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Cuzco & Farewell to Peru!

sunny 70 °F

After hiking through the Colca Canyon and climbing Machu Picchu, I was ready for a nice, relaxing walk through a modern city. Unfortunately in Cuzco, it wasn't going to be that easy.

Here are a series of interactions between me and the local street walkers:

Vendor holding open a portfolio: "Painting? My work! 1 sol! Free to look!"
Me: "You are very talented, but no thank-you."

School age boy: "Postcard? 3 for 1!"
Me: "No thank-you."

Older woman: "Blanket? Alpaca wool, very soft!"
Me: "No thanks."

5 year-old boy: "Cigarettes? Cigarettes?"
Me: "No."

Young woman: "Massage?"
Me: [Stares blankly past girl in attempt to ignore.]

Older woman: "You want bowls?" [clacks bowls together loudly in an attempt to catch my attention]
Me: [Scowl and shoot a dirty look.]

5 year-old boy's friend: "Shine shoes?"
Me: "Don't think of touching me with that nasty brush."

Woman in traditional get-up: "Picture? Picture?" [offers baby alpaca]
Me: D*mnit! NO! ARRRRGGHH! [Punches lady. Punches alpaca.]

Repeat each of the above 100 times. Cuzco is a beautiful city filled with many churches and pretty parks. However, it also filled with obnoxious street vendors that incessantly nag you to buy their worthless crap. At first I was polite in refusing, often offering a little smile while saying "No thank-you". It quickly turned to a desire to punch every street vendor in the face after having dirty, cheap souvenirs shoved in your face (saying no didn't always work, especially with the shoe shiners who would try to grab your foot and wipe it with the dingiest brush known to man). I began to feel like a giant $ sign walking around, and every person in the city was out to get their piece.

Not every vendor was an evil, blood-sucking, tourist leech. After politely refusing a man selling paintings (I hadn't reached punching women and children level yet), he showed us to a nice cafe to get brunch. One little boy sat down next to me on a bench after I refused to buy some cigarettes to practice his English and look at the pictures in my guidebook (his English phrases were "Washington is the capital", "Barack Obama is the president", "I am 7 years old", "give me money since you are a tourist"). Anyways, here is a picture of us eating breakfast.

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Cuzco really is a pretty city. Houses climb the hills creating a nice backdrop. Buildings had a Spanish feel with white exteriors and red tile roofs. Fountains were in the middle of parks, often decorated with colorful displays or ornate statues. Churches were everywhere (4 in one corner of the main square alone)!

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The cathedral sits just off the main square in Cuzco. There are also churches on either side of it. At some point after the cathedral was build, the Jesuits came in and decided to build the most grand church in Peru. The bishop thought that nothing should be more grand than the cathedral, and petitioned to have the church's building plan revised. The issue escalated all the way to the pope, who sided with the bishop. However, the Jesuits church, Iglesia La Compañía de Jesús, was already completed. Megan and I looked inside, and the entire area behind the alter was covered in gold. I'd say the Jesuits accomplished their goal. The first couple pictures are of me in front of the cathedral (and the two other churches).

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And here are some pictures of the Jesuit church sitting not 50 yards away.

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While standing in between the churches, a mini-parade came through carrying a large cross. I'm not sure what they were doing, but mass didn't start for another hour and a half. They were brave souls to be walking down the middle of the street.

We decided to hike up the hill to see the artistic area of San Blas, which supposedly offered great views of Cuzco.

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After a leisurely 30 minute hike straight uphill, we ran out of road. Megan stopped to get a water, and when she was only charged S/.1, we realized we had wandered out of the tourist area. I walked up a side street to take in the view of Cuzco.

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You can see the belltower of San Blas in the background of that picture, so we backtracked a couple of blocks. Several artists had set up in the courtyard, and we browsed through their paintings (it was nice not being hounded and badgered into buying something). San Blas looked nice, but I didn't quite see why it was such a large attraction (it had its own section in the guidebook).

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We walked back down through the Plaza de Armas and made our way to the other side of Cuzco. We passed by several more churches and convents. I woudn't be surprised if there was more than 20 churches in a mile radius of the main square. I really wanted to go into one of the churches that was completely covered in mirrors on the inside, but the church wasn't open when we went by.

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One thing that intrigued me about clothing stores in Peru is that they often had mannequins out front of their stores modeling their clothes. US stores do the same thing, but the US mannequins are often featureless and a single color. Mannequins in Peru are fully painted and posed, looking like giant Ken and Barbie dolls. One mannequin in particular caught my attention. I don't know what clientele the store was looking to attract, but it must be the mullet-sporting, gold-tooth, overbite plagued redneck market. Just look at the picture (with me doing my best impression, it's a shame you can't see the mullet or overbite).

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Megan and I also took pictures with a baby alpaca, but immediately regretted it once the woman started complaining that S/.2 was not enough for two pictures.

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To end our trip in Peru, Megan and I decided to get a nice dinner. Megan had claimed she was going to eat a guinea pig, but she ended up "chickening out", literally. It was actually a delicious meal. I ended the night with a "Choco Princess".

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We made our way to the airport and prepared to say our farewells to Peru. I had saved some cash so that we could pay our airport taxes. Peru has this absurd policy of charging non-residents a tax for every airport they go through. For the domestic flight from Cuzco to Lima we had to pay $7 a piece. I knew we would have to pay the tax again when we got to Lima (and that it would likely be more expensive since we were leaving the country), so I had a cool $61 in my pocket. We get to the tax gate in Lima when I find out that the departure tax is $33 a person. I went up to the service window and tried to explain that I only had $61 to my name, and that I had no way of getting any more cash (since Peru does not accept credit cards). The woman at the window seemed sympathetic and called her supervisor over. The supervisor turned to me and said, "You can't leave, you are $5 short. Maybe you go beg, it is only $5." ARE YOU KIDDING ME! It's one thing to tell me that I don't have enough money, but you don't have to tell that I need to beg. We went back into the main terminal. My plan was to use my credit card to buy someone's souvenir in the gift shop in return for the cash. We found a nice British woman who gladly gave us $5 (it was a pretty humiliating experience). All the repressed frustration at being treated like an easy source of money while in Cuzco started resurfacing. I paid the $66, and without a cent to my name, made my way to customs. We were ushered to the front of the line and I presented our passports. The customs agent looked at me and asked for my "piece of paper". I had no clue what he was talking about, so I gave him the only paper I had, the crumpled receipt from dinner. He frowned at me and said, "No. Important piece of paper." I started to lose it, I had no clue what this man wanted from me. He kept repeating "important piece of paper" over and over again. Megan pulled out the stub from her customs form we had received 8 days ago, and his eyes lit up. He flipped it over, smugly presented it to me while pointing to the obscure fine print. "Please retain stub." Well, I didn't have it. I threw away the seemingly useless paper that had my name and job description (in my own writing) in the first available trashcan after entering Peru. Just as I was about to go to the back of the room and rip off the stub to a new customs form, he turned to me and said "You no leave." The supervisor came over, and she also tried to get me to read the fine print of Megan's stub. She then informed me a new policy, where $5 could clear me through customs. I absolutely lost it at this point, and I made a scene, full of desk-slapping and foot-stomping fury. I refused to pay another dime (one, because I didn't have any cash, and two, out of principal). As I was making it known to the entire airport that I was now a permanent resident of Peru, Megan ran to the only person waiting to clear customs to "borrow" five more dollars. Once the bribe was paid, I grabbed our passports and made the way to the gate.

Peru was a great country to visit, but thank goodness I could finally head home.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 06:13 Archived in Peru Tagged churches travel_trouble world_heritage_site Comments (0)

Condors and Arequipa

sunny 75 °F

As the adrenaline rush of successfully making it out of the canyon wore off, our sore feet and tired legs made my heart leap as I saw Roberto waiting with the van. I drank a cup of coca tea for breakfast, building up energy for the rest of the trip through the canyon and back into Arequipa. Our first stop was the biggest attraction in the canyon, Cruz del Condor.

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This cross doesn't seem too special, but people don't come to look at Cruz del Condor. They come to the area for the amazing view of the canyon, and to see the largest South America bird in flight. At 8am every morning a family of Andean condors rides the rising air currents, sometimes flying within feet of the spectators (we saw at least 6 different birds flying through the canyon beneath us). Here is Megan with the view in the background, and a picture/video of the condor flying directly over our head (enjoy the quality of the video as it starts half way through, Megan thought she was taking a picture).

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After appreciating the condors for 30 minutes, we set off back towards Chivay. We stopped off at a couple spots along the canyon for Roy to point out some interesting sights. One of these sites featured burial sites in the canyon wall from the time of the Incas and the pre-Incas. These burial sites were literally on the side of the canyon wall, seemingly unreachable by people. The sites were carved out of the cliff face, the body was placed inside, and then sealed in by packing rocks in the opening. They are hard to see, but in the picture below you can see 8 burial sites on the far left sitting on the white rock about 20 feet above the vegetation hill (they look like stacks of pebbles). A much larger and more important site is visible in the center of the picture. You can tell it is important because of its size and because it has been painted red, which over time has stained the rock beneath the site.

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While looking at the burial sites, we also spotted a viscacha (cousin to the Chinchilla that the residents will catch and eat). The viscacha scurried away when we tried to get closer, and Roy noticed a rock sitting on the canyon rim. It turned out to be a very special rock, as it had been carved centuries ago to mimic the landscape of the canyon. The Incas and pre-Incas worshipped 4 primary things: the earth, the mountain, the sun, and the water (especially water flowing from a mountain as this is where the gods lived). Sacred objects often blended several of this spiritual objects together. This rock was likely sacred because it combined the earth and the mountain (since the rock had likely fallen from the mountain and was shaped to resemble the terraced land), and because of its proximity to the burial sites. From this picture you can also see the extensive modifications the Incas and pre-Incas made to the canyon to make it inhabitable and farmable. Terraces extended as far as the eye could see and are still in use today.

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While Roy was climbing back up from the rock, a man passed with his herd of goats and sheep. I had no clue where he was going. I couldn't remember any pathways leading off the road for miles. The reason I took this picture was to document the world's worst herding dog. The man was constantly running around the road keeping the herd together and beating the heinies of stragglers. His dog on the other hand, leisurely strolled up the pathway.

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A little further up the road we came to another small town. This town had a large, beautiful, white church. Roy dropped Megan and I off to explore the area. It was hard to tell how old the church was, but one of the bell towers had 1865 written on it. The inside was decorated much differently than my church back home. There were no windows and the walls were covered with tall wooden structures with pictures and mannequins of saints. The paintings and mannequins were very graphic, Jesus often being blood covered with gaping wounds. Mirrors had been inserted decoratively between the paintings. I later found out that people originally put mirrors in the churches to entice the locals to come into the church.

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We left the town, stopped in Chivay for lunch, and then headed back to the tops of the mountains. At the highest point of 16,000 feet, we stopped to take some pictures. Mounds of stacked rocks surrounded the area (these stacks had sacred meaning because they mimicked the mountain and were often created to bring good fortune to the person who made them). As was the case anywhere a tourist might show up, women sat on the side of the road selling their wares.

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From here we had several hours of driving ahead of us, mostly through the dusty highlands that we had passed through on our first day. 3 days of hiking and waking up at 3 am caught up with our group, as Megan, Roy, and I all took naps.

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As we came back into Arequipa, it was hard not to see the gigantic eyesore on the horizon. A giant concrete plant sat right off the highway. It used the volcanic ash and rock rich land to produce the concrete.

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Arequipa sits directly in the middle of 3 volcanoes, some that have erupted recently (and threaten to erupt again soon). The volcanic rock surrounding Arequipa is white in color, and Arequipa is called the "White City" because these bricks are frequently used in construction of buildings. Now, when I hear "White City", a grand image of a majestic city comes to mind. However, no buildings in Arequipa were very majestic, a large majority seem run down. Nothing was over 2 stories tall, and everything looked old. If I had to name Arequipa based on appearance, it would be something like "Dusty, Gray City with trash littering the road side). I was surprised at the appearance of the second largest city in Peru, it seemed much smaller than I expected (especially for being home to a million people).

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Half of all Peruvians live beneath the poverty level. The average income for a Peruvian is $50 a month. Driving into Arequipa these facts really hit home. The "houses" were basic at best. The buildings did turn a little nicer as we got more into town.

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One thing that did not turn nicer as we came into the city was the traffic! Street lights were infrequent, but I don't think it would have mattered as no one paid attention to them anyways. It was a free-for-all, as drivers flew through blind intersections trusting that a meager horn blast would protect them from a collision. Pedestrians played Frogger as they dodged traffic. I was incredibly thankful that we opted for a private guide instead of renting a car as we originally intended. There was no way I would have survived driving in this city.

We were dropped off at our hostal and made our goodbyes to Roy and Roberto. The hostal was fantastic. It had two open courtyards and everything had a rustic authenticity. It also had hot-ish water for showers!

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I made a quick phone call to my dad to make arrangement to have money wired to me in Cuzco (our destination for tomorrow). After reassuring him that I had not been kidnapped and that he wasn't paying a ransom, he agreed to send the money. Megan and I ventured around Arequipa and looked for a place to eat. We saw a sign that said "salad" on it, and thinking that they may have an English menu, we went in. Well, there was no English menu, and the waitress knew no English. After making several chomping motions with my mouth and repeating "sí" to every question we were asked, the waitress left awkwardly. Eventually a mystery meal was brought out to us. It consisted of some type of fried meat, sitting on top of a bed of lettuce, cucumbers, and broccoli. It was delicious. We spent nearly 2 hours at the restaurant, but not once did another patron come in. This would be a common occurence throughout our stay in Peru, I'm not sure how much Peruvians actually eat out. Someone suggested that everyone eats a big buffet lunch and then only snacks lighty at dinner.

We walked back to the hostal, took showers, and then passed out. We had a 5am flight to the tourist capital of Peru, Cuzco (and eventually up to Machu Picchu).

Posted by Mike.Flynn 06:10 Archived in Peru Tagged mountains churches animals historical world_heritage_site Comments (0)

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