Surprisingly, Andrew nor I (nor my Mom for that matter) really suffered from any serious altitude-sickness during our time in Cusco. That is, until today. For some reason, the 18 hour bus ride from Cusco to Ica took both of us down. And we went down hard. The bus ride wasn’t nearly as miserable as it sounds. I mean, it wasn’t in Mozambique juggling babies and live chickens, waiting for the mud to dry so our bus could get towed out of the ditch it was stuck in on the side of the road… So, despite our big reclining seats, personal televisions, and even some weak wi-fi signals at times, we just weren’t feeling so well. I told myself I would study Spanish, but I wasn’t feeling up to doing anything other than sleeping or watching really terrible movies dubbed in Spanish… which is kinda like studying. At least the view (and this is when we were stopped in traffic for 45 minutes) was beautiful for most of the ride!
You know what’s awesome? Walking into a new city, or making a new friend, or visiting a creative space and being completely swept off your feet inspired. Which is a little like being swept off your feet in love for the creative types. At least, for me it is. Anyway, I was certainly swept off my feet when we stepped into Puna one night on our way home this week. Not only was I immediately nostalgic for all of my art supplies, sewing machines (I have two. I think. In my sister’s room and/or somewhere in my mother’s house…) and a permanent space to be creative, but I also wanted to stay in Puna forever. Or buy everything I loved so I could at least take it with me. Instead, I asked the two wonderfully sweet girls working if I could return the next afternoon to photograph the space and perhaps learn more about what fueled something so creative and contemporary in a city that seemed to (rightfully so) embrace it’s traditional culture(s). Fortunately, Berenice and Stephanie excitedly agreed and when I returned the next afternoon, I was not only lucky enough to have the store mostly to myself, but to meet local artist, Jorge Flores as well! In the end I wanted to take the store and all three of them with me. Instead, I settled on some pictures, a “day in a minute” and in the end a print that I simply couldn’t live without.
When I returned to Puna, Berenice Diaz, the manager (below on the right) explained the objective of the gallery while Stephanie Guerra (below on the left) patiently helped translate when I didn’t understand. With only a few days of formal Spanish lessons under my belt, I was surprised I could follow along as well as I could, but there were some gaps that I was grateful to Stephanie for filling in the blanks for me. (Muchas gracias, Berenice y Stephanie!)
Practically everywhere else in Cusco (and from what I noticed in Peru) embraces traditional arts, especially the beautiful weaving so much so that it was almost a surprise to see a place with such modern and contemporary art on display. Berenice explained that Puna’s objective was to be a gallery and a store. While some stores (especially of this kind of variety- in my own opinion) look down on visitors wandering through simply to look, and not buy… Puna welcomes the chance to simply inform others- especially visitors to Peru of Peruvian art. I can’t emphasize enough how warm and friendly both Berenice and Stephanie were, and how grateful they seemed at my interest in Puna! I’m not the only one who thinks so highly if this little burst of contemporary culture in Cusco either. Trip Advisor has nothing but wonderful things to say, and to rate a “store” so highly has to say something, right? Right. I will say that most items fall outside of the typical backpacker budget, but if you can’t live without a piece, then the price doesn’t really matter. At least, that’s what I tell myself when I linger in front of an editioned prints with a price tag over $100.
Puna is modern art (and style) that meets traditional Peruvian culture. Currently 150-200 Peruvian artists have work on display and for sale in Puna. Traditional woven styles have been integrated into purses and even little clutches that I wanted so badly it hurt. Instead of wool llama ornaments, chic leather llama keychains were for sale. And the artwork, oh, the artwork. Where does one even begin? I’ll let the pictures -of beautiful pictures- speak for themselves.
Before I had met Jorge, I fell in love with another Peruvian artist’s work, Fito Espinosa. You can see some of his illustrations in the picture directly above. One print (not above) in particular plagued my mind for the next few days. I would have purchased it immediately had it not been for my backpacker budget. Andrew kept trying to talk me into getting it, and of course, the night I make up my mind to get it, we arrived to the store after it had closed. Good thing Andrew loves me so much because during our break from class the next (and our last) day, he ran across town to pick up the print for me! No easy feat in a city that is 11,200 ft above sea level.
Who is this Jorge (above) you might be wondering? Just another fantastic Peruvian artist who happened to stop by Puna to drop of some new work. It’s his work Berenice and I are talking about in the “day in a minute” above. And just like Berenice and Stephanie, he was so sweet and so talented that I felt so torn not taking some of his art home with me. (To make up for it, I’ve promised myself as soon as I’m gainfully employed again, I’ll be messaging Puna for several pieces of art, jewelry, a clutch or two…) Jorge is such a perfect example of a Peruvian contemporary artist who is absolutely unafraid of tapping into his cultural heritage yet making a statement with modern issues. He was dropping off some framed pieces of TEN, an installation of a grid of old Peruvian bank notes with different words painted over them. The individual pieces were striking, but seeing the photo of the installation on his website makes me want several pieces to have a small grid of my own!
You might hear him say “It’s my lucky day!” at the end of the “day in a minute” but I couldn’t express enough to him, Berenice, or Stephanie that it was my lucky day to be able to meet and talk to them all!
The San Blas Artisans surround the Church of San Blas, creating a neighborhood that is also known as the District of the Artists. These artists, and the families of these artists are Olave, Merida, Aguayo, Aguilar, Alvarez, Segovia, Saloma, and I’m sure there are a few more. We were told if a door was open, or in some cases unlocked, we were free to walk in and look at the art. We checked out Merida’s work by simply wandering in what felt like a private courtyard. Later, we were able to check out Mendivil’s long-neck pieces by sneaking down a long covered corridor leading to a couple of courtyards, some artisans working, a museum, and even a shop to take a few pieces home if you were interested.
Edilberto Mérida’s daughter actually greeted us when we peeked our heads into the courtyard wondering what there was to see. She warmly ushered us in and grabbed a set of keys to open up a museum/show room. The huge statue (above) in the courtyard, is a perfect example of his work. All of the ceramic pieces were incredibly expressive and included a lot of religious work- Jesus on the cross, and various nativity scenes seemed to be his favorites. I couldn’t get over how lovely his daughter was, although when she explained how easy it would be to ship any items home I became a little more understanding. Regardless, the museum/showroom entrance was (is) free with the minor exception of a small donation that we were told would go to a local charity. If you’re interested in visiting, Mérida’s work can be found at Carmen Alto 133, San Blas, Cusco (Phone: 084/221-714)
Hilario Mendívil is arguably the most famous of the San Blas Artisans. I found his long-neck sculptures really interesting especially given that the long-neck tribes (Kayan Lahwi) are typically from/in Thailand and Burma, not exactly close to Peru… I couldn’t figure out what inspired his long-neck sculptures until I researched it online and found a great description on Fodor’s here. According to the description, Legend has it that Mendívil saw llamas parading in the Corpus Christi procession as a child and later infused this image into his religious art, depicting all his figures with long, llama-like necks.
There’s a small gallery/museum and a shop selling Mendívil-style work- I’m guessing his descendants were the ones working in the adjacent studio.
If you’re interested in visiting, Mendívil’s work can be found at Plazoleta San Blas 634,San Blas, Cusco (Phone: 084/240-527)
Oh how I wasn’t looking forward to climbing this steep hill (in a high altitude city) to study Spanish everyday… But, we decided San Blas Spanish School was our best bet for our first round of intensive Spanish lessons, even if it did mean a hike across town before school started. I thought it might be fun for today’s “day in a minute” to film the walk! Also I don’t yet know how to say “I have a blog and I make a short video for each day of our trip around the world! Want to be in it?!” en español. I didn’t think a teacher would be so inclined for some video action first thing on a Monday morning either. Despite the rain, we made it to class on time and found ourselves in separate cozy classrooms (given that I’m a beginner and Andrew is intermediate) for four hours of the morning. While Andrew had four other students in his class, I only had one classmate and a very sweet Peruvian woman for a teacher! I usually enjoy language lessons, but today’s lesson flew by faster than usual (especially given that it was four hours long)! When classes were over for the day, I was really satisfied and looking forward to the week of learning some more español!
This is what happens when you move to a new hotel, and you discover that it too, doesn’t have decent wi-fi. You decide to go back to Starbucks and continue planning the last month of your trip and uploading a few more photos. (At least the new hotel does have hot water, a great breakfast, and a nicer room!)
We had big plans for the day. We were going to finish the Cusco Free Walking Tour, we were going to check out a field where you could frolick and play with llamas, and probably something else really fun and outdoorsy- and then en route to get a coffee before we met the walking tour where we left off, it started to rain. And it kept raining. So forgive me for another very boring post.
It’s a fact, Jack. I used to loath Starbucks, and then I went around the world and I have had to listen to Andrew complain about tiny cups of coffee that he would down in one sip… or how he asked for “black coffee” and was served coffee with copious amounts of milk and sugar instead… or how he can never find coffee with ice in it anywhere. Usually, Starbucks has a decent wi-fi connection, regardless of what country we’re in… So, off we went in hopes of Andrew having a coffee he was happy with and both of us having an internet connection strong enough so we could finally decide on a Spanish school, upload photos and videos, and possibly book some tickets home. Sometimes I feel bad for posting such a boring “day in a minute” and then I remind myself that the purpose of this blog is not to fool you into thinking that travel is awesome all the time. Because, as I’ve said before… it’s not always awesome, it’s not always super exciting, and sometimes it can be pretty boring -for you. For us, an afternoon of good coffee and an internet connection that doesn’t tempt me to throw my computer out the window is super exciting.
Full disclosure: my mission for this day was to not leave our hotel room. And then late in the afternoon, I failed said mission… But only to go grab a pizza for dinner. Instead of forcing you to endure a boring post, including a video of us watching… videos… I’m cheating a bit and posting some video and super fun pictures from a parade that we stumbled upon a few nights ago. Because, really, it’s way more interesting. And if you’re a fan of drum-lines (like I TOTALLY AM) you might appreciate this parade because it seemed to be made up of drum-lines and dancers and it was awesome. We have no idea what it was for, but it was fun, and I can only hope we stumble upon another parade like this one before we leave!
Now, as for Day 373 and what we actually did, well, it was a whole lot of:
and it was awesome.
Somehow the Free Walking Tour Cusco escaped us! We didn’t know there was such a thing until we saw a flyer for it in the Choco Museo the day before. Given that we usually love free walking tours, and do them often, we figured we had to take Mom on one. Even though we had to cut it short to get to the airport in time, and it might have been more useful to have gone on at the beginning of our time in Cusco… it was probably the perfect ending to Mom’s tour of Peru! The tour wasn’t our absolute favorite (kudos, Andre in Brasov, that title still belongs to you!) but it was nice and it included free food (ok, a tasting), sunscreen, a lot of information, and even some sunscreen before the tour began!
We actually had been almost everywhere that the Free Walking Tour Cusco took us, we just didn’t know everything about the streets, or the restaurants, or the Incan architecture we were standing in front of. It was nice to get a little bit more information and to hear a different perspective about Cusco through our guide. Although, I have to admit, this was the first time where I was a little overwhelmed by our guide’s energy. At times, I wanted to tell him to take a deep breath, but overall I think everyone will agree that too much enthusiasm is better than too little, right?
From where we were staying in Cusco, in the Barrio San Blas, we would take the same route to and from the main square, Plaza de Armas. Part of the tour covered this route, and the area around where we were staying. Our guide equated the neighborhood to Greece, because of the white walls and blue doorways and shutters. I had to chuckle a little at his comparison, ok maaaybe a little, but it doesn’t feel like Greece just because of a few white walls and blue shutters- at least not to me. It is a charming neighborhood, and quiet too! I was glad to hear about the artisans who lived in the area and made note of our guide’s suggestion to duck into one of the open corridors to see what kind of art and handicrafts were being made. We climbed up the hill, and took in this beautiful view of Cusco before we ducked out to head to the airport to drop Mom off. Luckily, Andrew is used to me getting emotional over goodbyes, and held my hand in the taxi back into town as I tried not to cry, knowing I would see her and so many more in just a couple of months!
Momma’s last full day in Peru! We’ve been moving so fast through Peru, that we were content with wandering around the city of Cusco and seeing what we could find. We hadn’t heard very good things about the Inca Museum(s) so instead we headed towards one of the higher rated museums first, The Center for Traditional Textiles, walking past Quirikancha, once the most important temple in the Incan Empire, and then through the many squares of Cusco, ending up at the Chocolate Museum.
Quirikancha was once the most important temple and the center of the Inca Empire. Once upon a time it was covered in gold, as it was dedicated to the Sun God, Inti. That is, until the Spanish came along and demanded a ransom in place of the Inca Atahualpa, and the temple was stripped of all of its gold. Juan Pizarro, one of Francisco Pizarro’s brothers received Quirikancha and before he died, donated it to the Dominican Order of priests. Eventually, the church that you see behind (or rather, inside the walls of the former Temple of the Sun) the Incan foundation was built.
However, our first stop of the day was the Center for Traditional Textiles, a free museum with rather beautiful displays of the intricate weaving that is so common throughout Peru. I was a little hesitant, but Andrew assured us that it was one of the highest rated museums in Cusco… and Mom had just finished her first course in weaving, so we pretty much had to go.
My favorite part of the museum were the live demonstrations and the half finished weavings that were tied off. After our visit, I noticed that these half woven pieces used as wall hangings instead of scarves or blankets or even wraps were quite popular around Cusco. Again, if I knew exactly how many walls I was returning to, I would have bought them all up! I thought they made such beautiful art pieces, especially knowing that they were preserving a traditional culture that is being quickly replaced by low cost imported string and machinery. The Center for Traditional Textiles is right down the street from Quirikancha, and the Convent of Santo Domingo.
What’s somewhat unbelievable is that the Incan walls were kept entirely intact and the church was built in between the walls of the Incan temple. Above you can see the courtyard, but throughout the building were different Incan rooms that were still free standing with dirt floors and nothing inside. Technically we weren’t supposed to take pictures, but I saw many people freely taking photographs out in the courtyard. I’m not sure why there was a no photo rule- maybe for the interior rooms that held loads and loads of religious art? Either way, it was interesting to walk through, but it made me feel a little uncomfortable wondering how the Incans must have felt back in the day when their most important temple was handed over to an entirely different religion, one that built a gigantic church and monastery around walls that once used to be covered in gold.
The above picture was to show how Quirikancha was at the center of the Incan universe. How other temples in the empire all led to Quirikancha. The picture below illustrates how the Incas looked at the stars. While we look at the stars, and the constellations by connecting the stars together, the Incans looked at the pictures made in the dark spots or shadows in between the stars.
Outside of not only Quirikancha, but throughout the streets of Cusco, women in traditional dress walked around tethered to a grown llama or holding a baby lamb. Often, they would put the lamb in your arms, encouraging you to take a photo, for which you would have to pay for after. I didn’t need a photo of myself with a baby lamb, so I would always get really excited and pet the lamb (simultaneously empathizing for it) until they would realize I wasn’t going to pose for a picture with it.
After The Choco Museo (which was an informative, albeit glorified shop) we wandered around, fed the birds, and coerced Mom into one last drink before her last day began in the morning.
Another day… after another overnight bus. Turns out trains in Peru are crazy expensive. As an alternative, we’ve started booking the “luxury” seats on the buses. We boarded and were totally thrown by the big lazy-boy style seats with individual screens and a selection of recent movies on tap. And then we realized the sound didn’t work. Our flight (er, bus?) attendant didn’t seem to care. We slept. Mostly. And then we were whisked away to bed in Cusco at five in the morning. A couple of cold showers later and we were walking around town. Friends and family have raved about Cusco. I can see why. It’s charming and full of Incan architecture, women dressed up in traditional clothes walking through the streets with baby lambs and llamas, and even an…”INCA!” The little girl below was SO excited to see the Inca that she not only screamed, but ran up to him and wrapped her arms around him. It was like a little girl back home seeing Santa for the first time. In a word, it was adorable. I couldn’t resist turning around to try to get a picture of it.
Our plan for the day was quite simply to walk around. We even paused outside of the Inca Museum debating if we wanted to go inside, until we reminded ourselves we hadn’t planned on doing anything other than walk around the town, acclimate ourselves to the altitude, and take it easy before we made our way to Machu Picchu.
Andrew and I are positive we could have saved a lot of money on this trip had we brought along a tent. However, I’m not so sure I would have been able to sleep so soundly atop a tuk-tuk in the middle of a busy afternoon in Cusco!
I barely remember taking this shot of Momma in the market. I think I shot it from the hip as we were walking through, but boy am I glad I took it. I really love it. What you can’t see is that she’s looking out of one of the doorways of the market (which lit her perfectly) to the street surrounding. I don’t know what she’s looking at, but I love that I caught her observing Cusco while so many people are going about their business around her.
I could not get enough of the colorful clothing. If I didn’t have enough to hang up on walls I don’t have, I would have gotten one of these beautiful dresses just to hang up! They really are works of art! (I’m also still kicking myself for not getting an embroidered hat in Cabanaconde a few days ago. Again, just to hang up on my wall as art. I should have known better to pass it up when I did…
While we were waiting on Momma to buy something (again) I couldn’t take my eyes off of this nun. She didn’t move from this position, maybe didn’t even look at something else the entire time we were waiting. I wondered what was on her mind and shot this picture from the hip as well, probably talking to Mom at the same time about what color tablecloth or blanket she should get.
And then, a little dress-up action happened.
We were on our way back to our hotel when Mom got tricked into going into a shop along the way. While she was trying to decide what color or what size or what to get in general, one of the shopkeepers dragged me and Andrew in and proceeded to play dress up. And then for good measure, stuck a giant penis in Andrew’s hand that he seemed to grow quite fond of. (I mean seriously, why is it in every picture?) Putting these pictures on the blog is likely to lead to me receiving an email from my Mom. “I can’t believe you posted those pictures!” Well, believe it Momma! I did! And don’t tell me to take them down, because chances are I won’t have any internet to do so later! (Love you!)