58. Cusco III

58. Cusco

The first day of October is a lazy sort of day in Cuzco. Skip this section if you’re looking for excitement.

In the morning I gab awhile with the two young Brits who are headed up to Ausungate to mountain bike for a couple of days, and with a young German couple newly-arrived, and finally with Ronald the owner of the BMW parked in the courtyard.

sm 08 4899 Ronald's moto being cleaned

Ronald's moto being cleaned - not by Ronald

sm 08 4902 insert - saddlebag - Ronald's motoHe left Alaska in July.  July 2007. Central America alone took him about six months, and not because he doesn’t know how to drive fast. He says border crossings usually take him a couple of hours, no more, so the paperwork isn’t too bad either. He must have an adequate source of income, because when he hits the southern tip of South America he hopes to ship the bike to Capetown and start North through another continent.  I’m not sure what he’ll do when he runs out of continents.

I ask if he has a web-site.  He says he uploads pictures for friends, but isn’t much of a writer. Disappointing, because it’d be fun to read an illustrated account of his trip, which is one I’ve long wanted to make on a motorcycle. His web-site for photos — RONALD / ALASKA -> PATAGONIA – is www.picasaweb.google.com/unerwegs. [Curiously, looking at it just now, I was drawn first to his shots of places I know well, such as San Francisco and Bryce Canyon. He has some nice shots – did a hell of a lot better in Antelope Canyon than I did!]

The sun is hitting our table, the Brits are waiting for their cab, and it’s hard to get motivated, but finally I wander down to the Plaza de Armas on my way to get my Peruvian cell-phone recharged with credit for international calls. The Plaza delays me further. I wander slowly about, just watching people and shooting a few pictures.

sm 08 4939 Cusco Plaza de Armassm 08 4943 Cusco Plaza de Armas

 

sm 08 4873 woman w llama - Cuzcosm 08 4870 woman w baby & llama - Cusco

 

  

 

sm 08 4887 woman photographing nun

At first I took the girl for a tourist shooting a photograph of the nun -- but apparently she wasn't.

sm 08 4888 woman w nun

 

 

 

 

 

 

sm 08 4984 nun on cell-phone - Cusco Plaza de Armas crsm 08 4988 nun in Cusco Plaza de Armas

 

 

 

 

sm 08 5010 three men on a bench - Cusco Plaza de Armassm 08 4978 fountain in Plaza w hills in background cr

 

 

 

 

sm 08 5037 church on Plaza de ArmasThere’s a man reclining, and somewhat lackadaisically begging, in front of a church. I sit on a bench in the Plaza facing him, and shoot a few long shots to see if any interesting juxtapositions will happen along. sm 08 5031sm 08 5032They don’t, and I’m too far away for good photography anyway, but I’m not moving very fast, and just then I spot a couple of well-sm 08 5038 balloonsdressed young ladies with an abundance of pink balloons, moving his way from the far corner of the Plaza.  When they reach him I figure that’s about as well as I’m going to do here.

sm 08 5043 balloons in Cusco cr

 

 

 

 

But as soon as I turn to leave, the shot I wanted smacks me in the face: 

sm 08 5017 woman photographing man pulling cart of firewood cr

Returning from the Claro shop, I spot a woman begging on the sidewalk on sm 08 5052 lady begging - CuscoAvenida El Sol, and shoot a few more, wondering if any of the folks passing her will have clothing or body-language that contrasts elegantly with hers. sm 08 5076 portrait - woman - Cusco After awhile, having made use of her (though she hasn’t seen me), I sm 08 5053 lady begging - Cuscocross the street and give her five soles, a lot to her but affordable to me. Before re-crossing the street I ask to shoot a sm 08 5064 lady begging - Cuscophotograph of her, and shoot a portrait of her lovely, deeply-lined face.

Back on the Plaza, and hungry for ceviche, I decide to try one of the small cafes with balconies overlooking the Plaza. I pick the El Aji [how could a New sm 08 4952 Aji RestauranteMexican resist a restaurant named for chile?] and take a seat. The wait for the ceviche is long, but I’m in that kind of mood where everything I see down in the Plaza seems deeply evocative.

I shoot several shots of people on park benches, including one of a blonde American-looking woman reading a book. As I did with the beggars, I shoot a few more as people approach who contrast with her or might interact with her.

sm 08 5092 Cusco Plaza de Armassm 08 5091 reading in the Plaza de Armas

 

 

 

 

sm 08 5095 encountersm 08 5098 encountersm 08 5096 encounter

 One is a small, elderly man who looks a bit down on his luck. I shoot one of him glancing at her, and wait for him to pass, but instead he plops down on the other end of the bench and quickly begins talking with her. Too far away to hear them, and not really curious about the words, I’m shooting their interaction as avidly as I shot the monkeys in trees at Lago Sandoval a few days ago – and with better results. (Gee, it’s a lot easier to take photographs from a chair on a café balcony than from a moving canoe, and when the sun’s shining on your subject rather than blocked by the branches above it.) The older man is talking animatedly, the younger woman is smiling. He reaches out his hand and they shake hands, in some intricate manner reminiscent of the way “brothers” in the U.S. used to shake hands. Then he kisses her hand. After awhile she gives him a coin or two, “because he’s alone and has nobody,” as she tells me later when I ask, and offer to send her a picture.

sm 08 5100 encountersm 08 5102 encounter

sm 08 5101 encounter

 sm 08 5103 encountersm 08 5109 encountersm 08 5105 encounter

 sm 08 5111 encountersm 08 5116 encountersm 08 5112 encounter

 sm 08 5121 encountersm 08 5126 encounter

sm 08 5122 encounter

sm 08 5130 encountersm 08 5132 encountersm 08 5131 encounter

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

sm 08 5133 Cusco Plaza de Armas - encounter cr

 sm 08 5146 encountersm 08 5149 encountersm 08 5148 encounter

 sm 08 5159 encountersm 08 5178 encountersm 08 5175 encounter

 sm 08 5182 encountersm 08 5198 encountersm 08 5197 encounter

 sm 08 5227 encountersm 08 5231 encountersm 08 5229 encounter

For no real reason, I keep shooting until he leaves. Or perhaps the reason is simply that I feel like it, even though I’ll toss most or all of the results away. I feel very comfortable in Cusco’s Plaza de Armas, and am in one of those moods where every face and all the body language I see seems to tell me a novel’s worth of story about the people.

sm 08 5239 encountersm 08 5243 encountersm 08 5242 encounter

sm 08 5245 encountersm 08 5251 encountersm 08 5248 encounter

He leaves just as my ceviche finally arrives. I run out anyway for a moment, to offer to send the woman a photo of her sitting on the bench. Then I go back and start on the ceviche, which tastes good. I have been longing for ceviche for days.

I watch another American girl sit on a bench in the Plaza, and within moments a young man selling his paintings has failed to interest her in buying one but has sat down to chat with her.

sm 08 5310 Brandism 08 5316 Brandism 08 5311 Brandi

sm 08 5323 Brandism 08 5337 Brandism 08 5332 Brandi

When he leaves, I am nearby, shooting casual shots of people on benches, kids playing with the seagulls, and the like. She gets up and walks in my direction, and I remark, “And after all that, you didn’t buy a painting.” She says they were having Spanish/English lessons. She has just arrived, jet-lagged and sleepless, from Colorado, and has a headache. She’s hungry but figures the places on the Plaza all cost more than she feels like spending, and asks if I know somewhere. I suggest the vegetarian place where I ate yesterday.  She assents.  I show her where it is and have coffee with her. We have a casual but pleasant conversation, her headache dissipates, and we walk back to the Plaza, and I shoot a few last photos before returning to the hostal.  

sm 08 5379 kids w pigeonssm 08 5381 kids w pigeons

 

 

 

 

 sm 08 5387 little girl w pigeons

I feel surprisingly good. Refreshed, by solitude and by working on the pictures and by various pleasant conversations. I begin to think I will do the mule trek around Ausungate before I go back to Arequipa. And stop in Juliaca for a night on the way home, to shoot pictures of people there.

But in the evening a long-distance phone conversation tells me I won’t. “Real-world” work is on offer, and it appears that I should be back in San Francisco by mid-October. Wrapping up things in Arequipa, shipping Ragna’s paintings and extra stuff to her, and selling the car in Lima will take some part of the next couple of weeks, as will driving back to Arequipa and then up to Lima. I will walk around Cusco another day, watch the vice-presidential debates, then spend the next couple of weeks doing chores, writing a little, and saying good-bye to my friends.

As I work out a schedule, it starts pouring rain on the courtyard, and loud thunder interrupts my thoughts.

Thursday, 2 October

I reprise a bit of the previous day, lazing around the plaza and shooting photographs, and getting a coffee in the same balcony restaurant, El Aji.   Crossing the Plaza on my way up to Plaza Nicoletas I notice a woman with a sm 08 5442 old woman walking, wallbundle — and, as she’s walking in the same direction as I am, my camera catches this interesting juxtaposition that may be the Cusco image I’d been after the previous day:

 sm 08 5454 old lady & mannequin - Cusco Plaza de Armassm 08 5455 old lady and mannequin - Cusco Plaza de Armas cr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In one of the museums, a model of the Machu Picchu area, and some photographs from back in the country, whet my appetite to return and travel further in Perú — by mule!

sm 08 5509 woman photographing girl w baby lambsm 08 5514 tourist photographing girl w baby lamb

 

 

 

 

Near Plazoleta Nazarenas I shoot these images of tourists photographing a sm 08 5516 three nuns passing churchmother and daughter in local garb, and three nuns walking past an old church, then sort of combine the two.   I figure I owe the mother and daughter their sm 08 5518 three nuns walkingphotography fee for the purloined images above, but have no interest in a posed shot, so I ask them just to walk a little ways beside the church wall, ignoring me.    Even so, it ain’t much of a shot.

sm 08 5534 woman, girl, baby lamb

 sm 08 5637 girl kicking trash cansm 08 5680 two women - Cusco Plaza de Armas

 

 

 

 

sm 08 5697 woman and girl - Cusco Plaza de Armassm 08 5701 jessica

 

 

 

 

Cusco is a lovely place, but maybe a little too comfortable.  It’s no accident that suddenly my camera focuses on these juxtapositions of wealth and poverty, pre-industrial and high-tech, local folks and gringos

Travel Notes:

Lodging:

As discussed in the initial Cusco post, I liked the Hostal Q’orichaska, at 458 Nueva Alta.   It’s an old building with thick stone walls, and I’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].  I slept marvelously every night. Calle Nueva Alta gets little late-night traffic, and almost no sound penetrated to my room [which was ground-floor and not near 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.  Hot showers, modest kitchen facilities, and Internet hookup.   The staff was generally friendly and helpful, and during both the trip to Machu Picchu and the Puerto Maldonado / Corto Maltes trip we left stuff in storage there, without problems.  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.

Food:

sm 08 5595 vegetarian restaurantI liked the low-budget vegetarian cafe mentioned above.  It was a comfortable, informal place to hang out, the vegetarian food was tasty and nourishing, and it was relatively inexpensive.  It’s on Santa Catalina, a couple of doors back toward the Plaza de Armas from Grano.

 sm 08 5686 Aji RestaurantSeveral second-floor cafes with balcony seating beckon from above the Plaza de Armas — and both on the Plaza and down the side streets to the Northeast there are pricy restaurants with tasty food and often floor shows displaying local music, dance, and costumes.   

sm 08 5593 ag grano

I also liked al grano.  Good coffee, quiet during the day time, varied food – and a pool table downstairs, though I didn’t venture down to confirm that or sm 08 5596 el grano - sign for pool tableget a chance to go back in the evening.   Place had a good feel to it though — but not cheap, at S./45 for lunch, limonada, and coffee — modest for that area of Cusco, though expensive by Peruvian standards generally. 

Other Points:
I like Cusco.  Among the specific spots that appeal to me is the Cathedral, where you rent a tape-recorder and cassette and listen to a taped, self-guided tour that covers some beautiful and/or thought-provoking sights and bits of information.  But mostly I like the feel of Cusco.
It strikes me now, writing this, that I can’t say how I’d have liked Cusco if I’d flown to it immediately upon arrival in Perú.    Would I have been disappointed by the tourist-destination aspect of it, or delighted by the beauty and magic and history that remain? 
I arrived in Cusco after nearly six full months of wandering around the country.  After some of the remote spots and isolated ruins I’d seen, Cusco seemed a little self-indulgent: plenty of good food, no problem about the hot-water showers, reliable Internet connection, other foreigners to chat with in the courtyard at the Q’orichaska or in the Plaza de Armas, and even a very fine camera shop (where, fortunately, I was able to have my zoom lens repaired).   Not what I came looking for, but welcome at this particular moment.
NOTE: Do not assume, as many do, that Machu Picchu is at a higher altitude than Cusco.  It isn’t.
Altitude sickness can strike most anyone, of any age and regardless of general health, and can even debilitate individuals who have frequently visited high altitudes.  Although Cusco is not so high that life-threatening altitude sickness is at all likely, it’s high enough that the average visitor should think out how to minimize its dangers and inconveniences. 
Most people will feel little from the altitude beyond a tendency for a given amount of walking to tire one out a little more than one might have expected it to do at sea level.
However:
1 — a knowledgeable fellow I know recommends buying acetazolamida in Lima and taking it to deal with altitude sickness; I know nothing about it except that the fellow who recommends it knows a good deal more than I do about Perú.  Ask your doctor.
2 — in a pinch, soroje tablets seem to help — though I also heard the other day that they may not be available.  I took ’em, though not in Cusco.
3 — if you or a companion experiences strong or prolonged symptoms (e.g. sudden irrationality, severe headaches) the only sure cure is getting down to lower altitude quickly.  do not forget that, though it rarely happens, altitude sickness can kill.
4 — milder attacks and symptoms may be forestalled and/or minimized by a combination of (a) drinking a lot of water and juice, (b) minimizing consumption of alcohol, coffee, and rich foods, and (c) coca — routinely as a tea, readily available throughout Perú, but in Arequipa a doctor actually recommended that Ragna put coca leaves on her temples.  
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2 responses to “58. Cusco III

  1. Your blog is brilliant – very informative and i have thoroughly enjoyed reading about your time in peru.

  2. Phenomenal pictures and writeup!

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