After blogging yesterday, the altitude sickness hit me full force. I had every symptom in the book, including the very rare loss of appetite and the sadly not rare insomnia. The fumes on the street were making me sick, which makes sense if you´re not getting enough oxygen. Walking uphill to our room, after watching Allan eat dinner, was rough.
Yet, after a completely sleepless night, I somehow felt much better in the morning - not 100% but vastly improved. We had a very full day today, and tomorrow we´re off for Machu Picchu, so I want to get this all down tonight.
This morning we had a full healthy breakfast at the hotel, and that was the last thing I wanted to eat for the whole day. (Can I get this altitude sickness stuff to go?) After discussing how to arrange our travel for the next few days, we opted, at the spur of the moment, to pop into one of the many travel agencies lining the Plaza de Armas. These days we´re often falling somewhere between doing everything in advance before the trip, and doing everything the cheapest but most time-consuming way ourselves. So now the transportation for the next few days - taxis, trains, buses - and admission tickets are all arranged, and the agency threw in a tour guide for one day at Machu Picchu (apparently they all do that).
Next we visited La Catedral, which is really three churches, on the main plaza. By now the hordes of sellers and beggars are very annoying. Restaurants have hawkers on the sidewalk, kids are approaching you constantly with postcards, watercolour paintings and shoe shines, and saddest of all, elderly women in full Andean costume, with a baby wrapped in a shawl on their backs, are trying to get you to take their picture.
The cathedral is dark and filled with even darker oil paintings. Andean children, orphaned during the Spanish invasion, were sent to Spain (as slaves? I´m not sure), where many of them learned European painting techniques, then brought them back to Peru, painting in Spanish with an Andean accent. The paintings and the church are more interesting than beautiful, although we did again (as in Lima) see people doing restoration work. The goldwork and the carvings are extremely ornate, without any of the grace of, say, the Italian Renaissance. The Cathedral was built on top of an Incan palace, with stones pilfered from another nearby Incan temple. (There are four Incan sites within striking distance of Cuzco. You can take a bus or hire a taxi to see all four in a day, but we decided not to push it with our energy levels so suspect.)
On our way to find some Incan walls, we found an artisan´s market and I bought some jewelry for myself and a gift - sterling silver with turquoise, lapis, mother of pearl and other colourful stones. Eventually we hunted down the Incan stones, which form the foundation of many Cuzco walls. They are enormous stones, fit together with incredibly exacting precision, with no mortar between them. They have survived earthquakes without moving a centimetre, while the European-built upper walls have crumbled repeatedly.
There are a few very famous Incan stones, with complicated polyagonal shapes, all fit together with the same precision. The most famous in Cuzco is a twelve-sided stone, weighing 6 tons. It´s astounding workmanship, although I´ve read it pales in comparison to some we´ll see in Machu Picchu. On the narrow street where the 12-sided stone is found, groups of kids and elderly women gather to try to give you a history lesson in return for some change.
There are several museums in Cuzco which didn´t appeal to us, including Museo Del Inquisicion. Cuzco was the centre of The Inquisition in the New World. I´ll pass. We went to the Museo del Inka, which houses artifacts from all the pre-Incan Peruvian cultures - some of which we´ll see more of later on this trip - and some that I had never heard of, even in my Ancient Civs research. After the early exhibits, there are Incan artifacts of all types, then the story of the Invasion, to the present day. It´s a nice museum, although we would have enjoyed it more with an English guide or English written material.
After this we were exhausted, although from altitude, hill-climbing or advanced age, I don´t know. We had some te con miel et lima and yogurt and fruit, which I could barely eat. Fruit that requires peeling - as opposed to washing - is safe to eat, and gives us a rare opportunity to eat something other than meat and potatoes. So papaya, pineapple, tangerines and bananas are making us happy, and I can ask for no apples or strawberries and be understood.
After our tea we were still exhausted, but we also had one more thing on our list to see, a church the guidebook said had amazing woodwork. Allan found it for us, and I must say he has really stepped up as planner while I´m reeling from altitude sickness. So we wanted to see the Iglesia San Blas, but it was uphill - way, way uphill and we couldn´t cope. Solution: taxis. Every vehicle on Cuzco´s streets is either a taxi or a colectivo van, and I am not exaggerating; people here obviously do not own cars, and all the tourists take taxis. You walk onto the sidewalk, stick out your arm, and a taxi pulls over (much like the car services in our old NYC neighbourhood!). The drivers are all Andean men. You ask how much in advance, and they ask for so little I would never dream of bargaining. We took a cab to the church, a cab back to the Plaza de Armas, where we picked up our train tickets, then a cab back to the room (nearby but uphill); all three trips combined cost less than $3.00 US.
To the church, we drove up impossibly steep hills, on impossibly narrow streets, some so narrow we thought they were pedestrian-only. The Church of San Blas is a small, simple adobe building with an ornate gold altar and the most elaborately carved pulpit you can possibly imagine. Ornate and detailed really doesn´t begin to describe it. I can´t say I found it beautiful, but I did find it amazing. The church also has a crucifix with a very dark-skinned Jesus, and some dark-skinned saints.
So, tomorrow I will see Machu Picchu, which I have wanted to see for about 30 years. No matter how high my expectations, I know I will not be disappointed. In my experience, nothing ever compares to being there. Our train leaves at 6:00 a.m., so hasta luega!
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A note to the commenter who asked about "without ice". Your vocabulary is correct, but this is an idiom. Iced coffee = cafe helado, iced tea = te helado, ice water = agua helado, so water without ice is agua sin helado.
We got email from Ellen The Dogsitter this morning - she and Cody are doing fine. We miss Cody!
Cuzco photos here.