Saturday, June 06, 2009

Back in Cusco . . .

We are happily back in Cusco, staying at Hotel Corihuasi with its winding stone stairways and rooms overlooking the city (and lots of hot water). Today we spent walking around the town with Al, Pam and Kayla, seeing the city anew through their eyes. We taught Kayla how to say no politely in Spanish to the many street vendors, yet it's difficult to say no to the beautiful crafts here -- weavings, silver, caps, ponchos, finger puppets, sweaters -- all in such vivid colors, and all featuring themes from the Andes.

Just now everyone is visiting the main cathedral here. I'm resting a bit here at the internet cafe, catching up with the high altitude.

Later we'll walk down Lareto Street (a narrow street along what was once the House of the Sun) to admire the Incan stones still making up the walls here: their large geometric shapes fit so tightly together that even today, no one seems able to replicate their walls. Cusco itself, like many other sacred places, takes the shape overall of a crouching feline -- the puma. While we have visited museums here, we've mostly gained an understanding of the artifacts of the Incan culture, but the religion and ideas still elude us. Popularly, Cusco is known as the center or navel of the world, but in planning this city, Incan astrologers planned temples and reshaped hills to create the puma.

Tomorrow we'll visit the Pisac ruins, built in the shape of a condor, and Monday, we go again to Macchu Picchu, which is built in the shape of a llama. Understanding the link between the shape of these places helps me understand the Nazca lines, those mysterious and controversial lines visible only from the sky -- hummingbirds, monkeys, spiders, plants and other shapes. Perhaps once they held a sacred meaning, even as the crouching puma did once for Cusco, and for many, still does.

This mix of ancient traditions and modern struggles with poverty would take more than one visit to understand. Here in Cusco, I've read that about 1 million tourists a year visit. That's a prodigious number of people. What do they take home? Cusco, Incan culture, superimposed with the history of the Spanish conquest and colonial traditions cannot be easily captured in a single photo, a diary entry, or even a memory. The average Peruvian works very hard. Taxi drivers, for example, work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Farmers work their fields and harvest by hand. We pass road crews repairing cobblestoned streets, again by hand. Every job is important. Yet unemployment averages 50%. So our tourist dollars help support artisans of all kinds. Today I bought a finger puppet of a llama, beautifully hand knitted with little tassles for roughly 33 cents. Today also, police and protestors clash over how tourist sites are managed and developed. Violence is always under the surface of such a peaceful and beautiful place. I have no answers and yet I am glad we came here.


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