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Cusco and Machu Picchu, Trip Report 7

San Pedro Mkt 12 urchinpuma layoutSan Pedro Mkt 4

It’s time for the afternoon rain here, so I’ll try and squeeze my Cusco visit into words.

This is a lovely town set in a valley at 11,250 feet elevation and surrounded by tall green Andes peaks. People are friendly and kind, meaning that people regularly stop what they’re doing and try to help me when I look lost and can’t even begin to speak or understand their language. For example, when the mini-van driver who picked me up at the Ollantaytambo train station, after my trip to Machu Picchu, dropped the van load unceremoniously in the middle of Cusco at 10:pm, one woman assured him (and me) that she would deliver me back to my neighborhood since she was sort-of going that way on foot. Strangers routinely take me part of the way to where I’m going. I have a sense of a wonderful fairy godmother looking after me. With women, these encounters end with the appellation “amiga” and usually a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
St.Francis gate
I’ve walked the historic district up and down and in and out in rain shine, midway gloom day and night. Both of my guesthouses here have been up steep hills—in and towards the San Blas neighborhood. San Blas is slightly away from main tourist drag and is dotted with tiny restaurants and bars (and markets and laundries and shops selling all the local tourist fare and alpaca sweaters—or maybe fake Alpaca sweaters.) I’ve also walked and bussed through more “normal” areas where the locals live, shop and do business.
So what have I been up to? Well last Friday night I attended what’s rumored to be the second biggest Seder in the world (after Katmandu.) Israeli kids typically take 1 to 2 years to backpack around the world, once they’re done with their military service (boys and girls-mandatory.) They revel in hanging in gangs wherever they are and this Chabad installation in Cusco is known to be particularly hospitable—especially for Passover. So in two shifts they hosted about 900 people—mostly under the age of 27, with a few parent-aged sorts and other strays thrown in (whoever happens to be in Cusco—like me and my instant friend-from-my-guesthouse Nitzan. We sort of came in late on Seder number 1 aiming for number 2. What was I thinking? That this would end on time?) Then there are a bunch of Chabadniks from around the world who sort of supervise-help. It had a sense of remarkable yet relaxed organization and was truly lovely, with a tent-ish ceiling thrown over the large courtyard in the facility and decorated with streamers to keep out the rain. Also there was fairly intense security—not too surprisingly.
helping Grandma
It was very exciting to share this collective feeling and the joy and spirit of these kids. The Rabbi would yell a starting point and everyone would yell and/or sing whatever the Rabbi called for. Occasionally everyone would stand on their little plastic stools and clap and roar. We generated something near the decibel level of a major league baseball game. At the end they drew for raffle prizes of a bottle of Arak and something else not nearly as exciting.

Nitzan and I have continued to run into each other everywhere and are headed off to Puno/Lake Titicaca together tomorrow on the early bus.
San Pedro Mkt
Food—Peruvian food is good—fresh tasty veggies, sometimes lots of meat, usually a first course soup, more than a little heavy on carbs since most meals include at least rice and potatoes and often bread too. Sometimes more than one type of potato. I typically eat the set price meal if offered in restaurants—at least since my first few days of honoring my body’s adjustment to altitude, when you’re not supposed to eat much and should avoid alcohol and coffee. This usually runs between $3 and $5 and features 3 courses. Today I lunched at Chomba, which was recommended as a most typical local place by my free walking tour guide. It’s one of those places where you enter a courtyard, this one complete with woman hanging a ton of wash, and stumble around until you figure out where to go. I tried to find a delicate way to approach the lamb ribs my waiter recommended, but then decided I could still win the most lady-like-gringa award even slathered in lamb fat up to my elbows, since I was the only gringa in the place. The best part was the band—2 guitars (also singers) and an accordion. Every song sounded exactly the same but had that haunting quick change between major and minor key that always does it for me.
windy day at Olly
Cusco was the center of the Inca kingdom until the Spanish took over in 1536. (They are still resentful here.) The town (today about a half million) is filled with fascinating detritus from that period, the colonial period that followed and it’s surrounded by ruin sites, the ultimate being Machu Picchu.

The morning I went to MP (which for me, began with a restless night and running down the hill by my guest house at 4:45 am to wait for one of the first departing busses. (5:35) It’s dark, there are plenty of people already in line, and luckily it’s not as cold as I had feared. As a single, I get to fill in an orphaned seat in an earlier bus than my position would have afforded me.

My seatmate is a quiet teenaged boy. We ride in silence until the little we can make out from the bus window is too amazing not to oo and ah aloud. He’s the first Paraguayan I’ve ever met. We agree that the threads of fog weaving in and out of these huge peaks in the bluish pre-dawn sky is too much for our pathetic cameras. We’ll just have to remember the mystery and excitement, not to mention the hairpin switchbacks.
MP 4
This mysterious fog continued for the morning. While it wasn’t ideal for photos at MP, it was extremely commanding, dramatic and beautiful. We had rain on and off throughout the day—but mostly light to heavier sprinkles and not discouraging for those of us with plastic ponchos in tow (coming from Portland is always helpful.) I was very uninspired by the guide part of my visit—not necessary and a peculiar use of our time together—but I had many many hours to walk, climb, revisit, run into all my Cusco buddies, nap in the sun, read and re-wander. Walking even just a few feet in any direction presented me with a completely different view and seemingly, a different place over and over again. In the glowing sun of the afternoon (when most of the people cleared out—delightfully) the llamas came to graze and the warm smell of llama shit again changed the whole experience–I mean that in a good way. And face it, what Oregonian doesn’t relate to people who worship the sun?
When I finally took the bus down the hill to the weird little town of Aguas Caliente, I had an early dinner and then ran into all my buds as we moved into happy hour Pisco sours. Then back to the train, running into my seatmates from the train trip up (Portugese) and away.
Well that’s plenty for now. Off to Lake Titicaca soon—yes that’s a real name–remember when we studied it in 3d grade? It’s the highest navigable lake in the world and home to different indigenous peoples.