Saturday, December 12, 2015

Cuzco: Layers of Peruvian History

11 December 2015

Just a note - I'm having major problems with the wifi, which of course is affecting the way the blog is lining up. It has become apparent that I can't get the photos to show up the way I'd like them to - so I've opted to just let the computer or wifi or cyber gremlins do what they want. Photos and narrative won't line up. The photos are all at the end. BIG. I've given up.

We're in Cuzco - which is spelled Qusq'o in Quechua, the primary language of the indigenous people in this part of the world. Qusq'o was once the capital of the Incan Empire, from the 13th to 16th centuries; now, it's the jumping off point for travellers who hike the Inca Trail or travel to Machu Picchu by train or bus.

But this UNESCO World Heritage Site is complex, multi-layered, multi-cultural, and gorgeous all by itself, without its more famous neighbors.

First, the altitude - we're high in the Andes, up in the clouds. Cuzco is located some 11,152 feet (over two miles!!! - or 3,399 meters - that's 3.4 kilometers!) above sea level. Compare that with Machu Picchu at 7,972
feet (2,429.8 meters, or 2.43 kilometers!).

So yes, we're on the top of a mountain. In a hilly city, with other mountain peaks soaring up around us. Well, I guess they’re mountains – they’re all green, all the way to the peaks, with vegetation even at 11-to-12,000
feet! I don’t know if these mountaintops have snow in the winter; this is summer, despite the fact that nights drop to 40 F (5 C), and days reach maybe the mid-60s F (15 C). Yes, we’re chilled!

The plaza that serves as the main square in town was once the
main plaza of the Incas. At that time, it was called Huacaypata; the plaza was twice as large, with temples, other religious buildings, and palaces of the rulers. 

The Spanish conquistadors used the stones of the Inca buildings to create some of their edifices, so buildings in the oldest areas of the city sometimes have a partial storey of the huge stones for which the Incan architects are so famous. 

There are also wonderful old buildings throughout the city, beautiful churches, cathedrals, government buildings, homes, just gorgeous examples of Spanish colonial architecture. 

I'm not sure when the street signs were designed, but they're ornate and decorative and beautiful! The street lights, traffic signals, as well as the bus stops all coordinate with the street signs with the green curls and arabesques.  And featuring the golden sun mask that many explorers and adventurers have been seeking ever since the Inca and Spanish civilizations collided.
I don’t know if there’s any significance to the colors on the street signs. Sometimes all the street signs in one area have the same color flowers; other areas have different colors on each corner.

The former Inca plaza is now named Plaza de Armas, which means "parade grounds," not the Plaza of Armaments.  The Spanish made this plaza the center of their town as well - the city's cathedral is located here, as well as several smaller churches. There's a fountain in the center, beautiful grounds, and the central square is surrounded on two sides by long collonades with cafés, restaurants, shops, and travel agents.

Two flags fly over the Plaza de Armas: the red and white flag of Peru, and the rainbow colored flag of Tahuantinsuyo, the Incan name for their nation, representing the four corners of the Inca Empire.

The city's main industry seems to be tourism, especially since this is where many
people make arrangements to join a tour group to hike the Inca Trail or visit other Inca ruins in the vicinity. The airport closest to this center of the Inca world is here in Cuzco, which is why so many tourists and travellers pass through this city. 

Of course, with tourism comes the people trying to make money from the tourists. There are walking vendors selling beautiful alpaca sweaters, hats, socks, etc. Others carry portfolios of small drawings and paintings. All kinds of silver and semi-precious stone jewelry are also sold by walking vendors.

But my favorite are the women and children who dress up in the 
fanciest traditional costumes, wash their little baby lambs or alpacas or goats and add little headdresses, and ask tourists if they would like to take a photo for only one sole (about 30 cents US). Of course, I had to get a photo - between the gorgeous clothing with all the embroidery, the chubby-cheeked babies on the women's backs in a woven sling, and then the baby animal with a little knit headpiece - well, it was a given that I wanted a photo of this cultural color!
Most of the people who wear the traditional clothing aren't quite as fancy - this is obviously for special occasions or ceremonies or festivals. Indigenous women wear skirts, sweaters, and bowler hats in either woven reed or wool - similar to the clothing we saw in Ecuador, though sometimes in darker colors. Many women, even in more modern clothing, use large serape type shawls that are woven with intricate designs. These are used as shawls for warmth, or as slings to carry items on their backs, or as baby carriers.

There are also occasionally men in wonderful red ponchos, with designs woven across. The men in the ponchos usually seem to have the knit stocking caps that have the ear flaps and braided extensions. Though I've seen local women wearing those hats as well. Haven't seen many men wearing Panama hats, but we've seen men in the wool caballero (cowboy) hats.

People in general are friendly and willing to talk with us, though we have limited conversations given our small Spanish vocabulary. I had a fun little interaction today - there was an adorable little girl sitting on the sidewalk in the rain, splashing her feet in the rain gutter. She'd look up at me, I'd smile, she'd smile, then go back to her splashing. Her mother came out of the shop several times to get the child out of the rain, but each time she'd run back out of the store and return to her rain play. So I finally told the mom I'd take the little girl for a walk, mom said okay. Little girl held my hand and we walked down a few stores - but then she saw her buddy, a cute little boy with huge dark eyes, and ran into that shop to play with him. His mother and grandmother chatted with me in fairly simple Spanish after I (badly, I'm sure) explained I was walking the little girl around so she wouldn't keep playing in the rain. They said she often visits, little guy Miguel is her friend. And they said she could stay for a visit. So of course I went back up the street and told the mom that her cute kidlet was visiting her friend down the street. It just was fun to have this little conversation in Spanish, and spend some time chatting with these women.

Cuzco has numerous museums devoted to the pre-Columbian cultures in this area, especially the Inca. In fact, much of the treasures bought or found by Hiram Bingham, the explorer who supposedly discovered Machu Picchu, are now in a museum here. I know, Bingham is usually credited with finding Machu Picchu. He discovered this Inca city in much the same way that Columbus found North America. He “found” it and told the rest of the world, but it was never really lost. There were actually people living at Machu Picchu, farming the terraced fields and living in some of the buildings. (And housing farm animals in the ruins!)

Anyway, Hiram Bingham, on his third expedition to the area, uncovered the Inca Trail, an important aspect of uncovering the meaning of Machu Picchu. He didn’t find many artefacts there, the place having been looted; or possibly the statues, relics, anything of religious or cultural value may have been moved by the Incas when they fled from the conquistadors. Bingham’s second and third expeditions were funded in part by Yale University, where he was a professor. The museum at Yale, the Peabody, expected to receive all kinds of artefacts for their exhibits. So Bingham bought collections of items from various indigenous people, and smuggled these objects out of Peru.

There’s been a prolonged and bitter battle between the government of Peru and the Peabody Museum. The actual contract allowing Bingham to remove the legal artefacts from the country, specified that the objects would be returned to Peru when they requested. They requested. The Peabody refused. It took quite a while, with bad feelings on both sides, before many of these finds were returned to Peru, where they are now housed in the new Cuzco Museum of Machu Picchu.

I’m currently reading a fascinating book that covers this and much of Bingham’s explorations. The book is “Turn Right At Machu Picchu” by Mark Adams. (Available at bookstores as well as online. I’ve got it on my kindle.) The author, a former travel magazine editor, decided to follow much of Bingham’s trail through Peru. I won’t say too much, just that the book is wonderful. He chronicles his trek through the jungle and up and down mountains while including Bingham’s explorations as well. Truly a worthwhile read!

Today, we thought we’d head to the Museo de Machu Picchu, just off the Plaza de Armas. We started out walking down one of the main streets, Avenida el Sol. We finally had a sunny day, and it was so incredibly gorgeous! Cuzco is in a beautiful area, the city itself is historic and interesting and full of wonderful buildings, especially all the churches and cathedrals. Plus there are all of the decorative elements like those coordinated street signs, traffic signals, and street lights.

But then the sun shines, and the drab stones turn golden or rosy. The skies are bright blue and contrast with the terra cotta roof tiles. Puffy white clouds dot the perimeter of the skies behind shining green hills. And since it’s a sunny and warm day, more people are outside, just walking around and enjoying the weather.

So we walked around, also enjoying the weather. I found the Arco Santa Clara, possibly one of the former gates when Cuzco was a walled city. Just as the Incas lined up corridors and buildings to align with the first ray of sun on the summer and winter solstices, the Spanish aligned various arches and gates to frame the campeniles (bell towers) of the cathedrals and churches. Wonderful buildings, beautiful weather, and colorful people.

It seemed a shame to spend the day indoors when it was so sunny and bright, so we decided to skip the museum. Just wandered the stone-paved streets of old Cuzco. Had a lovely lunch in a café. And came outside to find dark clouds and thunder in the distance.

What could we do, we hightailed it back to our hotel, dodging the occasion brief shower before the deluge. We made it to our room fairly dry – and then the thunder began in earnest, with hail!!! Really, hail bouncing off the tiled roof just outside our window! Turned out to be quite the dramatic afternoon!
We’ll see what tomorrow brings. If the weather is grey, then maybe a museum. If it’s sunny, then another ramble, maybe to another area of the city.

And of course, we’ll chat with people in our minimal Spanish, or with other travellers, and just enjoy being here.  In Peru!  On top of a mountain!

No comments:

Post a Comment