After suffering the overnight bus, we finally made it to Cusco early in the morning and hiked our way up to our hostel in San Blas, Cusco’s “artisan quarter.” We devoted a moment of reflection to September 11th, passed around a sleeve of galletas, and decided to grab a bite to eat at a restaurant in Cusco. Unfortunately, due to the lack of Peruvian understanding of vegetarianism, Emily and I ended up paying twice the amount that Charles paid… for half the food. It was probably just a ginger bias-incident… even so, the cream of corn and cream of asparagus soups were fantastic: smooth, creamy, warm flavor in a bowl.
There are many ruins around the Cusco area—it’s not just Machu Picchu—and it’s possible to buy a boleto turistico/pass to see all of them. While in line for Machu Picchu tickets, we met a couple from Washington. A couple hours later we saw them at Templo del Sol… and then we saw them everywhere else we traveled until we left for Puno.
After Templo del Sol, everyone was feeling pretty exhausted. We still hadn’t slept. It seemed like nobody was too excited for the night of clubbing we had planned (I know, can you imagine? Emily, Gabrielle, and Charles not excited for clubbing?). We bought groceries and headed back to the hostel, thinking we’d eat dinner and rest up before going out to walk around Cusco a little. Neither of those things happened. I tried an unfruitful attempt at reading some sociology while Em and Chaz talked, and before we knew it, we were all sleeping. I woke up for a couple minutes around nine to Charles turning off the lights, and after an exchange of two or three words, we decided that dinner wasn’t happening and returned to sleep.
Don’t Drink the Water
I was awakened to Charles whispering, “Brie! Brie! Emily is calling you!” I,thoroughly confused, could scarcely reply, “What? Where is she?” before I heard a faint, pathetic groaning from the bathroom down the hall… “Gabrieeelllle…gabrieeellllllle…” Apparently Charles had called back to her, and she had responded only with moans for me (there’s a special bond inherent in being in an open-relationship on facebook with someone).
I found her, distraught for her life, on the bathroom floor next to the toilet. She was worried that she had become sick after consuming contaminated food or water. At this point, I was in a difficult situation. It was difficult to see her like this, convinced that she was going to die, but at the same time, I knew that we had eaten and drunk almost nothing besides an over-priced lunch. And it was hard not to laugh at the ridiculous situation.
I brought her a water bottle from the room and told her to drink it—she was dehydrated, and the altitude was only making it worse. After a few moments of suppressing laughter while I convinced her that she could drink the water, she abided… sure enough, she felt better and wandered back into the room with a headache—easily cured with Charles’ “aspirin.”
At 5 am, when I realized that I’d been sleeping for around 10 hours, I was ready to start the day… the others weren’t. And so I sat up and watched the city of Cusco grow right out of the ground—something about the earthen, adobe roofs and the way the houses are molded to the landscape… as if Gd himself reached down to form the ruddy clay and breathe life into it. But at night, what wonder! As if someone cracked open an egg of liquid light and let it splash down into the valley and creep up the mountains’ crevasses.
Once we did start the day, the hostel started us off the right way with a delicious breakfast: bread, jam, coca tea, crepes, fried eggs, and passion fruit juice.
We packed our lunch and scaled the staircases that lead from the city to the cerros, where the ruins and Cristo Blanco awaited us (with open arms, apparently).
Our first ruins experience was “Sexy woman,” spelled Saqsaywaman. For me, its primary purpose was setting the base layer of sunburn that I continued to build up the rest of the week. It was also exciting to see so many worlds intersect: the Incan civilization overlooks the entire modern city of Cusco; the pagan religion is juxtaposed with Christ’s careful watch of the city; locals mix with South American, Asian, North American, and European tourists in a jumble of languages; and finally, the contrast between the tourists’ lifestyles and that of the people supported by tourism, whether it be through providing tours, selling artesanía, or walking around in traditional garb with a child on your back and an alpaca on a leash, offering to pose for pictures… which also reflects the disparity between social and economic classes. But perhaps the least tangible, most intuitive and powerful contrast is that of nature and civilization. The view from above the city is astounding. I’ve never seen a city or mountains colored like this, painted with the reds, browns, greens, and purples of the earth. Yet from the adobe roofs to the dry, sparsely vegetated mountains, there is a continuity, a feeling of connectedness that I’ve never felt in a city like Boston.
We said goodbye to Sexy Woman after finding some amazing natural slides and joining some children in playing on them. From Saqsaywaman, we hiked up to the Templo de la Luna, where a man briefly explained to us the symbols and other attributes of the temple: the puma, condor, and snake (which represent the realms of the cosmos), the altar where gold was stored and llamas were sacrificed, and the room’s llama-shaped entrance. We picnicked above the temple and fled the growing storm clouds… funny, they say it almost never rains in Cusco. Not until we roll on in.
We rushed through Q’enco and hopped on a colectivo to Ollantaytambo, the town where tourists take the train to Aguas Calientes… next stop Machu Picchu!