Peru: Cuzco, Sacred Valley

First, I´d like to make a correction.  According to our guide (bearing
a strong resemblance to Juan Diego Florez), Pizarro had 175 men, not
17, which is still a drop in a bucket next to the hordes of Incas.
Second, there is something I wanted to tell you but my subconsciousness blocked
it out of my memory to preserve my sanity.  Today, the
memory returned.  Yesterday, at a plaza in front of a church, on the
way from Puno to Cusco, I came face to face with my mortal fear.

There, in front of me, stood a teenage boy with the stumps of his
hands wrapped in bandages and an unmistakable nose of a leper.  Those
of you who don´t know, I have this one phobia, a totally
irrational, unfounded fear of leprosy.  It was something I read as a
child, a story of a South American painter who contracted leprosy and,
as his fingers were rotting, he bit them off one by one, tied a brush
to the stumps of his hands, and continued painting the church
frescoes.  This made an impact on me for the rest of my life.  So now,
at that plaza, I met the first real leper and started going into a fully
blown panic attack.  My breathing, already compromised by the
altitude, became even more constricted, I broke into a cold sweat, the
blood was pounding in my ears, I grabbed onto Jason who, fortunately, was
right next to me and dove into the church. Cold and clammy, gasping
for breath, I gathered all my strength and, hiding behind Jason, dashed
out of the church, pass the poor boy, and into the bus.
Sorry, just had to get it off my chest.
Now, about the good stuff.
This morning, we went with our “Juan Diego” to the remains of the main
Inca temple right outside Cusco.  The remains consisted of an outer
wall (their Wailing Wall?) and a plateau with remains of
three temples that once stood there.  The still standing wall is
constructed of enormous limestone, some of them over 15 feet tall.
Living in the Bronze Age, the Incas had no iron tools and had to use
hematite (a very strong stone enriched with iron) to polish and bevel
these huge boulders.  The name of the place has too many letters for
the modern tongue to handle, but it sounds something like Saxy Woman.
The view of Cusco from Saxy Woman is drop dead gorgeous – with the
tiled roofs of the city below at all different levels and mountain
crests right behind them, and above this all, the sky with ominous clouds
custom-made for the setting.  That was on one side, on the other side,
the view was somewhat Tuscanese, complete with rock formations and with
that crazy sky above.  That was one of the most breathtaking views I
had ever seen, hands down.
Now Cusco.  Cusco is one of the most interesting cities I have ever
visited.  The setting is perfect, in a valley sits
this exotic city, very distinctly Incan, with a touch of Italy and a
heavier touch of Spain. The streets are not as hilly as San Francisco,
but definitely on an incline which adds to its charm.  The houses are
mostly Incan style – the lower part is made of Inca stones (polished
limestone boulders) and above them stucco.  The most unusual part is
the roof, which is tiled, darker than the Mediterranean roof tile, but
the oddness is in the 2-4 feet overhung above the street.  Most houses
boast ornate balconies, mostly wood, but some cast iron or stone,
carved doorways and doors, the streets are paved with cobblestone of
various shapes, some houses have colonnades and inner courtyards, some
streets are so narrow, that a tiny sidewalk can barely hold people
walking in a single file.  These narrow streets open into piazzas and
piazzettas, some with fountains and colonial Spanish churches built on
top of Inca temples.  Here, the night descends on the city abruptly,
and the full moon lights up in the dark sky, electric lights sprinkle
the mountains in the background, and the churches in the distance
also light up.

On a more prosaic note, for lunch today I did have guinea pig (sorry,
Liat), it tasted gamy, a cross between duck and rabbit.
We are 99% acclimated now.  I easily climbed the stairs at the temple,
but the headache persists.  Lisa is convinced that the reason she is
not suffering from the altitude sickness is that she drinks twice as
much water as we do.

That is all for today,

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