53. Cusco II

53. Cusco II — between Macchu Picchu and the rainforest

We have a few more days in Cusco before going on to Puerto Maldonado. Mostly we go our own ways, but once or twice we have supper together. I also try to buy for Ragna’s birthday a bracelet Selma has described to me. Ragna’s birthday will come round while we are in Corto Maltes, and birthdays [it will seem sexist to say, perhaps] mean rather more to women than to men, generally. Ragna’s has sometimes meant a lot to both of us.

Hostal Q’orichaska is a pleasant place to hang around, mornings, working a bit on this blog or just gabbing with other travelers. I also explore Cusco a bit on my own. One afternoon, I spot a sign that advertises a van to Macchu Picchu for S./ 70. Back at the Q’orichaska, some Israeli acquaintances get very curious about that, since we’ve all heard only the train was feasible.

The next morning (September 20), both for the Israelis and from my own curiosity, I go into the shop where a sign advertised a van to Macchu Picchu for S./ 70. It turns out to be an “alternative travel” outfit that indeed takes 10-11 passengers to very near Aqua Caliente. They drive through the sacred valley, making few stops, and continue on North of Aqua Caliente and Macchu Picchu, then drop down to Santa Teresa – the little town the Dutch kid had suggested as a risky but promising investment. Halfway between Santa T and A.C., there’s a hydroelectric plant where the passengers then take the train for about half an hour to A.C. The drive is about six hours, with just a few quick stops to shoot
it's the shop with this hole out front!

it's the shop with this hole out front!

pictures at major sites. (See contact info under Travel Notes / Other Points below.) I ask whether I could drive there in a private car, or even on to Aqua Caliente. He says I could. (I neglect to ask why his vans do not go  there, so folks don’t have to ride the train at all. Perhaps the road is unappealing.)

In search of a new Peruvian cell-phone, I walk down Calle El Sol a few blocks, and get everything I need: new phone and phone number, TUN rates, and a card for international calls. How much more comfortable I feel at this moment than I did in Lima, half a year ago, buying my first Peruvian cell-phone! Too, I make the clerk laugh a few times.

A man stands beside me, and pushes a small wicker bowl onto the table between the clerk and me. Instantly the clerk has money out and is putting a coin or two in the bowl, with the same alacrity I saw in Thai shopkeepers rushing to donate food to wandering monks in their orange robes. This man is old, with long, greyish-white hair and a beard, and bright eyes gleaming from a face of dark, wrinkled skin. When I add a coin or two, he smiles at me. There is a reason to give money to this man. He has the air of a holy man, simple and unassuming. I do not know, in words, why the kid behind the desk is giving coins so quickly to this man, when the street is full of beggars the kids working here would probably ignore or shoo away. But I know.

Perhaps I say something to the man like “buena suerte” or perhaps I just smile back, but he looks into my eyes very closely, then places a hand on the top of my head and gives me a blessing. I do not follow it all, but it begins with good luck or good health or good fortune for me for the rest of the day, and continues to cover the same for the rest of the year, and continues for several more sentences, none of them comprehensible to me. Then he puts his hand near mine to shake. I tell him I did not understand it all but I thank him, then shake his hand. He is not asking for more money, as he might reasonably have done once he spotted my camera. The blessing is kindly meant and quite welcome.  I do not question it or wonder about it, although I am not religious.

I don’t even think about it until later, but I haven’t a clue why he paused for so long to bless me. My business transaction in the Claro shop halts, like a freeze-frame in a flick, while he stands there with his hand on my head. I do not wonder why. He felt like I needed it, I suppose; and quite probably I do. I wished to take a portrait photo of him, but did not ask. After he leaves I ask the Claro kid if the man comes in there every day, and he shakes his head “No.” Then we finish our transaction.

As I walk back toward the plaza, a woman greets me. I recognize her, and quickly recall from where: Pisac, just this past Sunday, before we went to Macchu Picchu. We chat about my photographs and Macchu Picchu and the Sacred Valley and a healer she knows and trusts in Puerto Maldonado should I wish to try the ayahuasca. When I tell her I might drive out to Santa Teresa when we return, and about the folks with the van, she says there’s a new bridge there. That explains why my map showed the road stopping at Santa Theresa. She also says there ain’t much out there, but that as it’s a little lower you can grow more different things.



Back in the Plaza, shooting a couple of pictures, I’m greeted by a tall, slender fellow with bare feet, sitting on a park bench with his open notebook. We talk briefly. He lectures on finance, professionally, but is often here. He’s working on a book – for children, possibly in comic-book style – on investing, and specifically on arranging your investments to match up somewhat with your convictions. It’s an unlikely and interesting concept. He turns out to be from a small and interesting town in British Columbia. Here some years ago, he first tried the ayahuasca – and it changed his life. I told him I’d just been chatting with a woman about that.

“I don’t know if she said this, but it’s marvelous. I took it, and it completely opened my mind, my heart. It’s the one thing I know that I wish everyone I know would experience it.” He plans to do some again in a few days, and I find myself regretting that I won’t yet be back from Puerto Maldonado.

sm-08-1607-two-little-girls-cusco-plaza-de-armasAs we discuss drugs and healing, the gulf between finance / law / banking /litigation and where we sit now, and how we feel about the world around us, two little girls pester us to buy the omnipresent little cloth bracelets for one sole. We decline. One girl keeps telling Bradley he has a sole for her. I point out, “El no tiene zapatas!” She grins, but finds his sandals and holds one up. The two girls are so sweet that I can’t resist a photo, for which I’m to pay them a sole each. I offer a two-sole piece, but the numeral on the front is slightly obscured, and they tell me it’s counterfeit. (Folks are like that here: this morning the travel agent taking our money for the Madre de Dios sm-08-1612-ecu-two-little-girlsouting rejected a U.S. $20 bill that had a minuscule bite out of one corner.) I have a sole and a half-sole coin, and the questionable S./ 2, and invite them to choose: the purported S./2 or the certain S./ 1.50, but they happily manage to take both the S./ 2 coin and the S./ 1 coin.

sm-08-1683-bradleyI shoot a photo of Bradley, telling him he can use it as the author-photo on his book – showing him at work, barefoot in Cusco on a park bench.

I’m thinking about drugs.  Their uses and abuses, their power.   The way in which, years ago, the occasional peyote trip seemed a beautiful and therapuetic aspect of life.  How long it’s been.

birds, real and otherwise, . . .

birds, real and otherwise, . . .

. . . enjoy the fountain.

. . . enjoy the fountain.






sm-08-1700-cusco-plaza-de-armasI also feel good. Casual jokes with the young man who sold me the phone, perhaps the blessing, a chance meeting with an acquaintance, and this pleasant conversation with a stranger . . . the day is taking a somehow welcoming shape to it.  A fine, warm afternoon on the Plaza de Armas.   There is no urgency to anything.  The warm sun ripens the melancholy of separation into a rediscovery of my solitude.

I wander into the Catedral – or, more precisely, into the small church on the left of this cathedral complex, of which the Catedral in the center forms the largest, oldest, and most significant building. (It’s flanked by the _________ on the left and by the Iglesia de Triunfo on the right.)

The Catedral de Cusco quickly fascinates me. I am not religious; and the feelings it inspires in me are not religious, exactly. I’m fascinated with the history, the art, and the odd wrinkles in this unique collaboration of cultures. The audio guide they give me as I start turns out to be quite precise and well-organized.

As noted elsewhere, most of my visits to ruins and historical places occur outdoors. Indoors I have a short attention span. Put another way, if I can’t ride a motorcycle through it or take some pictures, it may not capture my attention.

I mention this to emphasize how much I liked the Catedral. Perhaps my sombre mood contributed; at the ends of relationships we are often both in pain and rather excited by the change in our lives; certainly our experiences are often more vivid than at less turbulent emotional moments. At any rate, I thoroughly enjoy wandering through the Catedral.

It always amazes me to contemplate the vastness of early Spanish colonial churches. This one took a century of work, which naturally involved changes of architects; and, being in Cusco, the building suffered fairly extensive earthquake damage during construction, and had to be repaired.  All of this, of course, was a long way from “home” for the Spanish participants.

I enter, and rent a small cassette-player containing a recorded tour that will tell me about something, then advise me of the next spot it wants to tell me about, so that I go there, press a button, listen to what it has to say, and then move at myour own pace to the next spot it likes, though also stopping at spots that appeal to me but apparently aren’t of interest to the recorded voice.

I quickly decide to buy a CD with the recording on it, to supplement memory when I write this post – but by the time I’m back in Oakland getting around to that, I find that the CD doesn’t work.  Then once it works it has lots of intormation about Cusco, but not the specifics that so interested me walking through the Catedral.  My notes are worthless:

San Antonio de Padua . . . Celeque and the Virgin de _______ . . . The choir; the seats, the “mercies” the organs, built more or less when the church was, and silent at some point for a century. . . . El Negro

El Negro was a black saint who saved Cusco. From earthquakes, I think.

“The Last Supper” displays a table replete with cuy [guinea pig] and fruits from Peru – the cuy unmistakable. Well, it was a special occasion – and cuy was eaten on special occasions in the Inca times, as well as today. As the tour-voice suggested in connection with some of the paintings showing female Catholic saints in dress familiar to the Inkas, part of the point was to make all this strange mythology familiar and accessible to the locals.

It is all quite splendid; and it is interesting. It was all being built so ornately so far from anywhere so long ago!  What a turbulent mixture of thoughts and emotions must have flowed through the minds of the local artists, Inkas yet (perhaps) Catholic converts. I’m always fascinated  by the mix of conquerors and conquered in the blood and hearts of the people, then and later.

I stop for awhile by a statue: a Spanish gallant, sword raised, riding a white horse with a distinctly human and unhappy face, and a small fellow with a goatee kneeling beneath and holding horse and rider in the air. The audio guide is silent about this sight. It’s visually interesting, but I’m wholly ignorant about it.

I pause, wondering what she's pouring

I pause, wondering what she's

into her motorcycle, and why . . .

pouring into her motorcycle.

The night before we leave for Puerto Maldonado, Ragna cannot remove a contact lens from her eye, and we experience a bit of Peruvian medical care.

The hotel folks call a doctor. She soon arrives, examines Ragna, and takes us to a clinic. The clinic is far away through unfamiliar streets, and when we arrive it is very quiet. It is modest, but clean and well-appointed. The doctor efficiently takes care of Ragna’s eye. We pay a relatively small amount. Then they call a cab for us, but the cab doesn’t come, and in the end they kindly drive us back to the hostal in an ambulance, declining my offer to pay for the service.

Travel Notes

The Hostal Q’orichaska worked for me. See initial Cusco post for address, description, and contact information.

Food: [to be inserted]


Do spend an hour or two wandering around in the Catedral doing the self-guided tour.

Do spend a sunny hour or two wandering around the Plaza de Armas, soaking up the feel of the place.

Do walk the narrow old streets.

A good thing about Cusco: it’s about the best place in Peru to replace lost camera equipment or get a broken lens repaired.


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