Friday, June 21, 2013

Peru-Brazil 2013 – Day 5 – Saksaywamán

Happy Birthday Annie! At least that is what I was planning to say when I came out of the shower but, oh surprise, instead of my bodacious babe I saw a giant amoeba wriggling on the floor. It took me but a moment to recover from my surprise and put two and two together: My Honey is a devotee of her morning floor exercises, but the morning was chilly, so she pulled down not only the blanket to cover the floor but also the bedspread to cover her while she twisted and turned. That was certainly not what it looked like from the outside!

After a good laugh we had a typical American breakfast, with the cutest tiny pancakes. Why is it, Annie pondered, that folks assume that Gringos will only eat pancakes? Why don’t we get a Peruvian breakfast? I had to bite my lip not to start laughing, but took the opportunity to interrogate our waitress about the identity of the old lady who sat in the living room when we arrived last night. I was curious because when we came in she confused me with someone else. She turned out to be the great-grandmother of the family, and had just turned 99 years old on June 5. Admirable as getting to such venerable age is, it pales in comparison to the fact that she moves around pretty well with the help of her cane, and she climbs up every evening the six flights of steps to the family apartment in the fourth floor! I tried to start a conversation, but I suspect she is pretty hard of hearing and I only got a non-committal grunt for my efforts.

About 9 am sharp met with Alma and Tom to head out to downtown Cusco. We took the bus, as usual, but after we went half of the way the bus went down we had to troop down (I did get a 40% refund on the fare). So we took a second bus and, much to our surprise, found that this time the assistant was a girl! I have never in my life seen a girl do this job, but she was on the ball and kept the chanting going pretty well. In fact, after 20 minutes we started finding she did her job a bit too well. Her sing song about where the bus was headed, and as to whether there were passengers getting down at this stop or not got a little annoying. We finally concluded that the driver must be her father and that he must be very proud to have his girl break the glass ceiling.

Once in Cusco we slowly crossed to the start of the hill where sits Saksaywamán, the Inca ceremonial center that was the heart of the Inca empire. We are starting from about 3,200 m above mean sea level (amsl) near the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, and will be climbing to 3,700 m amsl to the top terrace of Saksaywamán, so we figure it will be a good warm up for the first day in the Inca Trail. I can only say that if our performance here is any indication of anything, the next four days promise to be full of pain and agony. But we are nothing if not stubborn, so we finally made it to the top, and had a good visit of the site.

Saksaywamán (some irreverent people suggest that phonetically it sounds like “Sexy Woman” with the accent shifted to the last syllable) was basically a very large public space, where the Inca could hold gatherings great and small. There are at least three major plazas, and in the largest of them will take the Inti Raymi celebration next Monday, June 24. The celebration should be celebrated today, June 21, because it is meant to be the adoration of the Sun in the summer solstice. Wiser heads have decreed, however, that it makes for a better celebration (and better cash flow for Cusco), to host all the visiting delegations for the weekend and then have the Inti Raymi as the grand finale on a Monday, after which everyone goes home.

But I divagate. Saksaywamán is famous for its three parallel rows of zig-zag walls, which some fancy look like the fangs of a jaguar. The walls are truly impressive, and are a fine example of the monumental stone work done by the Andean cultures, where one block weighing hundreds of pounds is exquisitely fitted onto another similarly large block, without mortar, so you cannot insert the blade of a knife between them. About the walls looking like the jaws of a jaguar I simply don’t see it. I went to Google Earth, looked at the site, and remain unconvinced. By all means, try it, don’t take my word for it. Search for “Saksaywaman, Cusco Region, Peru” and you too can look at the zig zag walls, the grand “L”-shaped plaza where Inti Raymi will be held, and the circular plaza to the north, where the Inca used to sit (to count his llamas?).

Hunger made us quit this fabulous site, and we headed down a steep path to look for a good place to it. On the way we found a señora selling choclo (steamed corn on the cob), and that helped to quench our hunger, but since it was Annie’s birthday we all agreed that it was time to treat her to real meal in a real restaurant. We did find one who fit the bill, and we all had a great lunch. Annie has a monster salad, followed by the potato dumplings filled with picadillo that she likes so well, Alma had shrimp grilled on a hot stone and surrounded by several tasty sauces, and Tom and I had sautéed alpaca morsels served on a bed of something that looked like polenta. It all looked oh, so posh, and Annie had a good time. As a present she got from me a charm of the Inca cross as a memory of this trip. How can you go wrong celebrating your birthday on a unique city, of a fabulous country, in a continent you are visiting for the first time!

It turns out that we still had a bit of preparations to do for our 4-day trek to Machu-Picchu, so we came back to the hotel, used Skype to call Alma’s bank to make sure her card was cleared and its limit raised, and met again with our contact with the trekking company. He told us that they would be able to provide one porter for every two people for an additional U$ 120, so Annie and Tom took advantage of the opportunity. I declined in my name and that of Margarita (you are welcome Tita), which got me a serious look from the rep and a scalding suggestion that “Since you are fat you may want to consider getting a porter at least for day two.” Fat! Me! I am deeply hurt.

So this is it for the next four to six days. I will take notes for as long as the battery of my computer holds, but it will take me some time to organize them in the form of coherent stories, so it may not be until we arrive in Iquitos that you will get further news of our travels.

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