Cusco is the tourist capital of Peru. This city boasts with tour groups, hawkers, nice restaurants, cafes, hotels – and: splendid sights in and around town.
Although prices are obviously more expensive than in the rest of Peru, it is still possible to maintain a budget. I splurged a bit on the hostel, but I wanted to ensure that there was hot water for the showers at any time of the day (which is not so common in this country). Cross-financing the extra I paid for accommodation, I decided to moved around in “urbanitos” (city buses) and “colectivos” (minibuses), instead of taxis.
There are a couple of Inca-era ruins within a perimeter of 10 kilometers of the city of Cusco. Going to the farthest site by colectivo did cost 2.40 Soles (about 75 US cents). Called “Tampumachay”, the ruins there were rather smallish, but I was looking forward to have a little hike back into town anyway. This walk along a pretty scenic road did feature other historic places, such as “Puca Pucara”, “Qenko” and “Sacsayhuamán”. The latter one has actually a name which is quite easy to pronounce: Lazy tourists could probably ask a cab driver to bring them to “sexy woman” – and they would certainly end up being driven to “Sacsayhuamán” (at least during daytime, I guess).
Back in the downtown area of Cusco, the “Wiphala”, a rainbow flag of the Andes people, is omnipresent in the streets. Being the official flag of the city of Cusco, the seven stripes rainbow flag bears shocking resemblance to the state flag of the “Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands” – and/or the “Peace Flag”. However, there are subtle rainbow colour differences in the various flags – Wikipedia helped to sort out my confusion.
Another fun thing to do in Cusco is counting the number of people trying to sell to tourists anything from pictures, souvenirs, tours, coca leaves and massages. Actually, the number of massage offerings I do get, makes the city feel a bit like Bangkok (Thailand). But then again, it is probably me having dirty thoughts here.
Anyhow, it is mind-boggling how many times per day I have to say “No”. Together with another backpacker, we counted the numbers of times we had to say “No”, just walking from the hostel to the “Plaza de Armas”. After five minutes each of us had been approached by over twenty sellers. To be fair though, one simple “No” is sufficient for them – and they let go. Not much of a bother, then. But having to say “No” all day long has the potential to put people in a depressing mood. But that doesn’t stop me from resisting to say “Yes”.
Major sights in Cusco – besides Inca ruins – are churches and museums. I counted one cathedral, nine churches and ten major museums in this town of roughly 350’000 inhabitants. Which is way too much culture for me. And I confess that I did skip most churches and all of the museums. The Inca stuff (and the vibe of the city) was good enough for me. However, I might be traveling for too long and be a bit over-saturated by now from archaeological places. Because all that Inca fuss really leaves me so far very unimpressed.
Until the ninth of their emperors, the Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, (who came to power in 1445), there is little historical record and archaeological evidence and it is “assumed” there were other eight rulers between 1250 to 1438. Largely, this means, that we are talking about some medieval tribe that peaked during about one hundred years.
Sure, the Incas were definitely very good at doing what they knew (construction, skull surgery and some other random stuff), which is – I’m afraid – not a lot in comparison with other cultures that existed at the same time in other regions of this planet. On top of that, the Spaniards – who obviously had not much cultural affinity – destroyed most artwork by melting down gold and silver artwork. They did use stones of temples to build churches instead. Being a selfish tourist in the 21st century, looking for exciting archaeological sites, I definitely see not much being left in “Inca land”. Which makes me wonder how this country would look like, if the conquerors never had arrived on this continent.
In Peru, the “conversational clock” is ticking differently than in other South American countries. Everything starts so much earlier here: “Buenas tardes” (Good afternoon / Good evening) is used as soon as noon is over. And we are talking about one minute past noon here. At strike seven in the evening (when the sun is down in Cusco), everyone switches to the disturbing “Buenas noches” (Good night) – used as a greeting when entering a shop or a restaurant at that time of day. Disturbing, because I do associate “Good Night” as a farewell, before going to bed. At second thought, I might start switching greetings and farewells once I get back home – just for fun and to see how other people react to it.
Unfortunately, now that I start to feel a little more comfortable in speaking Castellano, I’m about to leave the South American continent. Although I still make a lot of errors, miss heaps of vocabulary – and talk Tarzan-style (“Me Tarzan – You Jane”) – conversations with locals have become more and more “complex” and longer. Which really now puts the fun into South America. But Cusco is big and worthy enough for a future, second visit.