12th – 15th June – Cusco, the old capital of the Inca Empire at 3500m. declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, surrounded by high hills and dominated by the ceremonial centre and fortress of Sacsayhuaman, only a few minutes walk from where we are camping at Quinta Lala, high above the city.
There are spectacular views of the city and surrounding hills as we walk into town, down through steep and narrow, cobbled streets lined with traditional craft stalls and shops.
You are spoilt for choice if choosing beautiful clothes made from alpaca and vicuna, or buying jewellery and silver.
The Centre for Traditional Textiles of Cusco in Avenida del Sol, is a very special place to visit. Established in 1996, its aim is to aid the survival of Andean textile traditions and to provide support for the nine weaving communities that it currently works with. The textiles here are of an excellent quality, the designs, colours, sizes and materials varying according to the region and serving as a symbol of cultural identity and pride. There are often weaving demonstrations inside the shop, which are fascinating to watch.
We discover Cusco to be a very relaxed but incredibly interesting, energetic and colourful city, with so many places to visit, shops to browse and an excellent choice of restaurants and cafes whatever your taste or budget.
The Plaza de Armas is surrounded by fine historical buildings, including the Cathedral and other churches, shops and restaurants. It is the heart of the city where everyone meets and where everything happens.
Whilst we are here, traditional dancing and parades are taking place daily in front of the cathedral, leading up to the big festival of Inti Raymi on 24th June.
The children’s procession and day of dancing is particularly spectacular with so many different and very colourful costumes.
However, there are many different groups to perform, the procession is extremely long, the sun is very hot and so, for very small children, there is a lot of waiting in the streets, which are also completely gridlocked. There are angels sucking lollipops to pacify them, a few are getting tearful or looking bewildered, whilst others are becoming frustrated with their itchy hats and costumes. The older children are more confident and have all the moves to the music down to perfection. And all the while, the mums are fussing over them, re-arranging clothes, straightening hats, cleaning noses and giving encouraging words. Children make such wonderfully natural photos!
We buy tickets (130 sol each) which will cover entrance to a number of places, including many of the Inca ruins, museums and art galleries. We visit the Museo of Arte Contemporaneo…….
…….the Museo Historico Regional……
….and the Museo de Arte Popular with exhibits of sculptures, ceramic, photography and other works of art by renowned contemporary Cusco craftsmen, this latter museum being particularly interesting with so much intricate work.
Our tickets also provide entrance to the Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo, where the daily evening performance, includes typical music and dances of various provinces and communities of the Cusco region. When we come out, we discover the city is still very much alive at night, with groups of musicians and young people dancing in the side streets and in front of the cathedral. Music and dancing seem to be an important part of their lives, along with the beautiful weavings, colourful art work and fantastic pottery. There are many street sellers with all kinds of things to sell, guys carrying their folders of art work, hoping to sell their paintings and more guys wanting to shine your shoes. Two flags are always flying throughout the city – the Peruvian one and the ‘rainbow’ flag of Tuhuantinsuyo, which represents the 4 corners of the Inca empire.
Whilst in Cusco, we get a gas bottle filled by Llama Gas on the outskirts of town and get insurance with Mapfre for our Land Rover. We are always asked to produce this at all the police check points that we are stopped at.
Back at Quinta Lala it is nice to see Karen and Coen (from Holland) once again and meet up with Adam, Emily and little Colette, only two and a half years but very independent – all having travelled south from California.
We visit the Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman, where the remains and foundations of a colossal structure formed by three-tiered defense walls, have survived past battles, earthquakes and the passage of time.
Because of its very steep approach from the city, it only needed defensive walls on one side and these enormous stones, some oof which weigh many tons, fit together in a zigzag design with razor-sharp, mortar-less precision.
At night, the city never fails to impress, spread out below us like a mass of twinkling fairy lights.