Tag Archives: Cusco

50. Cusco & Pisac

50. Cusco & Pisac


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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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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:

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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!

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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.

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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:


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.


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.   

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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.
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.  

59. Cusco to Arequipa

59. Cusco to Arequipa

Departure morning I’m up early and walk to the cochera, where no one’s in sight to open the place. I bang on the metal gate often and loudly, to no effect. When someone finally does return and open the place, one tire on the car is dangerously low. Fortunately there’s a gas station nearby.

Packing the car, I realize that the front seat will be empty. It is empty, save for the little cylindrical black-and-white pillow Ragna rested her knee on to limit the pain from long drives. The empty seat is a melancholy blessing: it reminds me of what has ended, but I can actually keep stuff on it during the drive. I put the pillow in the back seat.  Immediately that doesn’t feel right, and I return it to its rightful place. But I don’t think I’ll start talking to it, like Tom Hanks to the soccer ball.

I say my good-byes at the Q’orichaska, negotiate the outskirts of Cusco, and am gone.

Quickly I’m in very nice countryside, on a very nice morning; but I’ve a long way to drive and a lot to think about, and don’t feel motivated to stop and shoot pictures.

sm 08 5706 lake & hillsThen I do stop, to photograph a lake that probably isn’t worth it; but I’ve broken the ice, and as I pass through smaller and smaller towns, among people living their daily lives on a very nice morning, I stop here and there, to shoot a photograph or just watch and listen a little. Suddenly it seems a splendid morning.

sm 08 5715 man reading in front of houseAt the edge of town a man is studiously reading a book, perhaps a bible. He sits in the few feet between the front wall of his house and the road. Something about his intense concentration appeals to me so much that I find a place to make a U-turn and go back. I shoot from the car. He looks up. Expressionlessly, he studies me for a sm 08 5714 man readingmoment, then goes back to his reading. He doesn’t appear proud, curious, annoyed, or embarrassed. He just doesn’t give a shit. I shoot another image or two, then pass him, make another U-turn, and continue on my way.

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It’s morning in the mountains. Sometimes high hills block the bright sun. Women are taking flocks of sheep or small groups of cows to pasture. The road, sm 08 5747with periodic large trucks and very few cars, snakes through as if it existed in some other dimension, some parallel universe.  The trucks and occasional cars whizzing through have as little to do with the surrounding scene as football on television matters to a fish.

sm 08 5761I pull off the road and sit for awhile on the rail of a bridge.  It’s peaceful.  I write in my notebook and sm 08 5770stare across the river.  It’s this kind of country again: modest villages giving way quickly to steep hillsides terraced for agriculture.

sm 08 5764As I sit, a woman and her dog leave the village to head for the pasture with her animals.  I watch.  sm 08 5778She passes just below me with her small group and continues on her way along the river — toward canyons that look pretty unpromising as far as vegetation, but she sm 08 5783knows what she’s doing a good deal better than I do.   I feel very much at peace, and realize I’m enjoying the drive.   Again, driving enables me to stop at will; and again, although the road to Cusco is far better traveled by foreign tourists than the roads to Huancabamba or Cajamarca, small villages along the way might as well be miles from a paved road, because tour buses have no reason to stop in such places.

sm 08 5759Perhaps it all seems particularly precious to me because I will soon be elsewhere, in a modern, post-industrial city filled with time-sheets and lattes.   I will sm 08 5802 bicycle woman with child & lambbe in a city where there are no cows or sheep.  Where children can grow up without ever seeing a cow or a sheep.   Or perhaps it is because I felt a little melancholy and now feel, again, just wonder.  “Buenos dias,” I say to the woman bicycling pass with her precious cargo.  She just smiles.

sm 08 5827Across the road some people are working in a field.  A man with two oxen is plowing.  Others are assisting him, or perhaps dropping seeds.   I cross the road and shoot a bit.  They keep on sm 08 5831doing what they’re doing.    Afterward, as I’m just about to drive off, one of the men approaches me. He rubs his fingers together to indicate money. His expression is hopeful, but not demanding. I cheerfully give him a little money. He thanks me more profusely than seems warranted, and reaches into the car to shake my hand. He has few teeth but a warm smile. I tell him I thank him. I drive off, feeling good but with a couple of regrets: I should have given him more; and, selfishly, I should have stepped down into the field for a closer and better shot of them working. I had feared intruding more than I already was, but shouldn’t have worried.

sm 08 5863I stop in a village, possibly Checacupe, and buy bananas.  The Plaza de Armas is nearly deserted.   People are industriously cleaning the narrow streets leading away from it.

sm 08 5904In the next village, or maybe just in the southern end of the same village, two men are putting the grasses on the roof of an adobe building. They sm 08 5875watch me shoot from above, standing on a pile of logs, and invite me down closer. I drive into the village and back up to where they’re working, to shoot closer.  No reason.  Just feel like it.  It’s tough to photograph, because the sun is so bright and the men’s faces – looking down and shaded by hats – are so dark.

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When the man on the ladder climbs down, we chat casually for awhile. I answer sm 08 5936his question about where I’m from, where I started driving today and where I’m going.  I remark that we use a lot of adobe in New Mexico but don’t use the sort of roof they’re working on. A neighbor, an older man, emerges from his gate and looks curiously at us. My companion hollers to him that I’m sm 08 5892taking pictures, and that he should pose. The man assumes a rigid hands-at-sides posture, like a kid posing for a school photograph, and I shoot one, which seems to please him.

sm 08 5944Finally I leave. The neighbor assumes the same stiff posture as I drive slowly past, so I photograph him again and wish him a good day.

At the turnoff for a town called Combapata, I pass an intersection busy with local folks leaving or arriving, and a sign promising a “circuit of four lakes” just six kilometers away. It sounds good, so I make a U-turn and drive into town. Within a few blocks I’m on the Plaza de Armas, which sm 08 6326is almost empty on the near side but has shooting galleries and foosball and other indicia of a market on the left side. A lot of people are doing something on the far side of the plaza, so I park the car for a few pictures.

The Plaza is full of local women in spiffy local garb. Clearly something more than a market is happening. There are a great many women with bags of local produce on show in front of them, but almost no one is actually buying anything, or even walking around looking. Many of the women are dressed particularly finely. Some other people seem to be wandering around with papers and forms. There are few men present, and no teenagers wandering around. Many of the women have small children with them. A row of chairs and a loud-speaker blasting music, with a banner on the wall behind, suggest that something more formal is going to happen soon. A Peruvian woman is rushing around photographing the local women. When I ask her what she’s photographing, she sm 08 6066 bannersays she’s with a program of some sort to which all these women belong, or which helps them. Something to do with development, a cooperative.  The banner mentions a “Programa Nacional de Apoyo Directo a los más Pobres.”

Whatever it all means, it’s a visual paradise.

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Many of the women laugh when I shoot pictures. A few turn their heads away or put a hand up in front of their faces. Others stare at me, mostly with smiles. One sticks her tongue out, then laughs hysterically, tells those around her what she’s just done, then poses good-naturedly. A couple of others, seeing me trying to shoot pictures of their kids, entice the kids back in front of me or gently turn a kid’s face in my direction. None asks for a propina.

sm 08 6312On the way to the car I stop at a booth and shoot a gun instead of the camera, winning a couple of packages of cookies that look as if they might have been in Combapata since Atahualpa’s time.  Lunch.  

I go to the car, and pull around to head out of the square toward the lakes, but now the music suggests that dancing is imminent. I stop the car again and wade back into the middle of things – just as, indeed, dancing begins.

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I shoot until there’s a break in the dancing, then leave.

I drive slowly through town toward the circuit of the lakes.  For awhile I’m traveling along railroad tracks.  Eventually the road climbs out of town and, sm 08 6416after a couple of switchbacks, there’s a nice view back sm 08 6419toward Combapata.  From there the road continues climbing, then suddenly brings me to a view down toward a pastoral lake.

The first lake.   Serene and silent.  I do meet a young couple, walking toward the village.  There is no car parked nearby, so they are strolling.  They’re Peruvian; but they too are visitors who find this place very peaceful.  

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This is beautiful country. It isn’t the most dramatic I’ve seen, but it’s especially peaceful. The lakes aren’t the cobalt blue of the lakes in the Cordillera Blanca, reached ultimately through rock cliffs and surrounded by unrealistically pure white peaks, but more a lake surrounded by rolling hills and farmland, a tremendously inviting place to live.   Not a person in sight, just cows grazing down by the shore and flamingo loitering about in the shallow water.

sm 08 6533I park the car at the edge of the road and walk toward the water, negotiating a couple of rock walls on the way. Then I find I have to leap over a small stream to reach the field that ends at the water where the flamingos are. I’m concerned that the sudden motion sm 08 6632will spook them, but it doesn’t. I advance slowly, but they’re alert. They suddenly fly up, a profusion of red and white, but they curve in unison and fly down over the lake, passing right in front of the village I was hoping to have in the background.

Another group of flamingos floats near the shore just 60 or 80 meters away, so I I work my way toward the birds, but this time they swim away slowly as a group. I reach the water’s edge, my feet making deep indentations in the soft earth, and watch them swim out into the middle of the lake.

These flamingos are visiting with a flock of sheep.   Nobody seems in any hurry about anything, so long as the two-footed intruder keeps his distance.

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Alternately driving and stopping the car to walk around a bit, I don’t see another person except a shepherdess.

sm 08 6612She gets to sit all day in this splendid place, watching the pink and white flamingos and other birds on the blue lake, with golden fields and hills surrounding her. Does she take her surroundings for granted, and concentrate on her knitting or dream of Cusco or Lima or Paris? She certainly looks contented, but who knows?

This group of birds neither flies nor swims away, but begins walking along the shore away from me. They’re walking faster than I’d supposed they could, and it’s clear that if I start moving faster they’ll just fly away, so I leave them in peace.

sm 08 6724sm 08 6725I drive on, but stop to say hello to a second shepherdess.  I ask if I may photograph her.  She nods, and says, “Plata.” It means silver, literally; but the context suggests that in this part of the country they say “plata” instead of “dinero” or “propina.” 

I haven’t forgotten that I’ve a long way to drive. I’m concerned about the time but deeply drawn to this peaceful and tranquil countryside.   I consider driving back to Combapata, but instead continue onward, to explore.  The road climbs for awhile, with a long sight of llamas at the crest of a hill, then descends toward another lake, slightly smaller and greenish instead of blue, with a small town at the far shore.

sm 08 6800I shoot some photos at the edge of the small town, then drive in I pause on the Plaza de Armas to figure sm 08 6814out what to do next.  A woman unlocks a door and disappears inside with her three burros. The town bills itself as “Capital of the Circuit of Four Lakes.”

A cop or security man passes on my right, and when he glances into the car I ask him for some information. He confirms the name of the town, and I can see from the map that my choices are to circle another lake or two, to return the way I came, or to continue North several kilometers and drive back out to the main road up there. I settle on driving back the way I’ve come.

The cop points at one of the other men and says the man would like to accompany me to Sicuani. “Por que no?” I reply, starting to make space on the front seat. Ragna’s little pillow goes to the back seat now, along with my maps.

Meanwhile a local woman approaches the left side of the car, pleading. The men are discouraging her, gently urging her to stop pestering me. I suspect a class difference between my passenger, who’s wearing a blue sweater and clean shoes, and the woman, whose clothing is neither new nor fully clean. He is employed in a white-collar position, and she clearly is not. Whether or not that plays a role in their discouraging her, I can’t be sure, but they speak to her as something less than an equal.

Does she want money or a ride, or what? They say she wants a ride too. She is alone. I can fit one person in the back without an extended effort to move things out of the way. “Por que no?” I say again.  I get out to open the left rear door to toss stuff to the other side and make room. The men are surprised. The woman is grateful. As we start off, the man asks where I’m from, and I answer. As we turn right off the Plaza, he greets a friend, and shouts loudly that he’s going to the United States, and we all laugh.

I take a banana and offer each of them one too. They accept. Conversation is minimal. Beautiful country.  They agree.  Do tourists visit here?  sm 08 6843 town archsm 08 6844Yes.  I cannot resist detouring for a quick look at the village near the first lake.   The front gate is brightly painted, but the only inhabitants I see have little to say to us.

When we reach the main road, it’s crowded with women leaving after the event.  A bunch of them are climbing into the back of a huge blue truck with wooden slats on the sides, evidently to return in a group to their village.

The passenger in front, the man, is a teacher. We talk sporadically. He lives in Sicuani and teaches in the village where I picked him up. (It’s a long commute!) I answer his questions about my travels in his country and ask if he’s visited the U.S. Peruvians don’t go to the U.S., he says very definitely, adding a one-word explanation: “Plata.” I reiterate my admiration for the local countryside and inquire about land prices up by those lakes. He says lots can be as much as U.S. $7,000 apiece, sometimes can be encountered for as low as $2,000 – and that he has two for $3,000 each that he might sell.

Before Sicuani we reach Rakqi.  We stop.  He is enthusiastic that I must see the ruins at Rakqi.  But the village is filled with tourists holding cameras but unable even to shoot a picture of the church because their own tour-buses take up most of the tiny Plaza de Armas. Handicrafts shops. I tell him I’ll return some other time. I’m thinking that sunset, somewhere, might be nice.

sm 08 6849I let the woman off where she lives, and the man in Sicuani, and negotiate the streets of that town.  I’m sort of headed for Lampa.  There’s something there I’d wanted to see on the way up, but got outvoted.

Suddenly there looms a sign: Juliaca straight ahead, Arequipa to the right. The right turn must lead to the back roads I’d originally wanted to to take up to Cusco with Ragna and Selma, but they didn’t have time – for what promised to be a great many hours on dirt roads when the paved road would be quicker; and we wanted to go to Lake Titicaca on the way. I turn right and immediately pause to question two men standing near a motorcycle. How is the road? They say it’s much quicker, that Arequipa is much further away if you go around by Juliaca.

At first it’s paved, but quickly it’s a dirt road. The countryside is pleasant, and quite unpopulated.  At some point I pass a kid near a tiny village.  When I ask him whether I’m indeed on the road to Arequipa, he points — then says, “Plata.”

For a while, in the middle of nowhere, the road is beautifully paved, leading to the town of El Descanso. I stop to snag a juice, and ask the shop-keeper how many hours to Arequipa. I ask again outside, on the street. The respective answers are three hours and five hours.  As soon as I leave El Descanso, the road is dirt again.

Eventually I come to a large town.     In the middle of nowhere, it boasts an airport and is 3,900 meters alto, according to a sign.  I don’t recognize the name the sign mentions, but I’m where I might have expected Yauri to be based on the sm 08 6909 llamas by the side of the roadmap.   As I reach the outskirts of town, unattended llamas walk home along the road from an arduous day of grazing.  The town has plenty of one-way streets and traffic jams.  As I rush through, I stop for one photograph:sm 08 6915 blue

On the far side of town, I see a woman and ask how long it is to Arequipa.  “Seis horas,” she says, quickly reconsidering and saying, “Cinco. Cinco horas.” It is a few minutes past five. I know that the paved portion of the drive, on the main road from the crossroads to Arequipa, cannot be much, so most of the drive will be along these dirt roads, often unmarked, and perhaps without grifos, or even villages. In darkness. I should have kept to my original plan. I should also have bought gas in the town through which I’ve just passed.  I consider turning back, but don’t.  I have a bit left in the extra gas can up top.  Maybe that’ll be enough, or some town along the way will have a grifo.  

Still, it’s a nice sky and vast, empty land.  I rush on through late afternoon light, dusk, then darkness.  There are no towns, and certainly no grifos.

In total darkness now, I reach a village.  It’s cold, too. There’s a restaurant, with a bus stopped near it and passengers eating inside. I ask about gas, and am told that it can be encountered at the far edge of town.

The gas at the edge of town ain’t easy to spot. I drive to what seems like the edge of town. Nothing. I drive on, another kilometer or so, eyes scanning the night. Nothing. I return. I see a light and an open door, and look for someone to ask, but encounter only the barking of dogs. I cross the street and walk back down to a small store.  The lady confirms that they do have some gas, and disappears into the back to get it.   We stand in the darkness pouring gas into the car’s tank with a smaller can and a makeshift filter, hoping not too much of it ends up on my shoes.

I drive on through the night.  Lightly traveled, curving roads.  I was up early and feel tired.  Sometimes it’s hard to pick up the road surface, which isn’t the distinct black of a paved road.  In this light it’s indistinguishable from the dust and the surrounding countryside. When trucks pass, I can’t see anything anyway for a moment, in the flying dust.   At some point I see a sign for Chavin, and stifle a sudden impulse to go back to Cañon de Colca. 

Finally I reach the main road. I’m further from Arequipa, further back toward Juliaca, than I’d expected, possibly by 50 or 60 kilometers.

I reach Cañahaus. I could use something to eat or drink, and wouldn’t mind getting a little more gas. In the darkness I approach a road-block.  The cop asks the usual routine questions, quite surprised to see a lone gringo at this time of night. I ask him if there’s a grifo around. There isn’t – but he sells me some gas. Another makeshift funnel, in pitch darkness.

Setting out again, I’m tired. I’ve traveled a long way today; I’ve shot a lot of photographs, walked a bit, and worried about possibly running out of gas or losing my way. On the other hand, I’m refreshed by the knowledge that now it’s just another 78 km. of road, paved. Still, all I really want is to be in the flat, at rest.

There’s a further delay, of course. More than half the way to Arequipa, I spot a bunch of people surrounding a car in a small turnout on the other side of the road. Folks in distress – as I might easily have been, had I missed a turn or blown a tire or missed the gas in that small town. There’s a lot of traffic tonight, but after another kilometer or so I can turn around. I drive back and pull in where they’re stopped – well aware that friends in Lima and probably Arequipa would warn me to do nothing of the kind. Ultimately I take one of the young men to the next town, the last noticeable town before the outskirts of Arequipa, and to a mecanico. I wait awhile, until it appears that they will be all right, then continue.

Fortunately I negotiate the streets into Arequipa more accurately than usual. I’m too tired to do much beyond stopping at the corner store for some snacks and milk and juice.  I just want to crash.  Home in the flat, there’s little time to contemplate the fact that I now live here alone — or the sadder fact that I’ll be leaving Perú very soon.  I do turn on the TV, and discover a Red Sox game. Texeira is batting; but I can’t even stay awake through his at-bat.

52. Macchu Picchu II; Agua Caliente back to Cusco

52. Macchu Picchu, then from Agua Caliente back to Cusco 18 Sept.

I awaken early again, and find better weather and a longer line awaiting me outside.    I’m alone this time: neither Ragna nor Selma felt like getting up early this morning; and as I left the room, Ragna  and I quarreled.   So I’m very alone.

Again I drink a coffee in line, this time making casual conversation with strangers. 

Again the bus winds up the switchbacks, under the gaze of those extraordinary mountains shrouded in mist. 

Again too it’s a rush through the beautiful grounds to the line for Huayna Picchu. As we enter, and I pass the sharp, uphill left that would take me to where I spent so much of yesterday, the place tugs at my heart.  I’d like to see how things look from there so early on a fine morning; and it would be quieter, contemplative. Still, I rush along with the others.  Walking fast, but shooting too, sometimes without quite stopping.

The line today is much longer than the previous day’s line.   I feel foolish, standing in it.   It looks like the start of the Boston Marathon.  I may wait in line, wasting the best early-morning photographic light, only to make a sweaty climb with hundreds of people around me — a great view of some other hiker’s fat ass above me, and 25-year-olds racing past me like deer, as I once ran up and down the trails in Nepal.   I am not even sure there aren’t 400 people in front of me already.   I may not even get in!   When a young couple standing with me gets talking about this, and he remarks that they were on the 22nd bus, I do the math: for just this reason, I counted the seats on the bus: 29, 28 of them occupied on my particular bus.  Multiply 22 by 28 or 29, and . . . I’m outta there!

I feel lighter the moment I leave the line, realizing I just want to wander back up to the wonderful place I spent the previous afternoon, and see how Macchu Picchu looks from there in the morning light. 

I work my way back up there, enjoying plenty of other fine views on the way.

Macchu Picchu is indeed beautiful from there, in the morning light.










I walk back a bit and into a nearby field and find myself alone with several llamas.  They are grazing, and chewing some kind of berries or leaves off the trees, and seem perfectly content for me to stand among them.  One works his way along the berries until he is nearly chewing on my elbow.

Photographically, it may or may not turn out; but it feels extraordinary to be standing among these llamas, in this place, at dawn.  I feel privileged.  I feel as if I’ve been holding my breath the whole time, so as not to disturb anything.   Everything else — the morning quarrel with Ragna — pales. 

































People come.  One woman steps into the middle of this tableau, apparently unaware of the llama, and stands there hollering “Gordo!”   Even her, the llamas don’t mind.  She bellows, “Gordo!”  a few more times, and eventually goes away. 

I go back where I was, and sit awhile.  Mostly my mind is blank.  Meditative.  When thoughts of problems sidle into my mind, the spellbinding view banishes them.

I leave.  I do not want to; and yet, I’m ready to.  The moment has been so fine that I am sated, and ready to return to “the real world.”  Perhaps I have a sense already that I will need what this moment has given me.

sm-08-1488-top-of-wayman-picchuWhat I have not said, but must, is that when Ragna came to bed last night she was angry with me.   When I awakened early to return to Macchu Picchu, she was angry with me.  I wanted to get back out here, and didn’t pay much attention to her, and spoke sharply to her in return.   We are two people who have loved each other but have often made each other miserable — despite my best efforts and probably hers too — and are wearing out.   We have had these sorts of quarrels — over what, I often don’t know – too many times over too many years.   She’s a wonderful, charming, charismatic woman, but each of us has long wondered how much longer we can stay together.

sm-08-1490-llamasWhen I leave, I start down a set of stone steps and glance up, and see that I have a new view of two grazing llamas.  They’re grazing on a grassy platform at about eye level, so I have a worm’s eye view of them, just as the morning sun burns through the sm-08-1504-llamasclouds.   






When sm-08-1515-hut-and-peak1I leave, I walk quickly, still enjoying my solitude and the splendid surroundings.






Return to Cusco:

I run into Ragna and Selma in a cafe as I enter Agua Caliente.   Ragna is not speaking to me any more than necessary.   We rush to make the next train to Ollatatambo.   On it, Ragna and Selma sit far away from me.  

We recover the car, and drive back to Cusco a different and quicker way, making no stops.   It’s pretty country, but grey and rainy.  The mood in the car is darker.  Back in Cusco, we again get a double room and a single: but this time Ragna and Selma are in the double, somewhat to the confusion of the folks working at the hotel.

Travel Notes:

We stayed at the Hotel Bromeliad in Agua Caliente.  It’s one of the cheaper options.  It’s basic, but clean.
In Cusco, we’re again at the Q’orichaska.   I recommend it.  (See first Cusco post for more details, and the hostal’s address and phone number.)


Other Points:

1. Obviously for photography, or simply for enjoying or studying the place, the tours that get you to Macchu Picchu for a couple of hours in the middle of the day just don’t cut it. Flattest light, most people wandering around, fewest llamas, very little time, etc. Agua Caliente boasts a range of places to stay, though they’re over-priced by Peru standards generally.
2. If you want to go up Huayna Picchu, line up early – or perhaps try the afternoon, hoping the ranks of climbers will have thinned out by then.
3. Although guidebooks and a sign at the entrance tell you that you can’t take your backpack in, or carry walking sticks in, I saw no semblance of an effort to enforce either rule, or the prohibition against food and drink.
4. Making a sharp left and climbing as soon as you can after entering the place [or following the signs for the Inca Bridge for awhile] will take you up to the observation point I describe in the text and much enjoyed. For photographers, going up there first might be rewarding. [Note that the trail to the Inca Bridge was closed when we were there, which meant you couldn’t go too far by following that trail.]
5. Consider taking a good sun hat as well as sunblock, insect repellent, and bottled water. Simple raingear may also be needed.

50. Cusco to Aqua Caliente

50. Cusco to Agua Caliente

We drive out through the Sacred Valley to Ollatatambo. 

sm-08-9521-pigs-in-the-cocheraFirst we must walk down to the cochera and awaken the proprietor, in order to ransom El Bandito, the quatro por quatro [visible up there in the background of the photo to the left].   Selma sm-08-9523-selma-photographing-pigdoes so [in photo at right].   Eventually we pay him, then go back up to the Hostal Qorichaska to pick up Ragna. 

sm-08-9539-near-pisacsm-08-9533-near-pisacThe drive begins with the same long, slow climb up from Cusco, and the road to Pisac.    [These two pictures and the one below left show the view down toward Pisac. ]

sm-08-9537-near-pisacPisac today, a market day but not a Sunday, is somewhat different.  The market takes up a smaller proportion of the town’s streets, and in the Plaza de Armas most of the market stalls aimed solely at locals aren’t there.   sm-08-9546-pisac-mercado-vendorsm-08-9549-pisac-marketToday’s market quite obviously exists because this is one of the days on which tour-buses appear in Pisac during the morning.  It’s less crowded, and not half so interesting sm-08-9550-pisac-vendorsm-08-9553-pisac-market-food-vendorphotographically.  We stop long enough to have a quick walk around the Plaza and stop at an ATM.   The vendors look lonely.  At least one of the little old ladies is making a little money by having pictures sm-08-9555-pisac-mercado-vendorsm-08-9561-victor-and-little-old-ladytaken of her.    We drive back up into the hills toward the ruins at Pisac, which are just a few km.  up a steep mountain road. 

The ruins must command a magnificent view; but there are an obscene number of tour-buses parked by the side of the narrow road for several hundred meters.   We consider parking and walking in, and would do if the place weren’t so crowded; but instead we drive back out to the main road, knowing that among the things we don’t yet know is where we’re going to stay in Agua Caliente.

sm-08-9570-near-pisacThe Sacred Valley is a pleasant drive.   It would be pleasant to spend a few days here.   There are ruins and small villages and nice countryside.   We don’t have the time to explore it as it deserves.   

At Ollatatambo we drive down toward the train, only to learn that there is no provision for parking a private vehicle at the bottom of the hill near the train station.   The traffic cop points me to a certain driveway blocked by a big sheet of metal, and tells  me to bang on it, but no one responds.   I do find a nice-looking hotel on one side of the street, and a small restaurant and hostal on the other.   Being a budget traveler, I try the smaller one, where our request to park the car for a few days, and pay for it, is so unusual that the young lady in charge has to phone the owner.  He consents.   We park the car as far into the corner of the very small parking lot as possible, then start the hike down toward the train.  

If you need to know, it is possible to buy some food and coffee and use a clean toilet at the little train station.   The train is just two cars long, at least in this season, and very clean — and nearly empty.   Peruvian music plays during the 35-minute ride along a river at the bottom of a tall, narrow canyon.  The uniformed attendants serve a snack-box, although not a very helpful one if you don’t eat meat. 

sm-08-9585sm-08-9588-view-from-trainThe view is beautiful, although photography is difficult.   The train moves at a moderate speed past river, forest, occasional farms, and a few other buildings, all dwarfed by the high peaks on both sides of us most of the way.

Suddenly we are there.  

Our exit from the train is a confused rush through a maze of market stalls from within which we haven’t a clue which direction the main part of town is in or whether we’re meant to be going uphill or downhill or sideways.    We’re also carrying a bunch of stuff.   I’m trying to glance at the Lonely Planet guide-book, call budget hostals, and walk at the same time, unable to hear because of the noise all around me.   I also don’t yet know where I’m going, so at least I stop walking for a moment and ask.   It takes several calls to locate an affordable hotel with a vacancy, and the vacancy turns out to be an extremely crowded three-bed room with its own small bathroom.   Hostal Bromeliad.

We find the place, check in, and shower, then wander out to explore Agua Caliente and get something to eat. 

Opinions vary concerning Agua Caliente.   It’s an odd place, because the main purpose of its existence is for everyone to hurry from it to somewhere else.   It’s dedicated to tourism, but because of a combination of factors — the fame and beauty of the place, the rugged mountains, and the availability both of luxury tour-buses and difficult treks — the tourists run the gamut from the very wealthy, some of whom can even afford to spend a reported $1,000 per night to stay in a hotel just outside the gate of Macchu Picchu, to the poor but determined, some of whom camp out then walk up the incredibly steep and tall mountainside to Macchu Picchu.

The evening has an odd feel to it, somewhat festive.  Maybe that is because there are so many places to eat and drink, all of them with

La Plaza

La Plaza de Armas

balconies overlooking streets or the small Plaza de Armas, and most of them with shills out front announcing that one particular restaurant has the others beat all hollow.   Maybe it is because we are excited by the imminence of our visit to Macchu Picchu.  Maybe it is because everyone is either anticipating a morning visit to Macchu Picchu or celebrating a day spent at Macchu Picchu (or the end of a trek).   Maybe it’s because at the restaurant we choose [the one to the left of the three fronting on the opposite side of the Plaza from the Bromeliad], the food is slow in coming but the Pisco sours are not.  Soon I’m on my third, feeling a general benevolence toward my companions and all the people crossing the Plaza or taking each other’s pictures by the statues there, as the local folks wander in and out of the church across the Plaza.   



Ragna & Selma

Ragna & Selma

The music is loud and the air is clean.  I laugh a lot, take ridiculous pictures of Selma and Ragna at the table, and fall silent a lot too, just thinking.

sm-08-9654-ac-plaza-de-armassm-08-9657I do wander down into the Plaza for a moment to play with the camera, long after dark.   Eventually, when the food comes, it tastes wonderful, perhaps because it is and perhaps because I am hungry and perhaps because I am working on my fourth Pisco sour.

We turn in early because the train for Macchu Picchu leaves at 5:30 in the morning, and the line starts forming about an hour before that.

Travel Notes:


We stayed in the Hostal Bromeliad, which was adquate and relatively inexpensive.

Agua Caliente boasts a quite varied set of accommodations in various price ranges.  Still, I’d recommend booking ahead of time, even if you usually don’t do that, because (1) it’s the sort of destination place it is, without much through-traffic for locals, values are different, and you’ll pay more for a particular sort of room here than you usually would elsewhere in Peru, and (2) arriving there in the afternoon was a real zoo.  Agua Caliente was crowded, and probably is crowded at all seasons; the lobby of the Bromeliad was a madhouse, with all sorts of folks begging for accommodations, and I was glad I’d at least managed to call from near the train station to book our room [and even so got just a three-bed room, with the right to switch to two rooms the second night]; and because it’s a small village that sees many tourists, you could find the budget places full and end up paying a lot more than you want to.   As anyone reading this blog knows, we rarely booked ahead, preferring to arrive and form our own impression of the hotels and their surroundings.   I wouldn’t try that again in Agua Caliente.


The place we supped in was good, although service was slow.  The place next door was not as good — and I’d guess some of the better restaurants aren’t on the Plaza.  There are plenty of restaurants to choose among in Agua Caliente, all within a couple of blocks.    The two we ate in faced the plaza.  Looking across the plaza from the church, the one we ate in the first night would be the one on the far left among the three or four establishments on the opposite side.


Be sure to buy your ticket for Macchu Picchu.  If you arrive in Agua Caliente without one, go immediately to the ______ and buy one, if you plan to go to Macchu Picchu early in the morning.  Note that you will also need a bus ticket, but you can purchase that early in the morning, as your partner waits in line.

I mention “early morning” often for at least three reasons: (1) Huayna Picchu is limited to 400 people, and since most folks capable of it would like to make that climb, they’re in line early, and you might miss it if you snooze; (2) since most of the early birds are headed for Huayna Picchu, the early morning is a great time for you to experience Macchu Picchu in relative solitude — and you won’t have to spend quite so long in Photoshop zapping the human forms in your pictures; and (3) as a photographer, I like the better light of early morning or very late afternoon.    In addition, since some big tours give their cattle just a couple of hours in Macchu Picchu in the middle of the day, either early morning or late afternoon means a quieter and more enjoyable experience of the place.

To maximize enjoyment of the early morning, make a sharp left turn uphill at pretty much your first opportunity, about 100 yards after passing through the gates where you show your ticket.

For the truly budget-minded, there’s a “back-packer special” train from Cusco that’s much cheaper than foreigners pay otherwise.  The authorities don’t exactly advertise it, but it’s there.

I’m not sure that if I had it to do over again I wouldn’t have left the car in Cusco and taken a tour bus.  (That’s assuming you don’t hike in on the Inka Trail, which Ragna wouldn’t have considered.)  Mostly I prefer to drive.   This particular route I might have been better off riding, getting let off near the various ruins, seeing what the experts thought I should see, and not having to figure out where to park.   Maybe.   In a perfect world I’d have done that, and then returned a few days later to explore the area by car on my own.

49. Cusco I; Pisac


XLIX. Cusco

    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.    

Pisac Mercado

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.

sm-08-9131-woman-in-pisac-mercadosm-08-9144-woman-in-pisac-mercadosm-08-9152-woman-in-pisac-mercado sm-08-9151-woman-in-pisac-mercadosm-08-9153-woman-in-pisac-mercado1



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!). . .

Travel Notes:

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.

[to be inserted]
Other Points:
1. Read Garcilaso  de la Vega.   Not surprisingly (since he was the son of a prominent conquistador and an Inca princess , and was writing of a childhood spent in Cusco just a few years after the Conquest) his account provides a uniquely direct feel for the Inca civilization and Cusco.
2. Independent travelers: note that Cusco and Lima are the only cities in Perú in which the South American Explorers Club has a clubhouse.   The one in Cusco, just a short walk from the Plaza de Armas, has a library of other folks’ accounts of travels to Manú, the Madre de Dios and Tambopata Rivers, and other remote locations, with reviews of different tour operators. 
3. Ayahuasca.  I didn’t have a chance to participate, but friends and acquaintances gave me ample first-hand accounts for me to have the names of two people in mind whom I’d talk to if I wanted to drink ayahuasca.   Diego, in the Sacred Valley, and Antonio, in the Puerto Maldonado area.  More about Antonio in a later post, as one morning I talked for awhile with Antonio.    I had a good feeling about him; and he recommended Diego, whom a couple of friends had also visited for ayahuasca ceremonies.  One difference is that Diego is more [Buddhist] religiously oriented.   The night before I spoke with him, a South African couple I spent several days with in the jungle had been up all night with Antonio, drinking ayahuasca for the first time, and they spoke positively of the experience;  and he’s a serious man I tended to like, respect, and trust.    As I added this note, I googled “Sacred Valley” and ayahuasca, and there’s plenty on the ‘net to read about this stuff.  One site,  http://natureofmind.org/44/ayahuasca-information-and-retreats/ recommended the same two guys, Diego and Antonio.

48. Puno to Cusco

XLVIII. Puno to Cusco

We get a late start from Puno.

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.







sm-08-8661-portrait-of-woman-ayaviri sm-08-8676-man-on-horseback-ayaviri-fiestasm-08-8670-an-on-horseback-ayaviri-fiesta

sm-08-8694-woman-girl-ayaviri-p-de-aBut we enjoy the fun.

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.   sm-08-8761-woman-of-ayaviri-old-couplesm-08-8759-man-of-ayaviri-old-coupleIn 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.

sm-08-8793-countrysidesm-08-8812-house-and-snow-capped-peakThen we are on the road again, climbing toward Abra La Raya, the highest pass on the road to Cusco, enjoying the countryside.

sm-08-8857-old-woman-portraitsm-08-8841-old-lady-by-the-side-of-the-road2At 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.



A vendor at the peak had dolls for sale . . .


. . . but the cutest probably wasn't for sale

sm-08-8942-four-alpacaWe keep playing around until we lose the light, then have more than an hour’s drive through the mountain roads in darkness, sm-08-8997-countrysideand 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.

Travel Notes:


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.


Other Points:

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.

Not di