Wednesday, May 3, 2017

CUSCO: CENTRE OF THE SACRED VALLEY.


Cusco is one of those quaint little places, where the charm of cobblestone streets and ancient architecture attract huge numbers of tourists. 



The historic quarter and centre of the town is where the action takes place. There is a bustling new sector too but it is the old plazas and alleys, the cathedrals and basilicas and the markets and street life of the city where the fascination lies.


Yes it has vast numbers of hawkers and vendors touting their services in the streets and plazas and beckoning tourists to partake in any number of unlikely or luxury activities, but this what happens when places become tourist havens. I actually like the way this sudden popularity creates innovative and original enterprises, albeit enterprises that are quickly replicated. Cusco is no exception and each person can choses to engage in whatever of it is to their own taste.


There is no point in complaining about the crowds because we are only part of the crowd too from the perspective of others. It is the vast numbers of visitors, which give rise to boutiques, coffee culture, city tour buses, spas, massages, purveyors of spiritual guidance and sacred visions, laundry services, guiding, physically challenging outdoor adventures and cafes, bakeries and restaurants, catering to every conceivable desire or dietary need. 


While the roasted guinea pig isn’t to my taste, the world-class vegan offerings would be possible without the enormous numbers of travellers who frequent this town. I have the same abhorrence for zip lining upside down hanging from my ankles across a valley or bunging jumping, but others are welcome to it. Give me a Sunday market, with vibrantly dressed locals, a whole new range of vegetables, beans and fruit I have never tasted and the new culinary creations such local produce inspires and I am more than happily engaged.



The sacred valley has any number of other bustling towns and villages with ruins, markets and unique cultural practices to offer. We ventured to only two but were more than satisfied with the outcomes.



We were attracted to Chinchero and Pisac for their markets and these day trips could easily have been made into longer stays once we became aware of the facilities and potential for hiking and birding in these towns. We ventured only a short distance from the market place in each location but were able to sight hummingbirds, kestrels, and very active birdlife. Having chosen to travel by car, sharing a picnic lunch with the driver at viewpoints with spectacular views overlooking the Andes and valleys was also an experience we thoroughly enjoyed. 



Even a simple picnic of market fare was well received and once again I realised the power of food to cross cultural and language barriers to make a connection.



 Nonetheless we were delighted to return to the comparative extravagance and luxury of Cusco at the end of each day. We have seen a variety of street performances, public protest over corruption and religious parades, most notably culminating in the Plaza de Armas. At different times of the day it is disconcertingly filled with police, many of whom belong to the riot squad and are armed with shields and riot control equipment. Brass bands play and costumed participants carry enormous crosses through the streets on various days of the week, not only Sunday and the congregations follow or proceed tossing rose petals before the bearers. I do not claim to understand the significance of such events but the spectacle and true devotion of the locals is very evident.




As the jumping of point to Machu Picchu it must attract more travellers than anywhere else in Peru. There is however so much more to the region than that one ancient site albeit the biggest draw card. It was certainly what drew us to Cusco but it was to Cusco we willingly returned and even felt gratified that our stay had to be extended when the bus tickets we wanted were not available for several more days due to the May Day / Labor Day public holiday.


Nothing could prepare you for the breathtaking beauty of the Machu Picchu site and I will not attempt to describe it or its majesty.  However, when we left, we decided to return to Agua Caliente on foot despite having prep-purchased bus tickets, because we wanted to savour the experience and the natural environment of the area.  The revelation of the day for me was the humble realization of how small we are as individuals but how mighty our achievements can be in universal terms.  It was a magical day and gratifyingly so when that was exactly what inspired us to come to Peru in the first place. It is without a doubt the main objective of most of the travellers in the region and there are many more who still aspire to make the journey too.



We were instantly taken with the quaint atmosphere and old world charm of Cusco and it permeates the entire region. The longer we have stayed the more it has grown. The practicalities of the steep uphill climbs and winding cobblestone streets and alleys, which accommodate both pedestrians and vehicles, present a daily challenge but no-one would trade that atmosphere for convenience and safety, would they?  




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