighty organ music that inspires awe and majesty.

I walked back out into the Plaza and went and took a look at the main cathedral.

This building took over a hundred years to build and was constructed on top of one of the Incan emperor's old palaces. Much of the stone used in the Cathedral came from the old palace.

The center of the Plaza is dominated by a golden statue of one of the Incan Emperors. There has been a huge resurgence of indigenous pride within the last several decades and the statue demonstrates some of that..

Here's another shot of the plaza:

Radiating out from the plaza are numerous alleyways and streets that are still lined with the original walls constructed by the Incas. Seeing this stonework and knowing that it was constructed hundreds of years ago by an indigenous culture with no metal tools or large draft animals adds a sense of wonder to the whole affair. Seeing how precise it is and how shabby the Spanish colonial stonework looks in comparison makes at the more incredible. Just look at this wall:

I can't believe how perfectly everything is joined. The Incans didn't use any mortar; instead they cut every stone so precise that they fit in an intricate jigsaw puzzle that could withstand earthquakes and the test of time. Much of the Spanish Colonial stonework that was done after the conquest of the Inca has been destroyed in various earthquakes though out the years. Most of the Incan stonework that predates the Spanish by hundreds of years still survives intact.

These wall are everywhere in old town Cusco. You can't walk down an alley way without seeing Incan stonework. Many of the buildings were simply co-opted by the Spanish. The bottom half is all Incan, the top half is colonial Spanish.

Walking down one of the alleyways that purportedly contained the oldest Incan wall in Cusco, I was surprised to find that Starbucks had already taken over:

This is one of the frightening dichotomies of Cusco: it's an amazing, beautiful, and ancient historical city that is completely overrun by tourism. You can't take two steps without running into a gringo. You are also constantly being accosted by street hawkers and touts vying for your business. I don't like to be rude to people who are just trying to make their living, but some of these guys (and gals) were so persistent and aggressive that my normal "no thanks" didn't work and I had to tell them to get lost. I was also asked a few times if I wanted to buy cocaine and weed. This isn't the first time that this has happened on this trip, but it was definitely the most frequent in one spot. I guess that's kind of the sad side to all of this tourism. The nice side is that it makes lots of money for the Peruvians.

Another interesting thing about Cusco is the contrast. Take for instance this picture:

A perfect Incan wall that is hundreds of years old, topped by modern sheet glass windows. The stark contrast between modern and ancient is almost dumbfounding.

I returned this evening to a spot overlooking the Plaza and looked out at the city.

This is a beautiful place.

Mike and the Canadians showed up later in the afternoon and we all caught up on each other's adventures. I also did some research today on the "back door" into Machu Picchu; with the help of huzar and some locals, I think we've found a way to ride the motorcycles fairly close and avoid paying hundreds of dollars to ride the train. Tomorrow we are going to finalize plans and make a decision on how we are going to crack this nut.

No comments:

Post a Comment