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Peru and Bolivia 2001
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Angela's Andes

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Angela's Andean Adventures.

Peru and Bolivia 2001 - Part 3.

Arrival in Cusco.

Cusco City Centre
Cusco City Centre

After collecting my luggage that a porter carried on a trolley for me, we went outside and I held up my placard for Alfredo to recognise me (Aquiles’ Dad) and there was no sign of him! I was not too alarmed and an official stood with me and promised to help me into a taxi to my destination if he failed to show up. Luckily he arrived just a few minutes later and it was great to meet him at last.

We took a taxi straight to the house and once my luggage was stowed in my room we had coffee and some special bread (Cusco is famous for its varieties of bread) and although all the advice I had been given was to rest for at least two hours, when Alfredo told me about all the music and dancing taking place in Plaza des Armas I just couldn’t resist going out straightaway! I had not noticed any difference in the air at this high altitude when at the airport, but I sure did notice it later. We took a taxi and the first place he took me to see was the biggest Cathedral in the Plaza, which was for once free entry and one was able to see all the parts of the cathedral where normally one is forbidden to go.

The cathedral was in process of restoration and unbelievably beautiful. The amount of gold and silver used in there was unbelievable, beautifully crafted with painted murals and incredible carvings. A lot of the interior was beautifully carved wood and amazing to see, especially the furniture used to store the vestments of the priests - I had never seen such beautifully carved furniture in my life. The whole tour was incredibly interesting but the most exciting part was seeing the 15 Corpus Christi, 14 of them from other cathedrals in Peru, all on display for that week, that day being the last day before they went back. These enormous images were of virgins and saints and really beautiful.

Arrival in the Plaza
Arrival in the Plaza

Outside in the square again we strolled around and I was accosted from all sides by people selling wares (foreigners are a real target for sellers) and I found myself unable to resist those cute children’s faces selling their postcards and other things and even paid money to have pictures taken with Peruvian dressed girls with their baby lambs wrapped in Peruvian textiles, and had a photo taken with the two children of one woman and while Alfredo argued the price for 10 minutes I really enjoyed cuddling the little boy in his Peruvian clothes complete with knitted hat. He was so cute and seemed to enjoy the cuddle too (his sister only stayed on my lap for about a minute, then ran to her mother!)

Then it was time for lunch and by this time I was starting to feel the affects of the altitude, breathless and a bit giddy and after being out in that extremely bright sunshine without either hat or sunglasses it was a relief to get into the relative coolness of one of the restaurants where we enjoyed a delicious 3 course lunch of tamales, gallina (chicken) soup, and a delicious lamb in spicy sauce with a special Cusco potato dish. I followed this with a cup of coca tea. This came made with the coca leaves and after drinking the tea I chewed all the leaves - a ghastly flavour but there is something in coca that helps stave off altitude sickness and I did feel surprising better by the time we went outside again.

Dancing in the Plaza
Dancing in the Plaza

The next thing on the agenda was an incredible afternoon of dancing in the Plaza. Teachers had come from all over Peru and were dressed in various Peruvian costumes and for the next couple of hours we watched lots of different dances and I enjoyed all the groups of musicians as well, beautiful Andean music, and took lots of photos - one dancer even posed especially for me. During my first few hours I must have taken around 60 photos of Cusco and there were still loads more I wanted to take.

I also bought four more CDs as Alfredo told me where I could get them for 15 soles each. I was very excited to note that Kjarkas were playing in a concert the next day in Cusco. I could not believe my eyes that I would be able to see one of my favourite Bolivian groups live and could hardly wait for the next day to get the tickets. So imagine my dismay when we went to get those tickets only to find that Kjarkas had not managed to get flights from Trujillo in time and therefore would not be at the concert that night. I could have cried with disappointment, I was so looking forward to seeing them and hearing their music live. 

After breakfast, once Danielo had gone to school, Alfredo and I set off for town again. Even at that early hour (8 am) it was really hot, brilliant blue skies and sunshine, and we walked the first part to the concert hall, which is where we discovered the bad news about Kjarkas being unable to reach Cusco in time for that evening. Although feeling so disappointed, it was impossible to be despondent long in a place like Cusco. We got a taxi into town and first went looking at Inka crafts in the morning and I bought first a pair of gloves and then a charango and managed to knock the price down from 250 to 164 soles, which translated is just over 30 pounds - a very good price to my way of thinking. I did not know how to play it but the seller promised that if I came back the next day he would give me a method to help me learn how to play it. The next item I would be searching for was a nice padded bag of Peruvian textile and design to carry it in. Who knows, maybe one day I would be able to join in for the odd song with my Peruvian musician friends!

Alfredo asked if we could go inside and see the Novotel, which is the restored building that was once the palace of Inka Garsilago de la Vega. This was incredibly beautiful inside and probably cost the earth to stay there but one of the people inside actually gave us a guided tour. I would not have got that except for Alfredo! We then went to see an exposition of bears and took a couple of pictures in there. The Andean bear is especially cute. By 12 noon we were both starving and although Alfredo is a lover of big juicy beefsteaks, he knows that I do not like them and suggested chicken and we went to a place called Super Pollo where we had enormous portions of barbecued chicken marinated in a delicious spicy mixture so delicious that whereas I never normally eat the skin that day I did! This came with fries and we were able to visit the salad bar as much as we liked. We both had two piled plates of salad with various dressings. Alfredo would not let me touch the mayonnaise though as it is dangerous to eat that in Peru. He said many people end up in hospital from eating mayonnaise. The meal was so delicious that he actually complimented the restaurant on it and said he would definitely be back.

Cadets at the Big Event
Cadets at the Big Event

The big event in Cusco that day was the arrival of the president and crowds were gathering all day. When we got outside the street was lined with people and lots of junior soldiers in their uniforms, the youngest lot around 7 or 8 years old on one side of the street, and slightly older ones on the other side, all holding their paper Peruvian flags and awaiting the president. The cute boys were very friendly especially one of them and I asked Alfredo if he would take a picture of me with two or three of them, but when they realised a photo was being taken a whole load of them rushed over and all wanted to be in it! It was really funny. We waited there an hour but still no sign of the president so we decided to go for a beer. By the time we had finished a litre bottle of Cusqueña between us and got outside again it was only to find we had missed the calvacade and the president was in the theatre next to the cathedral, so we found a place to wait and waited ... and waited ... and waited... And in the end poor Alfredo was fed up with waiting. I said that if he wanted to go home, I would just cross the road to the Internet cafe and await him there, so could not come to any grief. He agreed and would be back for me at 4 pm so that we could to watch the procession as the 15 Corpus Christi were carried through the streets on the first part of their return to their various locations. 

I thought I had a good view of the doorway where the president was due to come out and had already asked one of the policemen if I could take a photo to which he agreed. All the police were very friendly. However, at the very last moment he came out a different door and there was a rush to see him and a row of police preventing people getting too close and the one picture I took missed the president and only got the police holding back the crowd. In moments he was in his vehicle and the calvacade moved off with all the police running behind. The amount of police and soldiers all around the plaza was incredible, but necessary to give him the best protection.

The 15 Corpus Christi were carried in a procession around the Plaza and in between each one there were brass marching bands, troops of dancers in different costumes, marching Andean bands, more dancers etc. I took loads of photos and when the film needed changing I found a safe place near a bunch of soldiers to change the film - the risk there being high of having a camera snatched just while taking a picture let alone the process of changing a film. I could not find Alfredo in such massive crowds, which is why I had to take such care. 

Corpus Christi
Corpus Christi

I stayed watching the procession and got photos of most of the Corpus Christi - these being so huge it took between 20 and 24 men to carry each one - but when it started getting dark and I still had not found Alfredo I decided the best thing would be to get a taxi back. Just getting out of the square was a problem in such crowds but luckily I succeeded and found a taxi in the next square before darkness fell. Even during the ride home I felt anxious as I did not recognise the route taken (there was a risk there too of getting into bogus taxis) but when we drove past the arena where Los Kjarkas should have performed on 21 June, I realised we were almost home. When I got to the house and rang the bell there was no one home! Luckily I remembered the cafe around the corner and went there to wait. It was locked but I could see three children inside and when I knocked the door they let me in. I stayed with them for half an hour and had a coca cola and then asked the boy aged about 8 if he would accompany me to the house and he agreed. Luckily this time Alfredo was home and mightily relieved to see I got back without mishap as he had been worried sick when he could not find me. And I rewarded that dear little boy handsomely for being my saviour in that half hour! 

When we got inside I asked Alfredo if he would like me to cook that evening and both pairs of eyes lit up at the prospect. We set off to the supermarket together and I bought enough to make a chicken curry that would last us two days and two litres of Cusqueña - my favourite Peruvian beer - to go with it. Back at the house they decided to help me and Alfredo washed the rice and peeled some potatoes and Danielo opted to stir the pots as he was eager to learn how to make it, whilst I prepared the chicken and other ingredients, all the while having a laugh in the process. When I arrived the previous day we were all feeling really shy with each other but that session in the kitchen certainly broke the ice, especially when Alfredo went to wash the red chillis that I had cut in half and deseeded - next minute he was coughing where they were so hot and in no time all three of us were coughing and laughing at the same time, it was such fun! And they really enjoyed the meal and cleared their plates twice - I love cooking when the results are so appreciated! The next day would be all day fiesta and then Sunday the big day - the Inti Raymi festival in the fortress of Sacsawayman, about 5 km from the centre of Cusco. That would be a spectacle worth seeing - the reason I decided to visit Peru in the first place. I had a poster of it too - Alfredo had asked in one of the offices and they reluctantly handed one over - it was free as well!

We were up early next day and had arranged for Danielo to meet us after school in the Plaza at 11 am. Alfredo and I went first to Lloyd Air Boliviano to reconfirm my ticket for La Paz the following Tuesday and were seated in an excellent position right in the front on some steps to watch the procession by 10 am. We stayed there 8 hours altogether watching the fantastic parade that followed - marching brass bands interspersed with troops of dancers in colourful costumes, all different, fire crackers going off, marching Andean bands, floats depicting stories in history, several re-enactments of Inti Raymi and the most nail-biting one of all being the re-enactment of the murder of Tupac Amaru, - the poor man strung between four horses looked really worried - even though several men were relieving the strain of the ropes - even so, one knows how easily horses can be scared so his alarm was understandable - and it took about two hours to get all around that Plaza, so it must have been a real ordeal for him. 

All during the day we stuffed our faces with all kinds of things on offer from the street sellers selling their wares - we had icecream three times, pots of gelatina (jelly), cake, sweets and best of all Rocoto Relleno four times - three times from the same woman each time she came round - it was really delicious! At 6 pm the procession was still going on but we decided to dash home in a taxi and get back for 7 pm because we had noticed an enormous stage being erected in one corner of the plaza and knew the show called Luz y Sonida (Light and Sound) would commence at 7 pm that night. As well as coming out without bag or camera, I had my sunglasses on and didn't bring my ordinary glasses so as it started getting dark I had a choice of hardly seeing a thing without my glasses or still hardly seeing anything even with them, sunglasses being no use in the dark! We also needed some warmer clothes, as it got colder after sunset. 

We were back by 7 pm and did a bit of shopping first as in the last bit of the taxi ride I saw lots of interesting shops. Poor Alfredo probably did not think he would end up going shopping! In one shop I bought one of the Peruvian knitted hats and when I tried it on Danielo and I nearly collapsed laughing - it looked hilarious with my curly hair stuck out in tufts all around it- even the shop sellers while trying to say it looked good couldn't stop laughing. Once I tucked all my hair in it didn’t look too bad so I bought it anyway. I was looking for a poncho but did not find one I liked and even those that I might have bought were horrendously expensive.

In the plaza an enormous crowd was gathering and eventually was packed tight like sardines and probably half a million people watching. Alfredo and Danielo and I had to hang onto each other like grim death not to lose each other in the crowd. The show was fantastic - I enjoyed the first band best - Pueblo Andino - as the next two bands were more salsa and Peruvian pop music which I am not so keen on. There were dancers with the second band and I especially enjoyed the incredible fireworks display that lasted for almost half an hour which was choreographed to music from loudspeakers at the same time - just like that in Edinburgh last year. We finally got home after midnight after an incredibly exciting day.

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