The contuing story of Strawberry Jam, Bread Rolls and Pisco Sours
Chapter 12 – Cusco
Train zig-zagging up the hill – image: AV
After a cool night snuggled safely under heavy blankets we woke to bright sunshine. At breakfast, our treat returned to bread rolls and strawberry jam, it was beginning to get a little monotonous. But we ate, drank coffee or had coca tea, there was also juice, plenty of it this time, in jugs on an ornate sideboard. Slowly we gathered and ate, then a hubbub of excitement, someone from another group pointing excitedly out the window. On the hillside opposite, in among the houses, there was a train going up the hill. But it was just going up the hill, it’s path was backward and forwards, as it zig-zagged up the hill. This was the train to Aguas Calientes. The same one that we would get in two days time when we travelled to Machu Picchu. For the next two days we had free, no planned activities, just rest and explore this fabulously famous city of the Inca.
I was going to go it alone. Although, I had formed some friendships within the group, I preferred the prospect of not having to consult a partner when it came to making decisions about when and where to go. Others in the group had planned similarly and some had planned to leave the group and actually hike the famed Inca Trail, four arduous days to Machu Picchu was not for this tourist, my days of hiking were long past and now I much preferred the comfort of train or bus.
Kids in traditional costumes selling everything – image: AV
My first idea was to explore the centre of the city, take photos and see what Cusco had to offer. There were several sites within the city that one should see, so first it was down the street to the Plaza and get my bearings amongst the tourists, churches, restaurants and travel agencies.
I quickly discovered that I could get my shoes shined by an urchin about twenty times a day, whether they needed it or not, I could buy postcards from a gaily costumed Qechua girls by the thousand, or have my photo taken ad nauseum with equally costumed families, who plied the streets with their similarly decorated animals.
I came to realise, Cusco existed today for the tourist and those who preyed on them to eke out an existence. At first it was unnerving to be attacked so ferociously by these Lilliputian street sellers. The local city guards tried in vain to shoo these kids from the plaza, but as they cleared one side, the kids invaded the other, and so it became a never-ending game of hide ‘n’ seek. The kids were the clear winners, leaving the guards exasperated by the end of the day.
The main plaza – image: AV
I sat in the Plaza for a while, I took some photos, one was of a young girl slinging a plastic bag over her head talking business with yet another hapless tourist. It was in short order that I was to find out her name, Idália, she was eight, she had lots of brothers and sisters who didn’t have enough to eat. Yes, she was begging. However, I took a shine to her, we sat and chatted, she told me she loved talking to tourists, even if she didn’t get any money, because tourists were from far off places, the places of her dreams to one day be a beautiful princes in a castle in some far away enchanted land.
Idália, chatting up a tourist – image: AV
She was so much like my own daughter had been many years earlier, we had lunch together in a restaurant as she showed me “Gringo Alley” Procuradores was a a street that existed only for the tourist. Gringo Alley was a street off the Plaza, restaurants, more travel agencies, places to get photos developed, laundries, shops with inflated prices for tourists preparing to go on the Inca Trail. We sat and talked, we ate and she told me about the “Sexy Woman.” Wait a minute, here I was in a restaurant talking to an eight year old about a sexy woman, I needed my head seen to. I soon discovered that “Sexy Woman” was how most tourists, who hadn’t mastered the art of pronouncing Qechua names, say Sachsayhuaman.
William, my guide to the ‘sexy woman’ – image: AV
Sachsayhuaman was the large Inca ceremonial site up the hill and about two kilometres from the Plaza, and as it happened was on my list of things-to-do. It was then Idália revealed she had an older brother who would guide me to the site. Ah, I had developed an inside contact. After lunch she would go and fetch him. So I sat in the Plaza having an after lunch cigarette wondering if I would ever see her again. I only had to wait a quarter hour and she was back with her brother in tow. Now, when she had mentioned an older brother who was a guide, I had imagined a youth, someone a little older than the boy of eleven who now stood in front of me. William was quick to assure me that he knew all about Sachsayhuaman and for the princely sum of five soles he would take me there for the afternoon. The negotiation was set, and William and I set off.
Massive stone blocks – image: AV
Idália remained in the Plaza, I suspect to organise more tourists for the seasoned William to take to see the “Sexy Woman.”
Up past the hotel, turned right and up a street that was just steps, eventually we came out at an old church and another plaza. It was here that my pocket was lightened by a further twenty five soles, to enter the Sachsayhuaman site, I needed a tourist ticket, which also gave me entance to another 16 historic sites, churches and museums. William didn’t need one, he was Peruvian. On up the steep track and the enormity of the site became apparent, stone walls, immense stone walls, some of the blocks of stone were gigantic, William assured me they weighed tons. He pulled a small pocket knife from a pocket and offered it to me. What was I supposed to do? He showed me. The thin blade of the knife could not fit between theses huge blocks, they had been fitted so expertly that there was simply no space between them.
William and I spent a good couple of hours wandering around the place, me marvelling at the immensity and technology involved and William proved his capabilities, he was quite knowledgeable, even leading me through a dark tunnel between the ruins, that he explained most tourists never know about. The afternoon was wearing on, clouds began to threaten us with rain and the expert William said we should return downhill to the city, if we wanted to avoid getting wet. We did, he was right, it began to rain as we reached the Plaza. I offered him ten soles for his tour, he was most happy and readily accepted the invitation to dinner later that evening. He was a likeable kid and I found myself enjoying his company. We quickly found Idália, he showed her the ten sole note and rabbited on about dinner, I invited her as well. We parted and I returned to the hotel. A shower and rest before dinner.
Horrible stuff – image: unknown
As prearranged, I found William and his sister sitting in the Plaza in front of Gringo Alley, they weren’t alone, there was another girl, Veronica, with them, their cousin. The pair chortled and derided the girl, who had not believed I would show up. They took me off the Plaza, saying they knew were we could eat more cheaply than in Gringo Alley and they led me to a small local restaurant, crude, but clean and not a tourist in sight. We each had chicken and chips. Not just a piece of chicken, but a whole half a bird. I had beer, the kids, of course, Inka Kola. I was surprised when it came to pay the bill. For the price I would have paid for myself in Gringo Alley, I had fed the four of us quite handsomely. My guides, were definitely worth knowing, and definitely worth the extra few soles I had spent.
Rosie O’Grady’s, an Irish Pub in every corner of the world – image: AV
That wasn’t the end of the night, once again my little guides came to the rescue asking if I wanted to know where there was a good place to drink beer. Of course, the idea appealed to me immediately and they took me around the block and showed me an Irish Pub. There they left me, with the promise to see me tomorrow. And so I found myself at the door of Rosie O’Grady’s, there was naught else to do but go in, so I did. I found myself in a very pleasantly appointed bar, lots of tables with people eating, so food was available here too. If I hadn’t already eaten, I could have. I wasn’t at all interested in more food, but the bar looked inviting, so I took a seat. The barman introduced himself, a Peruvian with good English, I ordered a beer and that’s where I stayed for the rest of the evening. During the course of the evening I met the owner, an Irishman named Charlie, and we had a long talk about the world until I was ready to go.
In the morning I woke feeling a little under the weather, not with a hangover, or anything serious, but I was certainly reminded of having a few beers the previous night. If I had had one more, it might have been a different story. Nothing that wasn’t to be fixed by a good shower and a couple of extra bread rolls with my strawberry jam and coffee.
Korikancha, the church built on Incan foundations – image: AV
So fortified, I prepared to meet the day. There were several places that I wanted to see in the city itself, so armed with my camera I left the hotel and stated down toward the the Plaza. It was no great surprise that I was met by Idália and Veronica, the pair were so good yesterday and I enjoyed their company, so I was quite pleased to see them. They explained that William was with other tourists going up to see the Sexy Woman. So it was in their company that I visited such places as the historic neighbourhood of San Blas and the Catholic church that had been constructed on the remains of the Inca temple site at Korikancha and, after, a quick visit to some of the museums that my tourist ticket permitted.
After all that it was time for lunch. I didn’t mind the extra cost. During lunch we met some others of our group, who had coincidentally chosen the same restaurant, so we all lunched together. It came as no surprise that William also found us, it turned out that the tourists he took to see the Sexy Woman were the others in my group and they had also invited him to lunch. Conversation got round to Rosie O’Grady’s and we decided that it was a good place to spend the late afternoon after returning to the hotel for a shower and change.
It was a good chance to relax after being on the road continuously for the past ten days. For the next day, we were to begin our itinerary once again. We said our goodbyes to our young friends and returned to the hotel.
NB: Once again, I apologise for the B&W photos, the coloured originals are missing