Cusco is another planet compared to where we’ve been so far. The first couple of days here we felt as if we had landed on Planet Tatooine and walked into the Star Wars Cantina.
First off, going from sea level in Lima to 11,500 feet in Cusco was a bit more challenging than we expected. Even though we’ve been at 9,000 feet in Bogota that additional 2,500 feet makes a huge difference. In addition, to the gasping for breath going up a steep hill, we just felt light headed, frankly a little high.
Next, the activity and sites found on the street here are diverse and stimulating, to say the least. There is an international stew of tourists, trekkers, humanitarian volunteers and students mixing with the local population all within a small space. Walking down the street is a virtual kaleidoscope. Imagine a group of Quechuan farmers, average height about 4′, with stove top shaped hats and bundled in colorful shawls, many with children strapped on their backs, combined with 6.5′ blond German hikers dressed in lots of goretex, groups of dazed tourists many with huge cameras, Peruvians in suits and a lot of 20-30 somethings from all over the world many here for extended periods to volunteer, learn and explore. Meanwhile, people are asking us if we want to buy something – everything from shawls, to massages, to art or to have photos taken with llamas, alpacas or donkeys, all of whom are also in the streets together with many stray dogs. This is all happening in narrow streets many of which are lined with walls of intricately stacked massive stone blocks built by the Incas in what was the capital of their empire.
(Click on the photos to get a slideshow)
To add to the excitement it is Holy Week and on the Monday before Easter they also celebrate their patron saint, Senor de los Tremboles (Lord of the Earthquakes).
Palm Sunday included a huge mass at the Cathedral, followed later in the day by a parade.
The parade on Palm Sunday was only a preview of the big show on Monday, the celebration of Cusco’s patron saint, Senor de los Tremboles. This celebration has occurred annually since 1650 when a huge earthquake hit at the end of March, around Easter. Evidently, in a plea to heavenly powers to stop the earthquake, the crucifixion was brought out from the cathedral at which point the shaking stopped. Ever since, on the Monday before Easter the crucifixion is carried through the streets.
The event started in the afternoon, when the crucifixion was brought out from the cathedral carried on the shoulders of about 50 men. It was then paraded through the City for about 5 hours. When it returned to in the Cathedral at night, there was a benediction ceremony in front of the Cathedral. Everyone in the huge plaza was on their knees to receive the patron’s benediction. In a country with such poverty as well as a history of devastating earthquakes, this is a very significant ritual. We were grateful to have experienced it.
And with all this stimulation, we’ve acclimated. We had arranged back in January to rent an apartment. So for the first time in 10 weeks, we have our own kitchen. We’ve found a yoga place around the corner for both of us (the best so far in our travels), a work out place a few blocks away for Bill and a fabulous spanish teacher for me. We are here in Cusco about 12 days. We’ve even had a chance to hike to some ruins on the hills just outside Cusco.
Both our cameras have been working overtime. The variety of visuals, conversations with people both foreign and local, the influence of the Incan world view and the high altitude make every day stimulating. We are just coming out of the raining season here. The weather changes rapidly, from blue skies and billowing clouds one moment to thunder, lightning even some hail the next. Each day gets a little dryer and a lot sunnier than the day before.
We are headed next week to the Sacred Valley to explore the ruins and the communities in the valley before heading out on our hike to Machu Pichu the week following.
Lots more to come.