Sunday, October 28, 2012

Traveling in Peru [Part 5]: Cusco

I never know which way is the preferred spelling: Cusco or Cuzco. It seems that even Cuscoians can’t agree on the proper spelling as we saw it both ways within the city. Evidently the original spelling was Cusqo and in 1990 they tried out Qosqo. Just to make things a little more confusing. 

We arrived in Cusco/Cuzco/Cusqo/Qosqo after a ten hour train ride from Puno. 

This was the day that I’d been dreading the entire trip: ten hours stuck on a train with an energetic toddler and fifty other tourists. We got on and I groaned: each seat had a table set with china and silverware-heavy meal place setting. Ben is an expert at knocking over wine glasses and throwing knives on the floor.

But I was in for a surprise. It was a great day. Ben ran around the train, charmed the gal that was working in the bar car, adored the performance of traditional song and dance, and spent most of his time doing circles around the observation deck. The other tourists, mostly elderly grandparent-types, spoiled him silly.

He even took a few naps. Lucky us. 

And the scenery was gorgeous. 

My Dears, 

I was constantly reminded on this trip about the luck of our birth. Ben came into contact with a lot of local children and the differences were striking. Having a child with you while traveling only makes the differences more apparent. 

Before this trip people asked me why we were bothering to take our son with us to Peru; after all, he won’t remember it. 

Which is true. 

But Chris and I will. And I hope that getting our kid traveling at a young age will make him appreciate other cultures, see the world, and also, hopefully, learn to be grateful for his lot in life. He has so much, when others are born with very, very little. I think it’s easy, as American citizens, to become complacent.

I’m not expressing this as eloquently as I’d wish, and perhaps expecting a not-yet-two-year-old to be grateful is a bit much... but the sentiment is heartfelt and I hope that as he grows he might gain a better understanding of our world and the different people that inhabit it. 

 Upon our arrival in Cusco we visited Sacsayhuman (which is essentially pronounced ’sexy woman’).

Peeps, I’ve never been to the pyramids in Egypt but I’d imagine there is a similar sense of awe when viewing massive stones that have been hauled into place using brute strength. The scale is simply astonishing. 

A quick overview of the city:

The nice thing about guides is that we have a handy person that can take family photographs. Usually we’re relying on Chris’ long arms to attempt a group picture. 

Our tour also included a visit to the spanish cathedral and additional inca ruins that were destroyed by the Conquistadors during the sacking of the city in 1535. 

This is how Ben viewed the city. He spent a lot of time in that backpack. We joked that it was similar to the liter that the Incas carried their leader around in. 

One awesome thing about being married to Chris is that he literally sticks out in any crowd, particularly in countries where the populace is generally on the shorter side. It’s very easy to find him if we get separated. This wee little lady was probably at about Chris’ waist. Her little llama is going to eclipse her in very short order. 

One of the highlights of our time in Cuzco was seeing this guy!

What are the chances that both brothers would end up in South America, in the same city, on the same day? Total fluke. Greg was going the adventurous Peruvian route: the next morning he was leaving on a five day trek that culminated at Machu Picchu. 

One of the most interesting things we did in Cusco was to visit the local market. We were the only tourists in the place.

Peruvians are potato growing epxerts. They actively cultivate over 400 varieties. 

And, of course, they grow a lot of corn as well. The large-grained yellow kernels was reserved exclusively for the ruling elite. 


The meat section of the market.

As awful as this sounds, I can eat meat precisely because of the disconnect between the killing of the animal and how it appears on my dinner plate. The ground lamb that I put into soup bears no resemblance to the animal from which it came. I’m not proud of this. I realize that this is a horrible, backwards, unethical and inhumane stance. And I’m trying to rectify that situation. We are trying to eat less meat and trying to be more cognisant of where our food comes from. But this is a gradual change.

Peeps, going to a market like this one and seeing every animal part displayed (and feasted upon by flies) is apt to speed up the process considerably.

I’m not going to show pictures of the cow heads or displays of brains/intestines/organs, but [for me] it was a somewhat repulsive yet fascinating food experience. I would have a hard time going to order ground beef when the head (and lifeless eyeball) is perched up there on the counter staring me in the face. 

 Have you ever killed something and ate it? Fishing is the closest I’ve come. [And my in-laws can tell you that this was initially a rough experience for me]. I told Chris that I could kill a chicken. Which is probably why we eat so much of it than beef, pork, or lamb. 

I think I could also kill a pest species, particularly one that is decimating native flora/fauna. Like those crazy feral pigs that are running around the South. Do people eat those? That’s a two-for-one in my book: save the environment and get bacon in the process!

Ok, enough food talk. I clearly should not write blog posts so close to lunch time. 

Cusco was such an interesting city and we enjoyed having the time to relax and walk around the city without a set agenda. Here was a protest march that closed down one of the main streets in the city. 

Unfortunately, my spanish was not good enough to understand the finer points of the debate. [Read = I had not idea what was happening]

Cusco is probably the most touristy city in Peru and I suppose a visit here wouldn’t be complete without a mosey through the handi-crafts market. True to form, I would have happily bought every little knick-knack in the place. Chris reined me in and we ended up with a nice pottery llama sculpture and a carved stone puma. It’s sitting in the living room and Ben has been riding it around like a demented cowboy. 

The cathedral at the Plaza de Armas. Our favorite empanada maker was only a few blocks away on the Avenida del Sol. 

Ben got himself a little peruvian hat and sweater and tried to blend in with the locals. 


In the US its fashionable to dress up your dog in cute little costumes; in Peru, dolled-up lambs are clearly the hottest accessory right now. 

Ben can take a while to warm up to people and sharing a stranger’s lap with a lamb was a pretty novel experience for the bambino. I wish he would have been a bit more smiley but expecting more probably would have been unfair. 

I suppose there is always a next time.