Monday, 24 October 2016

Cusco – Days 34 to 39

Justin taking a photo of Cusco on our way up the hill

A more relaxed week for us, mainly owing to Jackie’s ill health at the moment that, fingers crossed, appears to be improving. 

For the last couple of weeks she has had one thing after another, culminating now in a nasty cold that has sent her off her food and given her sleepless nights with coughing. Fortunately I sleep like a log and have been little disturbed by it all, I just hope I don’t get it!

Pausing for breath in the thinner air
The Spanish classes have been going pretty well and our heads are stuffed full of adjectives, nouns, regular and irregular verbs and now sentence construction. You can use an ‘a’ between certain verbs, ‘que’ between others and some without anything – wow, it’s just mind blowing!

The shelter on the summit, but we needed one more break!
We have one more week to go, originally we booked three weeks, then extended it to four and have now gone up to five. At the moment we plan to leave here on Saturday 29th October, but we’ve been looking at a flight out of Lima on 4th November, mainly due to costs (Halloween and All Saints day are big things over here and prices go up). If we go for that flight we’ll either go to Nasca or stay here for a few more days. Kathia, the sister of Maribel, who owns the homestay here is throwing a Halloween party on 31st and we’re invited, so we may stay on.

Cusco panorama from the summit
There's the unfinished football stadium with no roof
Justin joined us at the homestay last week, he’s from California and already speaks very good Spanish, having taught himself, so I’m feeling a pretty poor third rate speaker now. Justin can converse with the whole family, Jackie can understand probably 50% and I’m down at about 10%! It’s hard, by the time I’ve recognised a word, processed it in my head, thought up a reply and selected a basic sentence the conversation has moved on. It’s very frustrating!

And there's our homestay, grey building dead centre, by the airport
Our week next week is full on as we want to complete the six week course in five weeks so we have extra lessons booked and won’t finish until six pm (we do only start at noon though!). In anticipation I have been studying hard this weekend, putting in 4 hours today studying verbs and sentence construction. I just hope it pays off!

Brown sheep by the river as we got back down
Cuy and a beer for lunch - yum!
We did one thing yesterday that we’ve been promising ourselves since we arrived here and that is to try the local speciality dish, cuy. Cuy is guinea pig and is served roasted or fried, we were told roasted is best so we went to a recommended restaurant close by that serves only Cuy. There was no menu and we only had to order whole or half, roasted or fried, so we had a whole roasted one between us, served up with boiled potatoes, pasta and rocoto rellenas (a chilli stuffed with mince and veg, all held in place with a good dollop of batter before being fried. We know all about rocoto rellenas as this was what we cooked this week at cookery class on Tuesday), washed down with a local beer. They tell us there is virtually no fat and it’s full of protein, just ideal for Jackie. It was enjoyable and very tasty, not like chicken, much more of a ‘game’ taste, but it was a bit fiddly. You just have to pick it up and gnaw away! Nelly, grandma at the homestay told us we had to be there at one o clock, which we were and had the pick of tables. By 1:45 the place was packed, all with locals, not a white face in sight other than ours!

Spanish arches in the Quoricancha complex
We were nearly late there as I needed exercise and had spied a hill nearby with a shelter on top that promised a great view over Cusco. I’d looked on Google Earth and could see a faint trace of a path to the summit, so plotted it into an app I have on my phone and followed that. Just as I was about to leave Justin was sitting revising his Spanish and I asked if he’d like to join me, which he readily did. We set off about 10:15am, walked from the house into the centre and then up steps to the high statue of Pachacutec that Jackie and I had been to before and then struck off up hill. The summit is at 3600m (about 12,000 feet) and the lower air pressure really took its toll on both of us. Muscles were OK, but we both just needed bigger lungs to suck in more air and had to stop quite often to get our breath back.

A bronze replica of the Inca gold sun idol
We rounded a corner past some very poor shacks for houses and were confronted by a couple of quite fierce barking dogs and, despite us continuing to walk away from them they ran up behind and bit me three times on my legs, only lightly, but enough to cause discomfort and a bit of blood (Maribel’s medicine was duly dished out when we got back). Quickly the owner came by and pulled them away and we carried on up to the summit. Great photos, a good chat on the top and then I realised it was noon and we had a lunch appointment at 1:00pm! We were quickly down, I said goodbye to Justin who was going for a beer in town and I ‘speed walked’ back to the apartment to collect Jackie. I dropped the rucksack and we were off out again, with no shower for me and we were in the restaurant for 1:00pm. I don’t think I smelt!

Remains of an Inca wall and the church to the right
Jackie, nourished by the protein from the Cuy was up for a visit to the Quoricancha church and old Inca temple complex that we still hadn’t visited so we got a taxi into town and did it.

Quoricancha was the centre of the Inca empire (not the Plaza de Armas just up the road that I had mistakenly previously said was) and was their most sacred site. It was ringed with gold on the tops of the walls, on the inside and originally had a giant gold sun in their sacred sun temple. The Spanish destroyed most of the original Inca temples, melted the gold down and built their own very impressive church on the site, using the Inca stonework as foundations.

Inside the Inca outer wall
From the outside some of the original stonework remains and, inside, there are the remains of some temples, one of which is said to be the moon temple. The largest and most sacred sun temple was totally destroyed by the Spanish and the altar of the church now stands on what was the sun temple altar. After an earthquake in 1950, that severely damaged most of the Spanish architecture but left the Inca stonework untouched an archaeological dig took place and today original foundations of the Inca temples can be seen that has allowed them to fully understand the layout of the original complex. It was an interesting visit.

Looking out from the complex over the Avenida del Sol and the mountains beyond
The remains of the moon temple inside the church
Today, after spending four hours studying I went, with Justin and Oscar (Maribel’s brother in law) to a football match at the local Estadio Inca de la Garcilaso de la Vega. It’s a large stadium close to our language school but is still being built. A stadium has been there for fifty (or possibly seventy) years, but is now being enlarged to a capacity of 45,000. At the moment there is no roof or floodlights and reinforcement steel poles protrude from concrete uprights all round. We went to watch a second division match between Cusco and Ica, a town south of Lima and at a much lower altitude. Quite how the players are supposed to adapt is anyone’s guess and the result really underlined that the Cusco team were better able to play in the thin air. The score was 4:0 and could have been 6:0, but it wasn’t just that the Cusco players were acclimatised, they played much better football and the game was very entertaining. It was just a pity the weather wasn’t better, on and off rain throughout the match (and no roof!) and it was jolly cold. Good job I had waterproof trousers and coat and a good few layers on!

The 16th century church altar, standing on the site of the Inca sun temple altar
One of the other Inca temples with aligned windows
Apparently there is another Cusco team that are in the premier league who use the same stadium, the Cusco team we saw played in red and one end of the ground is painted red, the premier Cusco team play in blue and the other end was painted blue. The ground was maybe half full and they were all crowded round the three sides leaving the blue end nearly empty.

So now it’s Sunday evening and we have had the news from the UK that my niece Steph has given birth today to Ivy, a 6lb 1oz healthy baby girl. Congratulations to her and husband Sam, a sister for little Rory. Jackie and I are great aunt and uncles again or, as they say over here Abuela Tia Jackie and Abuelo Tio Brian!
A model of what they believe the original Inca Quoricancha temple looked like

The Spanish plaza inside the complex

What do you do with a load of finely carved Inca stonework? Make nice patterns on a lawn with them and carve into the grass the three Inca symbols, serpent, puma and condor

Outside the complex with a view of the remaining Inca outer wall and the 16th century Spanish church on top

Inside the football stadium

Oscar and Justin with the concrete reinforcing poles in the background

Justin and me just before kick-off

Team line-up. Cusco are in red

This is goal number 1 going in. A bit blurred but I was excited!

This is Maribel's family going on a family party today (they seem to like fancy dress). Maribel is on the right, dressed as cat woman, her two children 11 year old Estoban and 16 year old Alaxandra with boyfriend Amerigo on the left

This is just for interest. We visited a coffee museum earlier in the week with Mary. It shows the quantity of coffee production worldwide. Brazil is number 1 at 45,000 somethings, then Vietnam, Columbia is third and Peru is 10th, but as they say, all of theirs is organic and therefore much better


  1. Can't believe you ate poor gerbils!!
    Get well soon Jackie.

  2. Oh and congratulations to Steph and Sam for making you Great Uncle and Aunty again xxx