Cusco is a marvelous city. (I cannot disagree with the oft-voiced complaint that it begins to resemble Santa Fe in New Mexico, St. Miguel de Allende in Guanajauto, and other great spots now top-heavy with tourists; but it’s still beautiful, it still has a wonderful feel to it, and there are still places in the area where you won’t find so many fellow foreigners. ) My own experience and account of it were marred by personal issues, which I mention only to explain why this and the next several posts will not provide as much detail on this fine city as I might like. (The post is in draft form because some further information from my notebooks isn’t available to me right now but soon will be again. Note also that two additional posts, after our return from Macchu Picchu and from Puerto Maldonado, will concern Cusco.)
Cusco is also the gateway to Machu Picchu — as well as to Manú and Puerto Maldonado. The presence of numerous agencies [including the eight entitled to take you into Manú itself] within block of the Plaza helps with comparison shopping. If you aren’t locked into a particular days, you can select the tour that most fits your taste and budget.
We spent our first day or two in Cusco looking into possible trips to the interior. Selma’s departure schedule nixed several attractive possibilities, and Ragna wasn’t interested in anything that involved camping out at night, and we ultimately settled on a five day, four-night trip to Corto Maltes on the Rio Madre de Dios. This would allow us a day or two in Puerto Maldonado before and after the jungle. [Posts to follow will describe that trip.]
We also lazed around the Hostal Qorichaska, which I found to be a very reasonable budget lodging in a convenient location. The thick walls made some rooms silent as tombs at night; the courtyard provided a pleasant and sometimes warm spot in which to enjoy the complimentary breakfast and read or write or gab with other travelers; and the kitchen allowed for saving money by making one’s own meals.
Sunday we set out reasonably early for the Pisac market. From Cuzco we drive through beautiful mountain countryside that would delight us even if it were not full of Inca ruins and small villages, and were not called the Sacred Valley.
Pisac is crowded and chaotic, as we’d expected. The market itself fills the Plaza de Armas and extends a long way along two of the eight streets that run outward from the Plaza. We enter in the corner where folks are selling vegetables and meat, and I start shooting like crazy, as I always do in markets. Most vendors and customers don’t notice or don’t care: they’re accustomed to foreigners from all over the globe photographing them. A few put up there hands or cover their heads with their hats, and of course I immediately apologize and move on, not trying to steal a shot of them. Some, including children, extend a palm or say, “Propina.” Of these, some say it with stern faces, to dissuade anyone from photographing them without paying; some say it smiling; and a few, who perhaps have not yet tried this and aren’t quite sure they can earn a few extra soles so easily, say it shyly, giggling.
So here are a few faces from the marketplace. Some were candid shots in which the people weren’t aware of being photographed or more or less ignored the fact. Others — like the girls with the lambs — were in the market specifically to be photographed, and particularly to be paid for being photographed. So, I think, was the old lady in her chair. When I visited Pisac again on the way out to Macchu Picchu a couple of days later, she was in the same chair in the same spot, and some fellow from New York was photographing her.
Despite the tour-buses parked back at the entrance to town, this wasn’t a tourist market. It was extensive, and there were certainly jewelry and clohing stalls aimed at tourists; but I also saw plenty of fruit and vegetables, meat, sandals, tools, and what-not, as well as a few food-stalls where locals, but no foreigners, were chowing down. Again, a quick sampling:
At one point we see a couple of little girls and a third, smaller child, each of the two older girls carrying a tiny lamb half hidden in her jacket. Of course we want to shoot that picture, and willingly provide the requisite propina. What a neat image! Of course, after we see the girls two or three more times, circulating throughout the market to have their photos taken by tourists, and see at least two other pairs or trios of girls with tiny lambs also wandering around for the same purpose, the image loses a little lustre.
We eat lunch at an outdoor table in one of the restaurants on the plaza.
Later I get talking with some expats from the U.S. who live around here. They’re at the ______ — an eaterie on the Plaza that’s almost hidden by all the mercado tents. The talk is of healers and shamans and the countryside here. One of them runs a local b&b, the _________ — and proudly introduces me to ____ and ____, two large, friendly dogs sitting at his feet. (Memory claims that the b&b was called the Thunder and Lightning, and that the dogs were, respectively, Thunder . . . and Lightning; but I need to check my notes.) In any case I enjoyed talking with the guy who runs the place, and a couple of other expats who lived in the Valley; and they were serious about healing. If you plan on visiting the area to see a shaman or drink ayahuasca, those folks would be reasonable folks to contact about that.
We drive back to Cusco in a light rain. In the evening we dine at ____ on the Plaza. It ain’t cheap, but the food’s fine and for awhile there’s a floor-show, five or six musicians in local garb playing old Beatles tunes and some classical music on local Andes instruments, and some dancers (who dance together then circulate and invite diners or drinkers to dance with them – beware!). . .
After a long search we end up at Hostal Qorichaska, which we recommend. [see below].
Aurelio, our landlord in Arequipa, had recommended S on El Sol, and it sounded appealing:
But the evening we arrived it had limited availability. We called several other possibilities, and visited a number of them. ______ was in a location that was appealing [very high up, nice view, far away from everything] but impractical [cochera a good hike away, the last portion of the road up to the place a one-lane, cobblestone street that we weren’t sure taxis would choose to go up, having to back down 100 meters or so].
_______ was in a nice area, also high up, but convenient to Plaza ____ and some nice-looking restaurants, and the man who showed us the rooms was pleasant and helpful, even walking with us to another hostal and then providing directions back down to the Plaza de Armas] but there were a lot of dogs barking in the area, and on this particular day a couple of the rooms we saw suffered from the effects of a cat having been accidentally locked in the room for an extended period. However, there was a restaurant and courtyard area, and the price was right. The nearby ____ was also a possibility, but we decided we felt like being closer to the plaza.
The Hostal Qorichaska is an old building with thick stone walls, and we’d highly recommend it as a budget hotel, although the rates were a good deal more than those at the ones we saw higher up [and much further from the Plaza de Armas]. We slept marvelously every night. Calle Nueva Alta gets little late-night traffic, and almost no sound penetrates to our room [which was ground-floor and not hear the front gate]. The courtyard was a great place to breakfast, or to read or gab or catch a few rays during the day, or to drink a glass of wine at night. The rooms were adequate in size and cleanliness: undecorated, but pleasant. The place was convenient to the Plaza, a very modest walk or a quick cab-ride. The staff was generally friendly and helpful, and laundry was done and returned fairly quickly. Phone number, I think, is 228 974 – from elsewhere in Peru, preface that with (84) for Cusco; and from outside Peru, (51)(84) 228 974.