Saturday 25th August – First day by myself in Cusco!
Anna, Nick and the kids headed off today back to Spain and so it was my first day all alone for quite some time! I was exhausted! I took a small walk through the town of Cusco in the morning, down to the San Pedro Markets which were super interesting, took care of my laundry and my pack which was starting to burst at the seams. The afternoon was given up to some well deserved sleep!
Sunday 26th August – Exploring Cusco.
Today I took in few of the sights in Cusco. It was a Church Day! I started in the huge Cusco Cathedral which is an amazing building with some beautiful artwork and structures. They had some information boards about the local celebrations and the combination between traditional and catholic traditions. Outside in the Plaza de Armas there was a procession going on with children marching through the square which was clearly a local celebration. Next was the Iglesia San Cristobal which was closed but because it was up a huge hill had amazing views out over Cusco and the Plaza de Armas. The final stop for the day was the Iglesia San Blas which was pretty plain from the outside, but had an amazing carved altar on the inside which had been carved from a single piece of wood in amazing detail. There was a skull sitting on the top of the structure which was supposedly the skull of the creator of the piece but no one really knows. That was the end of the exploring for the day – I always feel so much more exhausted walking around at 3400m altitude! I spent the rest of the afternoon recuperating at the hostel!
Monday 27th August – Exploring Cusco
This morning I took a walking tour through Cusco. It was in a pretty big group but our tour guide had a microphone which helped us to hear pretty well. We started in the ´botanical garden´ of Cusco which was just a regular cemented square which had garden beds with plants of various types with descriptions of their medicinal uses. For example, one of the plants was Santa Clara which is used to put people into trances for ceremonies like Ayahuasca and is completely legal in Peru – but should only be administered by an authorised Shaman! We also talked about the benefits of chewing cocoa leaves for the altitude.
The second stop was the San Pedro Market – which I'd already visited the day before. We had a look at the different areas of the market and Angela showed us the dried foetuses of the baby llamas which I hadn´t noticed earlier! Apparently these are used to make offerings to the Incan gods at this particular time of year in August and that a few weeks prior the whole market had been completely full of them. They are so weird looking! Poor people who can´t afford a llama sacrifice use sheep foetuses instead. In order to get the foetuses out of the llama, the mother is slaughtered and used for her meat and wool too. Yucky.
We next walked back down to the Plaza de Armas and we took a turn down a side alley where we were able to see some impressive Incan construction upon which some colonial structures had been built. We had a chance to take some photos with llamas and then we visited some very old Incan structures where a mummy of a 10 year old child had been found. Our final stop was the outside of the Santa Domingo convent which I had planned to visit the following day.
Tuesday 28th August – Exploring Cusco
Spent today wandering the streets of Cusco again and visiting a few of the local attractions. My first goal was to walk up and visit the statue that the locals call Cristo Blanco – the white Jesus. I asked at my hostel the way to go and the guy pointed up the stairs – straight up! So I did just that, up hundreds of near vertical steps which had me breathing pretty heavily by the end! But the views were most definitely worth it – Cusco really is a beautiful city in the valley surrounded by mountains. The white Christ was pretty cool too, and the kids that were up on the hill trying to fly kites with their parents were also really cute!
Next, I walked back down into Cusco with the plan of visiting the Santo Domingo Convent where the famous Incan ruins called the Qurikancha could be viewed. I had a lovely woman called Angela take me on a tour of this site which was an interesting combination of the Incan ruins which had been used as the base of the massive Catholic Monastery at the time of the Spanish invasion. But then, in the 1700s there was a massive earthquake which grounded much of the Spanish construction- leaving only the Incan parts. Later UNESCO stepped in and demanded that the Catholics rebuild 3m inside the remaining Incan structures in order to preserve them. Thus now there is a lovely old convent surrounded by parts of Incan walls. Angela explained all about how the Incans were thought to be able to use tools to form the perfectly shaped smooth stone and join the pieces without any gaps nor joining material such as cement. She also showed me the angles and symmetry that the Incans used to ensure the structural integrity of their structures. The resulting structures are beautiful and simple and built for the gods, for example to reflect the light of the summer and winter solstices at these special times of the year. In addition, we were able to see some of the interesting shapes of the massive stone blocks which allowed the walls to be joined together in perfect symmetry. These structures have survived many years and a number of very strong earthquakes where the Spanish constructions have not managed to survive.
We visited the gallery of Catholic art which the church forced local artists to produce in order to convert them to the Catholic faith after the Spanish Invasion. Angela showed me different places in the paintings where the local artists had taken some license in what they had painted, including various aspects of their gods and faith – for example in the famous representation of Mary in the triangular dress which represents the mountain – and the Incan god Pachamama. In this way the Incans were able to pass down their old faith and gods and to this day the people in the area of Cusco still follow both the Catholic faith and their own old gods – like in many other areas of Central and South America.