Tag Archives: Cuzco

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.

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