Culture in Cuzco

This morning we started the day off with a half-day tour of the very interesting town and region of Cuzco.  It was also Stephen’s birthday, so he was spending it in some very unusual surroundings.   🙂

The bus set off, complete with local guide Arturo and the ever-present Rosario, who had proved to be a very personable, knowledgeable and pleasant guide.  Our first stop was to the Santo Domingo Convent of Cuzco, which had been built on the temple of Qorinkancha in 1633.  In 1650 an earthquake caused severe damage to the infrastructure of the convent, but the Koricancha Inca temple remained largely intact.  Reconstruction was delayed until 1680, but a lot of the original temple is still in evidence.

This church has three naves with a dome, a beautiful carved choir stalls made from cedar, the walls are decorated with Seville tiles. The décor was very ornate. It was unfortunate that we were not allowed to take any photographs, but we can understand the reasons why.

When we came out of the convent, we saw the inevitable hawkers peddling their wares outside.  I bought an attractive pendant on the chain made out of aventurine and wirework.  It was only 25 soles (£6.25) so a real bargain!  Other people in our party were also buying the necklaces and bracelets on offer.

Our next stop, which was only walking distance away, was to Cuzco Cathedral in the main square.  Once again, it was very ornate in the baroque style, but what was brought to our attention by Arturo was a couple of significant paintings.

One of them depicted a meeting between the Incas, including their leader Huayna Càpac, and the Spanish Conquistadors, with their leader Francisco Pizzaro.  The Spanish were trying to instil their religion (Catholicism) and beliefs onto the Incas.  Pizzaro handed a copy of the Holy Bible to Càpac and told him it contained an important message, so Càpac held the Bible to his ear to try to ‘hear’ the message, before throwing the bible on the floor.  The Incas worshipped the Sun and do they didn’t need another God.

But probably the most well-known painting in the cathedral was the one showing the Peruvian interpretation of the Last Supper, in which guinea pig features prominently as one of the dishes on the table!  Another interesting thing to note is that the face of Judas bears a very strong resemblance to the face of Francisco Pizzaro.

When we came out of the cathedral we walked around the main square, which had a central water fountain as well as a statue of Pachacuteq, the ninth ruler of the Inca state, on horseback.  We strolled around for a bit, enjoying the mild sunshine, until the coach arrived to take us to the next stop, a short ride away.

We arrived at the Inca construction of Saqsayhuamán (one of the various spellings, but it sounds as if you’re saying “sexy woman”) which is situated up a steep slope (it was hard work walking up there) and consists of a sort of fortress built of gigantic polished dry stone walls, with boulders carefully cut to fit together tightly without mortar.

Overlooking the city, there is an impressive view of the valley to the south-east.   Surface collections of pottery at Saqsayhuamán indicate that the earliest occupation of the hill top dates back at least a millennium.

But today the grassy slopes within the fortress contained herds of alpaca and llama, some of which approached our group out of curiosity.  The llama didn’t like it if we went too close, however, and they would spit at you.  We were able to get some good, close-up photographs of these typically South American animals, probably the best we’d managed.  🙂

As we continued exploring this interesting area, we came to some natural caves where the air was cool and dry.  Inside the caves were a number of large, flat stones and Arturo explained that the bodies of sacrificial victims were brought here to be prepared before the perfect atmospheric conditions allowed natural mummification.  At this stage there was an appropriate rumble of thunder, and it looked as if rain was on its way.   🙂

We got back onto the coach and started the return journey into Cuzco and our hotel.  We had the rest of the afternoon at leisure for what was our last full day in Peru.   😦

Once we got back and dumped our bags in our hotel room, Trevor and I decided to wander out to try to find somewhere where we could get a birthday card and small present for Stephen.  We thought it would be quite funny to get a little toy coach and stick the “Condor Travel” logo on the side to remind him of this trip; all the more so as he’d moaned about the long hours we’d spent on the bus.  But despite asking Rosario and searching through the market and other shops, we were unable to find one, or even a card.

We did, however, go back to the supermarket where I bought another bottle of cava and spotted some bottles of Pitú, the Brazilian cachaça I love, for only about six quid for a litre bottle, very cheap.  🙂

Tonight we were not going to eat in the hotel, but rather our whole group, plus Rosario, were booked in for dinner at the Inca Grill in the main square.  As some of our party would be going on to spend a few days in the Amazon and some of us would be starting the long journey home, tonight would be our last get-together before the parting of the ways.

We were booked into the Inca Grill for 7.00pm, so we got ourselves ready and left the hotel around 6.40pm for the 20 minute slow stroll to the main square.  Once we got there, we found one big long table reserved for us on the mezzanine floor of the restaurant, which was decorated in a rustic style with tribal Inca masks adorning the walls, and the ubiquitous Andean pan-pipe band tootling a few tunes out in the corner, including the inevitable El Condor Pasa (If I Could) made famous by Simon and Garfunkel.    🙂

The meal was very nice indeed.  I had the lomo saltado which was strips of lean steak cooked with onions and mushrooms in soy sauce, and served with rice.  There were also bowls of vegetable crisps along the table for us to nibble on in between courses.  Some people in our party were brave enough to try the alpaca and even roasted guinea pig, but we were appalled at the thought.   😦

The atmosphere in our party was very jolly, and became more so as the wine and beer flowed.  After the meal the waiter brought a cake out for Stephen, and everyone sang happy birthday and shouted “speech, speech”.  Stephen didn’t take much persuasion, and he rose to his feet and did a great impromptu speech about how this trip had been quite an adventure, how it was worth all the ups and downs for Machu Picchu alone, and how our holiday would not have been half as good if it hadn’t been for the indefatigable Rosario.  At this point we all raised our glasses in a toast to Rosario and I started off a rendition of “For She’s A Jolly Good Fellow” which everyone joined in lustily.  🙂

We came out of the restaurant around 9.30pm and walked back to the hotel.  Despite the fact that it was a week-day, the pavements and cafés were full of people, and we were surprised to see quite a few children out at this time of night.

Once we got back to our room, we did most of our packing, only leaving out the things we would need in the morning.  We then enjoyed a few drinks, me with my bottle of cava and Trevor with some Cusqueña beer he’d bought earlier.  Then we watched a bit of telly and settled down for our last night in Peru.  😦

We had a lie-in until 8.00am tomorrow as the bus wasn’t coming to take us to Cuzco airport until 11 o’clock.

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