Sun 28 Jun 2009 - Fri 10 Jul 2009 68 °F
Here we are slipping, sliding and tripping in the great Inka capital of Cuzco, Peru. Smooth old rocks line pedestrian passageways, steep stairways, and narrow cobble streets making gazing up while walking a bit precarious. The days keep passing and we keep finding ourselves waking to the Viva El Peru etched into the mountainside framing the city. We´ve ventured out of the city for an adventure to Machu Pichhu (blog coming soon) though here in the city we find ourselves doing what we love most; wandering here and there, chatting in Spanish, and absorbing the life in the Andean highlands. And of course, we stick our heads now and then in to the endless churches to check out the alters and often rest in the many plazas that invite people watching.
They say that Cuzco is the oldest continually inhabited city in the hemisphere, 700 years, and that about half of the current population is indigenous. It´s not hard to imagine that we are walking in the same steps as the pre-Inka, Inka, Spanish, and that the man on the corner selling Inka Kola could be a direct descendant from the great Inka ruler Pachacutec. Though, actually, this is doubtful, as I read that no one knows if the Inka royal family line survived after the murder of the last Inka ruler. (The word Inka means king by the way).
It is hard to imagine how the throngs of vendors selling tourist handicrafts survive. There are tons of shops and markets, and then those that hawk the streets - all selling similar socks, hats, gourds, paintings though of varying quality. They come in from the countryside with their babies on their back or toddlers by their side. It breaks our heart to think that so many people rely on tourism for their livelihood, especially since "el crisis" is in the air and everyone is talking about how tourism is so slow this year. I can´t count how many times we politely say "no, gracias". The city center and all the historical colonial homes are hotels or restaurants, all catering to the oodles of us travelers and tourists from every western country. And I can´t say we don´t mind the wonderful plethora of food offerings - its awesome to eat fluffy scrambled eggs a top homemade toasted bread with a side of roasted potatoes and salsa, or a hummus sandwich with thinly sliced grilled vegies lightly brushed with balsamic vinger.
This is all a stark contrast from when I spent five weeks in this town 19 years ago. There were only a handful of hostels and a handful of tourist restaurants back then. Life in this town circled around practicalities, not tourism. I can´t help but wonder if the young shoe shine boys that used to flock around me so many years ago are now the twenty-somethings hawking sunglasses or city bus tours in the plaza, speaking more than a handful of english phrases.
Peru seems to be a country of contrasts played out here in Cusco and we find ourselves on that line of complete enjoyment and bewilderment of how we can enjoy our surroundings when so many are suffering.