Adventures in South America travel blog

Pedro the Priest

Alice recieving the blessing

Inca Alley. Walls on both sides made by Inca

Niches in the cemetary


Meat section

Barley Bread


Chopping onions

Finished potato roll

Police line

Alice and the vacuna

Inca fortress

Cusco from above

The White Christ

July 18

Up early in the morning for a tour entitled “Cusco behind the scenes.” It started in a meeting room in the hotel where we met Perdo – an Andean priest who offered us a blessing and we all contributed items to a sacrificial bundle that he will take back to his village and burn to return to Pachamama, mother earth. Interesting ceremony with the combination of traditional elements (coca leaves, corn, dried potatoes) and modern elements (cookies, plastic confetti). Nice mixture – religion, like cooking, is always in the process of evolution. Or, in some cases, mutation...

Then off to a local cemetery after passing through the local fruit wholesale area – fruit all over the floor... At the entrance there was a large flower market and a trinket booth – vases, mats, small representational items... Curious stuff. Alice bought a miniature “Inca Kola” bottle.

When we went inside there was a list of all those niches where people have not paid the years “rent (about $100). If you don't pay for two years they remove the remains from the niche and deliver them to the relatives... As we entered we were struck by the huge number of “windows” - each about 12 inches by 18 inches. There was a frame on most and a glass cover. Behind the cover the relatives have left small mementos – a picture, flowers (fresh and plastic), small items representing things the person liked. Apparently there is a man who makes his living by dressing up as a priest and offering prayers for the departed for a small donation. There are also young boys who, for a tip, will polish the usually brass frame and wash the window. Cleansing the bronze is done with a lime.

After that we headed off to the local market – huge compared to the one in Urubamba. There were sections for everything. Fruits, vegetables, flours, grains, breads (we bought a barley loaf), meats, organs (innards), clothing, and a food court. There were over forty varieties of potato, over 20 of corn. One woman selling frog juice – actual frogs skinned and thrown into a blender. Supposed to be good for joint pain. There were booths for hearts of a great variety of mammals, livers, lungs, and on and on. There was even a booth selling cow horns with flesh still attached. Alice was quite upset by the whole experience, and has sworn never to go to a market in any country outside the US.

Then off to a local restaurant where we were given a cooking demonstration on how to make a local dish of stuffed mashed potatoes. I cut up onions and chicken, potatoes (already cooked) were “mashed” by rubbing them on a cheese grader. Then the potatoes were mixed and spread out on an oiled piece of plastic wrap. Then the cook prepared what looked like chicken salad, spread it on the potatoes, and then rolled up the whole things. It was coated with mayonnaise and sprinkled with chopped sweet pepper and basil. That was it. Quite delicious. That was the appetizer. We then had our lunch. I tried some alpaca that one of our group ordered. Very tender but an off taste. Good lunch.

On the way back to the hotel we ran into a teacher's demonstration demanding more pay.

Average teacher salary is about $800 a month. Line of police protected the Ministry of Education. Then we stopped in a city archaeological site right next to the hotel where they were excavating pre-Incan items. There was an alpaca and a va cuna there, related the the llama, whose purpose was to keep the grass short! The entire city is built on an Inca and pre-Inca foundation. This was the capital of the Inca until overthrown by the Spanish. Around every corner there is an Inca wall, or gate, or other evidence that the city is built on a city, which was built on a previous city... all dating back 1,500+ years.

After a quick rest I headed out with the group to look at some contemporary and archaeological sites in the city. We started at the Cathedral of Santo Domingo – built literally on an Inca foundation. It contained many huge oil paintings and statues – no pictures allowed though. One of particular interest was a pregnant statue of Mary – according to the guide the only one in the world, and created by a local sculptor in 1680 or so as a way to tie in the more matriarchal traditions of the Inca. There were also well preserved walls and drains from the Inca period.

Then to the Basilica of Cusco – a huge place filled with religious relics – the black Christ, a 5000 pound solid silver carriage that is paraded around the square every year at the feast of the Assumption, and, curiously, the image in the main nave was of Mary. Also found out that in South America they create the statue then dress it, while European statues have the clothes carved as well as the statue. An impressive structure – even a painting of the last supper with potatoes, corn, and Judas painted to look like Pizarro, the conqueror of the Inca!

Then a quick drive by of Sacsayhuaman, a huge Inca fortress with stones weighing up to 100 tons, a quick stop at an Inca cremation center, then a visit to the statue of the White Christ which overlooks Cusco. The city had sent 120 tons of potatoes to Poland at the end of WW2 to aid the holocaust survivors. In the 1960s Israel and Germany sent the statue to Cusco as thanks.

Then the obligatory stop at the expensive shop with more workers than guests – a quick demonstration of how to tell baby from adult alpaca, then allowed 30 minutes to shop. I sat outside for a while, but as the temperature dropped into the 40s I went back inside...

Again back to the hotel and a quick walk to the local “Artisan” market – though I don't think any of them were artists. Saw one little boy (8 or so) who was watching a stall taking a pee into a bottle. Everywhere prices were negotiable. On the plus side, the folks were not at all pushy. Give them a couple years...

Finally a bunch of us went to a local pizza place for dinner, then back to the hotel for an early night. We leave at 7:00 tomorrow for a six hour trip by bus to Puno on Lake Titicaca.

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