Today was my most tourist day so far. I deliberately spent the morning being mostly lazy. I even browsed in many of the tourist traps shops in this neighborhood! In the name of neighborhood pride, though, I did go visit the Iglesia de San Blas, for which the area is named. Its a great little church and they even had an English audio guide that I could follow along with. It turns out to be the oldest church in Cusco, built in 1569, and was also the Popes favorite when he visitied Cusco back when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger. There were a lot of need things there, including an indian Christ on a crucifix with bendable limbs so that they can take him down and parade him around in a giant urn (a la the mummies of Inca kings) during an annual festival, a painting of Mary with coca leaves strewn at her feet, and a carved wooden altar with a skull at the top that is rumored to be from the artist who carved it. Once again bad news for Protestants, as the whole latar was supported on the backs of carved figures of Luther and other Reformation heretics.
In the afternoon I went on my tour, on a bus with 30 or so nice foreigners (50% Spaniards I think, some Germans, a French couple and a smattering of Americans) and our guide Carlos and his flag so that we could keep track of him. The tour went to one site in Cusco, and then headed up in to the hills for a series of four progressively higher Inca ruins.
The first of these was Saqsaywaman, which is pronounced like sack-say-wah-man, but in foriegner speak often ends up coming out “Sexy Woman”. (Shame on all you salacious minds who thought something else- Abbey is the only sexy woman for me). Its on a hill overlooking Cusco and in fact was a key strategic point that the Spanish lost hold of and were nearly annihilated as a result during an uprising after their conquest. Even though only 20% of it remains, that 20% was plenty impressive.
We next went to Qénqo (which doesnt sound like anything amusing), which was a site devoted to astronomical observation and possibly mummification. Seeing the moon in the sky over the stones, and the large stone obelisk that creates a shadow in pre-arranged niches on the walls throughout the year got me all goosebumpy. It really wasn´t out of the question that I might grab a bone and start bashing it while howling, a la 2001.
Fortunately, I instead continued on to Pukapukara, which was a hill station that was one of the relays with shich Inca runners could bring messages (and seafood) from the coast to the mountains in a matter of days. And then we ended up at sunset at Tambomachay, at a whopping 3,765 meters (I hear thats roughly 11,200 feet to you and me). Springs are channeled through stone walls there, part of rites that used to be performed for the departed Inca emporers, with their mummies in attendance. We were advised to splash the water on our faces as it would keep us looking youthful forever, but not to drink it, since we might get diarrahea. Seems like theres always a side effect…
After that the bus wound up at a textile “factory” aka big tourist store, part of the commerical pitch that always gets included somewhere in these package tours. I remember this from Asia too! This was after having guest vendors board the bus between each stop selling their special wares. You have to admire the tenacity of their approach.
So that was my day as an official tourist. Tomorrow Im catching a morning flight to Puerto Maldonado, which is in the jungle near the Bolivian border. From there I´m on a four day jungle tour. I think of this as the downhill portion of my trip, both literally since Illl be back down at a nicely handleable 500 feet, and because all the big long haul extreme legs are over now. Not sure when Ill be able to write again. Well be staying at a lodge, which may have Internet, but then again its in the freaking jungle, so it may not. If now, you´ll hear from me next when Im back in Lima on Friday for the very last leg of the trip. Ill write when I can!