Getting high the old fashioned way: Peru, Day 2

Tuesday, 19 June 2012, Cusco, Peru

Mark got in with no problems last night. We spent the early evening exploring the environs of Plaza De Armas and nearby central Cusco before collapsing early, both exhausted from the travels. Apparently, Mark had spent the night in the Bolivian airport, and the security guards were none too friendly, rousting him from one spot or another all evening.

Tuesday dawned clear and cool, so after breakfast at the hostel we decided to take off and do a little sightseeing in Cusco, before meeting with our trekking company that evening. High up on the hill above Cusco is a statue of Christ overlooking the city, called Cristo Blanco, and apparently, also nearby is an area of Inca ruins known as Sacsayhuamán. So we set off, huffing and puffing up the steep stone stairways and cobblestone alleyways, to gain the top of the hill.

Sacsayhuamán itself is closed to the general public, unless you buy a park pass to get in, and given that we’re planning on spending the next 6 or 7 days looking at Inca ruins along the trial neither one of feel particularly compelled to pay the entrance fee.  We can see a few tourists milling around near the entrance, as well as few folks dressed up in native garb and leading llamas. Apparently getting dressed in native Peruvian costume and leading a llama around for the tourists to photograph (for a fee, naturally), is a cottage industry around here.

Aside from which, you can see the whole site, and probably get a better perspective, from the neighboring hill where Cristo Blanco stands. So we clamber up that hill to the top. The top affords a bird’s eye vista of all of Cusco and the Cusco valley, and as we’re standing admiring the view,  another person in native garb walks up leading a llama – this one a younger boy.  Seeing my camera, he asks if I want to take his picture. I figure “Why not?” and ask “Cuanto?” In broken English, he basically tells me it’s up to me –“you decide,” Fine and dandy. He poses with llama, I snap a few pictures, give him a 2 sole coin from my pocket, and say “Gracias.”

But we’re not done. Gesturing at the llama, he makes me understand the 2 sole coin was for *him,* I’m supposed to pay extra for having the llama in the photo. Huh? It was package deal, kid! Grumbling I give him another sole and walk away. Life as a tourist. I don’t mind paying, but don’t like getting taken advantage of.

It’s getting on for noon, so Mark and I decide to vacate the top of the hill and wander down to the center of Cusco, Plaza de Armas, where the Inti Raymi festival is in full swing.  It’s crowded down on the central square, with folks all over, and  the Cusco flag (which looks for all the world like the gay pride flag in the US – I wonder if the Cusco-ians know there flag has been usurped?) There’s a reviewing stand set up, and all kinds of groups – it looks like schools, perhaps? – being staged at various places around the square.  At prearranged signals, they advance, a new group performs some sort of folk dance in front of the reviewing stand, and then moves on.

The costumes are extremely varied and colorful, and the dances themselves equally diverse. As they round the bend prior to advancing in front of the reviewing stand, each group performs a bit of a warm-up and preview for the assembled crowd. There are men dressed up with llamas and women dressed up as llama wranglers roping them.. men and women dressed as chickens pretending to peck at the road in front of the reviewing stand, as well as any number I can’t quite figure out.

Mark,tired at this point, decides to head back to the hostel for a while, leaving me to my own devices in downtown Cusco. I decide to head over to a nearby central market mentioned in the guidebook, and head in that direction. As I leave the central square I run into a whole series of what look like paper-mache “floats” of various and sundry persuasions – perhaps staged for a parade later? Or stored after a parade earlier – who knows.

The market itself turns out to be an odd mix of touristy type stalls as well as more traditional fare – aside from the ubiquitous silver jewelry and Alpaca sweaters and blankets there’s stalls with fresh chickens and other kinds of meat hanging, one whole aisle that seems to be filled with nothing but local cheese and bread, and a few other food products I can’t recognize. I’m a little concerned about the weather – it’s cooler than I thought and we will be getting seriously high over the next few days, so after looking around I buy myself a nice Alpaca sweater.

Heading back to Plaza de Armas, the parade/dance contest/exhibition/whatever-it-is is *still* going full swing, though it looks like the kids dancing are getting younger and younger.. we’re down to the 7 and 8 year olds now. We later learned that this went of for several days leading up  to June 24 – there must be a *lot* of schools and / or clubs that come here from all over Peru for this festival.

Anyway, its mid-afternoon, and my tea-addiction kicks in, so I start looking for a place to buy a cuppa. Turns out that up above the tourist shops, off to one side of Plaza De Armas, is a café that’s happy to sell me a cup of “Te, negro, con azúcar.” And best of all, they have a tiny little balcony – just big enough for a table, a chair, and me to squeeze in, overlooking the festivities below. Score!