Tag Archives: places to stay in 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.

sm 08 4899 Ronald's moto being cleaned

Ronald's moto being cleaned - not by Ronald

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

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

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

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


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




sm 08 4887 woman photographing nun

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

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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: 

sm 08 5017 woman photographing man pulling cart of firewood cr

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

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

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

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





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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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 sm 08 5387 little girl w pigeons

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

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

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

Thursday, 2 October

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

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









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

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





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

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





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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.  

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