XLVIII. Puno to Cusco
I’m up early to drive down to the docks with Selma to give Simon the food and gifts we had bought for them the previous evening. We have two bags full of stuff. The moment we arrive, a couple of guys approach us to try to sell us boat tickets, then call out to Simon for us. Simon introduces his son Elvis, and asks whether we’d left a camera on the boat. We think not but can’t be sure Ragna didn’t, so we tell him we’ll take a look at it.
He’s happy to see the extra food. He and I carry it to the boat. Then in the office he and another fellow show us the camera: Ragna’s videocamera, out of its case. We thank him profusely, and take it with us. I’m thinking I should have rewarded him – particularly if the reason the other fellow was standing there was that he had actually found the camera. Even with Simon, although we’ve stayed at his house and become friends with him – circumstances that would make a monetary reward almost insulting if we were in the U.S. or Iceland – the gap between our financial situations makes that all hypothetical. The video camera is worth a great multiple of Simon’s monthly income, and its return before we even noticed it was missing is an honorable action that should be rewarded. Although they must think it nice of us to have bought all the additional food and brought it to them, how careless we must seem to have lost something worth hundreds of times anything they own besides the boat, failed even to notice we’d lost it, and then greet its return with merely a [profuse] “Thank you”!
Thus after I stop at the bank, and while Ragna and Selma are finishing their packing, I drive back down to the dock. This time I find Simon standing near the entrance with Elvis and his younger daughter, the one Ragna and Selma had earmarked some food for. They point to the black plastic bag with that food in it, to show me she has it. I tell him that obviously the return of the camera – whether by him or by his friend – should be rewarded, and give him S./ 200. He doesn’t say much, but I sense that he too was thinking it wrong of me not to have offered a reward earlier. We say good-bye again, warmly on both sides, and he urges us to recommend his boats to my friends. I tell him I will, knowing I have no friends likely to visit Lake Titicaca any time soon, but also that I’ll mention him in this web-site.
A further delay ensues when we start to load the car and Ragna discovers that the chicken, in a separate plastic bag Selma and I hadn’t noticed, is still in the car. It’s too late to take it to the docks, as Simon will have left at 8:30. We finally take it back into the hotel, explain that Elvis will come for it, and resolve to e-mail Elvis from Cusco.
We stop in _______, famous for making Los Toros — the little bulls on top of all the houses around here, notably every house we saw in or near Atuncolla a few days ago.
We don’t see a particularly appealing restaurant in Ayaviri, but we do feel like exploring the market with our cameras, and we do. I shoot a lot of useless photos of kids shooting pool at the outdoor tables, and even win some cookies at a shooting gallery. Eventually I meet up with the ladies. Ragna is looking for a bathroom, so we throw ourselves on the mercy of the folks running the hotel on the Plaza de Armas,
Waiting, Selma and I hear music and see a parade coming, so we tell the woman at the hotel to tell Ragna we’ve walked down to the corner to shoot. It’s Aymiri’s Fiesta. Dancing girls, people in masks, musicians and horseback-riders, everyone having a good time, and we don’t need to know why, so are we. The only problem is that I’m stuck with a set lens, slightly telephoto, which makes it hard to shoot a lot of what I’d like to shoot in the midst of a crowd watching dancers.
Shooting a few more pictures in the Plaza de Armas, I spot an old couple sitting on a bench. They might as well have a moonbeam from heaven shinining on them, they so completely capture my attention the moment I see them. I photograph them, and the little dog who seems to be with them, moving ever closer, but they only have eyes for each other. There’s plenty of noise and pedestrian traffic around them, but they’re completely unaware.
Maybe it’s their complete attentiveness to each other that draws my attention, maybe it’s their body language, maybe it’s the presence of such love [or so it seems to me, at least] in two so deeply lined faces. In any case, I shoot a boatload of images of them, and then even individual portraits. Interestingly, to my eye the individual portraits, while nice enough, lack the zap of the earlier shots — as if without the other, some life goes out of each face.
They seem a couple who have been long together; but also I think of the couple in Love in the Time of Cholera, reunited after decades of separation.
At some point we pause to glance at some odd-looking little houses on the right, unsure what they are. As Ragna and Selma are photographing them, a woman materializes on our left, staring at me with what might be fright or curiosity. Her face is interesting. So are the structures. And she clearly has a moment to assist us.
I give her a generous propina: I think I’ll like the pictures, she went out of our way for us, and she looks like she needs it. Ragna, unaware I’ve done that, gives her a second propina, probably even more generous.
Within moments we are at the pass. It’s cool and scenic.
We keep playing around until we lose the light, then have more than an hour’s drive through the mountain roads in darkness, and Cusco’s big enough that, approaching it at night, it takes us awhile to figure out where the hell we are. Then the search for a place to stay begins; and although we’re all cooperating, it takes forever. The place we’d planned to stay only has a three-bed room for the first night, and that gets vetoed; another sounds great in the Lonely Planet guidebook, and I call, and try to follow their directions, but at a point where the map showing the road continuing the hill, that isn’t the whole truth: the road does continue, but as steep stairs that even the heroic Mitsubishi isn’t likely to climb; a third has a lovely view, in a nice neighborhood, for a low price, but cats have accidentally been locked for a few days in the room Ragna and I would get, and have done what they needed to do. Eventually we try the Hostal Q’oriaska. It’s back down nearer the Plaza de Armas, on a dark cobble-stoned street, and the front’s all locked up and unwelcoming, but it’s a find. A haven. Simple but adequate rooms, with hot water; very nice people; and a central courtyard in which to breakfast or drink a before-bed glass of wine or sit in the warm sun at mid-day. And affordable.
We’re tired, but we’re home.
Hostal Q’uriaska. 458 Nueva Alta. (I spent so much time there that the address comes instantly to mind weeks later, finishing up this page.) We liked the place. Although it doesn’t look so when you first arrive, it was homey and welcoming. Rooms quite adequate, for a very fair price. A kitchen in back, so that you could keep a little food in the refrigerator and eat in the courtyard (or the common room with the TV, off the kitchen) when you wanted to. The people were very kind and good-humored; and we stored a lot of stuff there, first when we went to Macchu Picchu and then when we went down to Puerto Maldonado, and it was all there when we returned. Too, it’s reasonably convenient to the Plaza de Armas; the central courtyard is one of those places where you may get into pleasant conversations with other travelers; and the rooms I stayed in were extraordinarily quiet, protected by the thick old walls from the street noise.
1. Not discussed in this Post, because I didn’t visit it until weeks later [Post Cusco III when I put it on here], is the Catedral. The sort of place I might not even bother going, but was very glad I did. It was quite interesting.
2. Cusco might be the best place in Peru to buy a camera or a lense. Certainly the shops there had a much greater selection of camera stuff than what I’d seen anywhere else outside Lima. They quickly repaired my damaged zoom lens.