Cusco Streets

It can be quite hard to deal with a forced change of plan sometimes, especially when coming to terms with dropping some bits that would have made for some really, really great, albeit very high, cold and difficult riding. As such my morale was quite low on arrival in Cusco. I hadn’t planned to come here again and all I could see initially was the degree to which the place has become defined by tourism relative to previous visits. Having had a few days to settle in, chill out, go through the inevitable mood swings however I’ve decided that I’m glad I did. Thanks to that dose of bronchitis this journey is rapidly becoming defined by street photography rather than riding, and although difficult I’m doing my best to embrace that. I’m fortunate in that the forced alternative has produced some real highlights, such as my time in Ayacucho.

Cusco. Although dominated by tourism the local Quechua culture and festivals survive, and indeed thrive, Cusco being the cultural centre for the region. It was pure luck that I was up and about early to catch this.

From here I have been feeling a little trapped…. I have 5000m passes in almost every direction I would like to ride, the exception being the relatively easy riding around the shores of Titacaca enroute to Bolivia. I’ve been that way before however so unless I really have to I’d like to find some alternatives. I also have a month left on my visa, and Peru being such a special place, I’d prefer not to cross a border until I really have to. With that in mind I plotted a route down to Arequipa. It’s a beautiful city and I have a friend there, it would be great to see the place again. Initially I planned to make use of the northern leg of Mark Watson’sCamino del Puma” route here. It runs very close to the Ubinas volcano, but that exploded yesterday morning and there is now a 15km exclusion zone with villages in the area having been evacuated. So… I’ve plotted a new route from Puno, still mostly dirt, that skirts a little farther north, avoiding the exclusion zone. Would have been a bummer had it erupted while I was camped next door so I’m probably lucky in that respect. There are still a couple of almost-5000m passes and it crosses a very dry area, part of which I crossed while leaving Arequipa two years ago. After more than three weeks off my bike, and still with lungs a bit less than 100%, I’m suffering a significant lack of confidence with respect to fitness in tackling these routes, however the first of the high passes is just 50km or so into the ride so if things start to go south and the cough returns as I climb south I do have the option of turning around and trundling back. Once over that pass however things get a little more committing. I’ll suck it and see.

Why did the Condor cross the road…. ?

Incidentally I met Mark and Hana last year in Cajamarca. Aside from being super people they’re on their way south from Alaska, something like four years in now I think. Having spent more than a year exploring the trails of Peru they’re now in Bolivia. If things go ok I’m hoping I can catch up with them somewhere in western Bolivia in the coming months. That would be ace.

Anyway, here’s some of that street photography.

For many of the Quechua people Spanish / Castellano is a second language. As such a lovely old boy in a suit and fedora explained to me in his very slow and careful Spanish just what this was all about..
Despite some brutal attempts the arrival of Catholicism with the Spanish 500 odd years ago failed to wipe out the animist beliefs extant at the time, instead creating something of a blend of beliefs. Happily. This celebration apparently was one intended to banish negativity. It worked well I thought.
The condor was a sacred bird to the Inca; it was considered the messenger of the heavens and believed to carry the dead to the afterlife on its wings. It is one of three animals, the puma and snake being the other two, that continue to have great spiritual importance.
Sorry, I just love these…
The white masks belong to ‘ukukus’, half-man half-bear mythical beings.
So much colour.
Cusco
Cusco
I love the dude standing to the left with his hands in his pockets…
Cusco
Cusco
There is always dancing.
Cusco
Cusco
Cusco
Cusco
Cusco
Cusco
Cusco
Cusco
Cusco
Cusco
Cusco
Cusco
Cusco
Cusco
Cusco
Cusco being what it is, it is impossible to ignore the tourists, and the contrast in modern day smartphone, social-media driven culture in the context of the ancient Incan capital. I have no doubt that Instagram has something to do with what’s going on here, but just look at that door. Glad I don’t have to give that a lick of paint.
..and here too.. I’d hoped that selfie sticks had had their day, but apparently not.

 

.. and also here.
Cusco
Cusco. Street vendors survive amongst the luxury hotels and tourist restaurants. Most locals seem well humoured but, relative to prior visits, there is evidence of pushback. Much of the Quechua culture and its heritage, whether in terms of ruins, local festivals and so on, exists in a goldfish bowl. It seems that little is gained by a majority of the inhabitants of that goldfish bowl, beyond earning a few soles in return for posing in traditional costume for the tourists. Meanwhile the airlines, hotel and boutique owners, and so on walk away with immense profits. Many of those I suspect will be owned by foreign investors in common with other tourist hotspots around the world. I also realise I’m part of the problem, all I can do is try to remain respectful and tread lightly. Incidentally I have no plans to revisit Machu Picchu or the Sacred Valley – those places are already creaking under the burden of tourism and suffering significant environmental degradation as the infrastructure struggles to cope. Second visits to those sort of places risk ruining the memories of the first time around, so I apologise for that if you were hoping for pictures. I would prefer just to get back to the quiet places in the mountains.
A Cusco postcard, because why not. After days of grey, cold, and at times damp weather, the sun finally came out.

16 thoughts on “Cusco Streets

  • Fantastic pics as ever. Full of colour.
    Do they still have the children selling their finger puppets for “una soles”?

    • cheers! No, no sign of fingerpuppets. It’s all gone upmarket….

      I’m headed Puno tomorrow, just heard there’s ash fall even there, 200km from the volcano… can’t seem to get a break, no idea if I can even get to Arequipa now on my bike, the state of emergency covers a huge area.

  • I think your comment about not going back is insightful. I once revisited a place that was very special to me and was brought almost to tears but its degradation just a few short years later. How terrifying that it’s safest to assume any notable and accessible place will soon be ruined. Long live the wild places eh

    • That’s what I’m afraid of… and from what I read in the news and hear from locals and visitors alike the Sacred Valley is creaking terribly under the weight of tourism that it is ill-equipped to cope with..

      • Yes and having visited the area in 1989 I’ve also added it to the list of ‘don’t go back there’ areas… sadly

        • ah yeah if it was 1989 I think hold on to that memory, and if you did come back things are set to be much worse very soon, they’re building a bloody great international airport at that previously lovely Inca village of Chinchero, just above the Sacred Valley…. the idea being that large wide body airliners will be able to get in there, which they can’t into Cusco….

          https://www.livinginperu.com/why-is-the-chinchero-airport-a-controversial-subject-in-peru/

          • Bloody hell. Disaster. As you say, if a decent share of the money was going to improve the lot of the local people, maybe just maybe it wouldn’t seem as bad, but…

          • yeh, bad… the local indigenous folk have lost all of their land in exchange for $35 million, but with an expected 6 million people a year using it the profits it generates, and that will largely leave the area, will dwarf that sum. Same old same old…. not a lot different to things like fracking at home.. government gives away a concession on public land for a trivial sum, private company walks away with billions, and fucks the environment in the meantime

  • six million visits – each generating a mere $500 in profit over the duration of their stay (it’d no doubt be a multiple of that when you factor in the increasing share of luxury travel visits) is $3bn.

    Nearly all of that will go offshore.

    Buying assets cheaply from indigenous folk is economic Colonialism and utterly immoral.

    • agreed! I stayed with an Aymara family in their little adobe casa on the shore of Titicaca a couple of days ago… a much nicer way to do tourism… a number of the families keep a spare room for travellers that make the effort to head out that way. Eat and spend time with the family for a few $$. The money goes directly into the community and they seem to absolutely love making visitors welcome and sharing their lives. I enjoyed my time there immensely and was sent packing with a bag of food and a big hug. Much better.

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