Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Low-Key Day in Cuzco

After our adventures at Machu Picchu, Jason and I took a slower day today to enjoy Cuzco. We dropped laundry off down the street and found a restaurant called Victor Victoria for brunch. It was pretty good, but it took 90 minutes for us to get our lunch, a caprese hamburger for me, fried pork and potatoes for Jason, and fried plantains to share. We are discovering that restaurant service in Peru is very slow, as you saw with the anxiety-riddled breakfast before Machu Picchu.

The next stop was the bus station to arrange for our transport to Puno tomorrow. Once that was accomplished, we got in another cab to go to the Sacsaywaman ruins at the top of the hills.

After some misdirection (the driver went right past the entrance and instead of pulling a U-turn, he threw the car in reverse and backed up a half-mile to where we were supposed to get off), we had our Boleto Touristicos punched and went inside the park.

The Sacsaywaman ruins (or, as I called it in my head, the Sacajawea ruins)(that is, I called it that until the Lonely Planet guidebook said to just think of it as "Sexy Woman," which, while strange, helped) are the remains of an Incan military fortress. I had my doubts about seeing more ruins after the introduction to them at Ollantaytambo and the spectacle of Machu Picchu, but these were surprising cool. The walls of the fortress are made of humongous granite stones. And I do mean huge - ranging from two feet to over eight feet tall! The fortress is made up of three terraces built in a zig-zag pattern to break up attacking forces and to imitate the jaws of a puma.

What was even more amazing was learning that the stones we saw are only about 20% of what was there originally. Once the Spaniards conquered, most of the rocks were hauled away for building in the city below.

We took a lot of pictures, watched llamas grazing on the terrace below, and walked around the site before accidentally visiting the Cruz Moqo while trying to find the trail back down the hill.

Down the steep cobble-stone steps we went, following a stream and passing a stray llama as we descended back into town. The steep street opened up onto a plaza with the Pre-Columbian Art Museum, which was on on our to-do list for the day. We bought tickets and followed the red line painted on the brick floor around the prescribed path through the museum.

It was much better than I expected. To begin with, the museum is housed in a Spanish conquistador's mansion built in 1580. The artifacts are nicely displayed, too, lining the walls in glass cases with low lighting. I was expecting artifacts like the ones in the less-interesting parts of American art museums, but there were some really stunning pieces of pottery here. There was one hallway of paintings from the Cuzco school (i.e. Spanish Catholic) and after the personality and the craftsmanship of the ancient Peruvian jars, the paintings of a bleeding Christ and saintly Mary seemed even sillier than usual. Also, they keep painting Christ in a lace skirt when he's on the cross. I'm not sure what's up with that.

We walked further down the hill from there and were surprised to find some street food vendors, which had been pretty scarce up until now. Their sudden appearance made a lot more sense, though, when we came upon the main square and walked right into a massive parade.

There were thousands of people in the Plaza de Armas, lining the streets and park, sitting on the steps to the Cathedral, and leaning out on the balconies above the restaurants and travel agencies. On wooden platforms carried by anywhere from 20 to 60 men rode huge, dressed-up statues of various saints. Each saint was accompanied by its own marching band, and they were being taken out through the giant green doors of the main Cathedral and marched around the square. Worshippers, tourists, little kids, and street vendors hawking popcorn, Jell-o, and fried pork rinds walked in-between and alongside each of the saints, and there we were in the middle of it.

We watched the parade for a while, then went inside the other cathedral in the square. Since everyone was out watching the saints go marching, we had the place mostly to ourselves. We looked at the incredibly Baroque altar, the really creepy statues, and some more paintings of Christ dying in a lace slip before climbing up a ladder-staircase to the choir loft. We followed the sound of the marching bands outside to discover a balcony overlooking the plaza. With that excellent (albeit chilly) view, we watched the crowds and the saints below.

Here, see for yourself:

This saint was one of my favorites because
a) There are so many men carrying him
b) They apparently did some drinking prior to the parade
c) Said drinking made them much more interesting group to watch than the somber-suited and highly regimented saint groups that came before and after
d) Their marching band had the sheet music attached to their backs, and
e) I have no idea which saint it is, but you have to love a guy who's clutching a palm tree and riding a sparkly-fish-filled wave.

When the sun set and the temperature dropped enough that my sweater and scarf and his fleece weren't cutting it, we went back downstairs and cut through the parade route again in search of those food vendors selling bamboo skewers with grilled garlic chicken and a small potato on top. Deliciousness in hand, we circled back around to pick up our laundry and return to our hotel.

Which brings me to the present! We're sitting in the little dinning room in the hotel. The window does little to block out the cold air and the noise of the marching bands that are still playing in the Plaza a block away. My fingers are frozen, but my blog is caught up, and today was yet another good day.

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