Wednesday, November 23, 2011

unfolding a day in Cusco

Cusco is Peru's most touristed town... you can't walk more than 2 metres in the centre of town without bumping into a beanie wearing, rainjacket toting, hiking booted tourist, or neither can you escape from a barrage of local women in indigenous dress leading around munching llamas or alpacas wanting you to buy their photo. But it's definitely a town of charms ... twisty cobblestone streets, plethora of great restaurants, people going about their daily business, a wonderful history including being the centre of the Inca world and now, a large agricultural hub.

This post is a little late in coming, but after spending close to a month there, I thought it might be different to peek into how I saw a day unfold in Cusco... it seemed to go like this:

first... the pre 6am rush.. 
the minivans trundling bleary eyed tourists to their treks and crammed machu pacchu visit. the town still waking up, blue before sunrise light breaking through the darkness of night and golden streetlights
then, from 6am to 8am.. 
locals start going about their day... heading to catch a smoke billowing, affixiating collectivo (shared taxi) to work, old ladies from the campesino (country) carring a towering mound of chamoile flowers and fruit and veggies slung in a colour blanket on their back, reading the morning paper while getting shoe shines, people crowding around the market to slurp up a morning soup of vegetables and floating of questionable meat item.

Shoe shine booths set up near the central market and train station
Oddly every morning police will pile out of vans and stand in front of the University cathedral entrance... supposedly guarding against protest
The other more local central market next to the more touristic central market. Confusing!

8am market activity buying fish. Luckily it's on the shady side of the street.

10am ..
now the tourists start falling out of their hostels with full stomachs of bread, jam and coca tea mate. the standard hostal breakfast. the wooden doors of tourist shops start to open up and become adorned by trashy t-shirts, alpaca beanies and chompas (jumpers), art pieces and more things to pad out the backpacks. the ladies leading alpacas and colourfully dressed children start marching out their well worn routes past the most visited sights like the 12 sided inca stone, cathedral, restaurants, san blas plaza and museums.
7am . A very touristic street BEFORE the shops open up
The famed inca wall where the 12 sided inca stone rests. Usually a group of children or tour guides offering their services to point the stone out of course for a small tip.
San Blas market on a Fri night/Sat... a beautiful square with afternoon musical and dance performances 

almuerzos (set lunches) start getting munched down, they range from 2.50 Soles (1USD) to 22 Soles (8USD) often consisting of quinoa soup, a segundo (main) of pollo o carne (chicken or meat), a small postre (dessert) and refresco (a fruit based cordial drink). sometimes the tourists dare to enter a local establishment or eat at the bustling markets, or otherwise they succumb to the comforts of a western run cafe or restaurant where they can enjoy familiar flavours and service.
Juice stands (the best part of the market) where for 4 Soles (USD1.50) you get 2 glasses of fresh juice or smoothies
Cusco Plaza de Armas at lunchtime. It really is gorgeous.
NOT a set lunch... but rather AWESOME burger... about 12 Soles (4.50USD)

early afternoon.. 
tourist concentration really is at its peak; the outfitted tourists poking through various artesanal gifts to take home, country centric groups being led around by local guides, intercepting and sometimes succumbing to the offer of mules to visit Saskaywaman (nicknamed Sexy Woman), an Inca ruin on the hill about Cusco, visiting museums and other sights like the Santa Domingo convent and wandering around looking for supplies for upcoming treks. Around this time you often spot the very tired looking tourist still coming in and out of the plethora of tourist agencies to find their unique machu picchu experience after arriving at 6am from Arequipa or Puno.
Wandering the streets of San Blas - this is just outside our hostel where we stayed for 20 Soles (7.50USD) per person in a private room 
The not so picturesque side of Cusco... up above San Blas where the houses peter out to Eucalyptus forest.. and the local rubbish dump. You wonder in the wet season whether all this ends up in the main plaza??

after an early evening lull when the tourists are back in their hostel lazing about or catching up on emails and uploading their photos, the lowering evening light starts to bring people out to begin their cusco night. shops, espeically those for the tourists (like gear shops, tour agencies) are open till 10pm often, so last minute shopping for the following day's booked trek is sometimes done on the way out to dinner. around 7pm the locals start finishing up work, jumping back onto collectivos and buses to head back to their homes. outside of the touristy centre, life continues and shop lights come on, but in the centre people start sitting around the beautiful plaza de armes (plaza of arms.. pretty much every town has this as their centre plaza, a wonderful design as it brings a focal point to any sized town) looking at the colourful fountain.

San Blas streets after coming back from Halloween party at 2am.. just imagine taxis going 2 ways trying to fit in these streets.
The Plaza de Armas at night

As the night deepens, some of the tourists find their way to the regular tourist bars, as do the locals aspring to hook up with tourists. sometimes you catch some music being performed on the street, or see a group of teenagers practicing dance moves in the plaza outside the SONAT customs office and the pretty lights of cusco light up dark cobblestone alleyways and you can see the definite boundary of where electicity reaches up the hillside. The empy twisty streets of san blas are beautiful at this time... with the warm glow of street lamps throwing shadows, and quechua street names adding to the ambience.

Is this every day?? Well the thing about South America in general is that because people work 6 days a week, Sundays really is a rest and family day so in addition to seeing families out for lunch, or gathered around the table behind a still open shopfront, often on a Sunday you would see parties/ferias for christenings, muscial concerts, and without fail, a flag raising with marching representatves of the 4 differetn types of police, military and other services in the main square.

Celebration in the forecourt of a school... 
Part of a parade on a Sunday
Al the town's dignitaries and armed forces ready for the raising of the flag and parades on a Sunday morning.

Many foreigners come to Cusco with the intention of staying a couple of weeks, and end up staying for a couple of months... it's got that odd combination of familiar comforts, services and foods as well as being a large provincial centre for agriculture and regular life. And of course being in an incredibly beautiful and culturallly rich part of the country. I see the appeal, not sure how long I myself could survive there... but my month was defintiely enough.

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