The Spirit Is Willing, But The Flesh Is Weak

Wandering through a graveyard, a sudden dizzy spell hit me. Was it the spirits of the place come to haunt me, or something else?

The Cemetery

We were in Cusco, Peru and I was struggling. We’d started the day off visiting with a shaman in the hotel basement, and now we were visiting the Almudena Cemetery.

This was not your typical cemetery with acres of land parceled out for gravesites, and a sea of manicured grass with headstones for boat masts.  It was more vault style, a hotel for the dead. Blocks of graves up to nine high populated a city of those who have gone before. But it was not a sad, morbid place; it was a place to celebrate the lives, memories, and characteristics of loved ones who have passed on.


I could not take pictures – my wife has a thing about death and forbade me. If you’re curious, chrisincusco has done a tasteful photo essay over on her site.

As you can see, rather than a simple headstone each coffin’s vault has a niche is in front, which allows the family to decorate with symbols representing that person’s life. Strangely enough, these vaults are rented; stop making payments and the coffin gets evicted. You thought your landlord was tough.

Funerals also take a departure from what we’d call normal. After the rites (probably Catholic, which 80% of Peruvians are), a procession takes place. Depending on the wealth of the family, this includes family, friends, neighbors, marching bands, and a “priest” that may not be ordained and may not know the deceased but still offers prayers and vouches for their character. On anniversaries of a loved one’s death family will visit the gravesite and celebrate their life.

While I wasn’t dying, I was woozy. This might have been from having my digestion screwed up for the last three days. It might have been from the pain of my freshly herniated disk. It may have been the bump in altitude from the 9,000 feet or so we’d been in of late to the 11,000 feet of Cusco. It might have been all of the above, but from time to time I needed to find a place to lean against or sit down to watch my head spin.

The San Pedro Market

It would be a mistake to assume that the San Pedro Market would be the only place to go to do your shopping. You’d think Peruvians are born with an entrepreneur gene –  in commercial areas they spill even to the sidewalks.

Sidewalk Convenience Shop Stylish Shopper

But we were here to check out a Peruvian supermarket.

It wasn’t the same as a first world supermarket – doors made of air, no refrigeration, no shrinkwrap. As soon as we entered we hit the meat section, and the aroma tested my wooziness.
Do you recognize any of those cuts of meat? I don’t.

These folks don’t waste anything. Cuts that in the first world would go to pet food, or dare I say, hot dogs are first line food. And if it gets ripe after a couple days of no refrigeration, no problem. It just moves to vendors a few streets over where the impoverished folks shop. Puts a whole new spin on the idea of road kill.
Peru and potatoes. That’s like Mexico and tacos, or Iowa and corn. One goes with the other, and no surprise; Peru has thousands of varieties of potato. We must have tasted a dozen or so without knowing, ranging from sweet, savory and delicious to suck-all-the-moisture-out-of-your-mouth-in-an-instant.

But don’t take my word for it, check out “So You Think You Know Potatoes?”, over at TrailToPeakTheAdventurousPath.  (And don’t stop there, their whole Peru series is excellent, including hiking to Machu Picchu and a more in-depth set on this market and Peruvian food in general.)

Dehydrated potatoes and (I think) shucked giant corn kernels. Or maybe the kernels are tarwi, aka lupine beans.


Corn is also an important crop. They have variations here too, including ears with huge kernels. I wasn’t too keen on the flavor, but it made great popcorn – imagine the size of the size after it popped!


Egghead question: how high can you stack eggs before they break under the weight?

You Name It, I Got It
A Colorful Pantry
Not Your Average Fruit Stand

Wandering around the market, our guide explained what we were seeing. But it was a busy place, with all the clamor and activity it was hard to hear unless you were in his hip pocket. That didn’t work for me, I was either looking for a photo or a place I could sit down should a dizzy moment strike.

After the market, we attended a cooking demonstration at a restaurant across from our hotel. But it was all finally too much, I had to bail and retire to our room.

Cusco, Second Hand

But not all was lost. My wife was well and joined the afternoon excursion. So, a few notes and photos from her travels.

Coricancha – Temple of the Sun

Coricancha  was the most important temple in the Inca Empire, dedicated primarily to Inti, the Sun God. Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, the same king that started the Inca expansion and commissioned Machu Picchu also rebuilt the Temple of the Sun, enriching it and adding plates of fine gold. It housed the bodies of seven deceased Inca kings that preceded him, and its courtyard contained statues of gold. Then the Spanish came.

After the Spanish conquered Cusco the Catholic church followed up on its practice of destroying native temples and building one of their own on top.  In this case, they used the Inca foundations. In later years, earthquakes severely damaged the church, but the sophisticated Inca masonry was not affected.

Sacsayhuaman – An Inca Fortress

Sacsayhuaman is a fortress first built by the Killke culture around 1100, and the Inca expanded it when they came to power. What is left is a fraction of the original fortress. The Spanish pulled down the smaller stones and used them to build up the Spanish part of Cusco.

The Colonial Cathedral

The cathedral contains over 400 paintings, including Marcos Zapata’s Last Supper, which features cuy (guinea pig) as the main course. My wife also noticed an unusual take on a statue of the Virgin Mary – she was clearly very pregnant and showing feminine curves.


The Home of Pizarro

Francisco Pizarro was the commander of the Spanish conquistadors that conquered Peru. But how did a tiny little army vanquish a huge one? In a word, treachery.

Pizarro knew attacking the Inca army head-on would be suicide. So he arranged a supposedly diplomatic meeting with the Inca king Atahualpa (great grandson of Pachacuti) in the town square at Cajamarca. But he set it up as an ambush.

When Atahualpa rejected the Spanish demands to become Christian and submit to Emperor Charles V the Spanish attacked, using the elements of surprise, cavalry, gunfire, and artillery which the Inca had never seen or heard before. The Inca were lightly armed with ceremonial weapons if any, the real army was outside the city. Chaos and confusion reigned, Atahualpa was captured, and many of his retainers were killed. The main Inca army was routed, in shock from losing their king and spiritual leader as well as many of their commanders.

In time, Atahualpa was ransomed for a room full of gold, much of which was taken from the Temple of the Sun. But despite receiving the ransom, Pizarro had Atahualpa killed anyway, and the Inca empire was finished.


v1: And so it came to pass, that evening the guide did score for me a course of antibiotics and liquid electrolytes, and it was good.

v2: The next morning, we did quit Cusco and hit the road for the long haul to Puno. Verily, my aching backbone did quake in fear and anticipation.

v3: But lo, the mighty army of the antibiotic did do battle with the evil spirit of the bad stomach, and the heinous gurgle was subdued.

v4: And the stars that hath swirled around my head did vanish apace, and the strain of a tail of woe did not repeat, despite the altitude increase to 14,200 feet.


32 thoughts on “The Spirit Is Willing, But The Flesh Is Weak

  1. Very interesting about the cemetery. Your description of San Pedro had me laughing, especially that quip about hot dogs. We drooled over all that fruit, too. Cusco was also where my wife did battle with her stomach, though fortunately it lasted for only a day. She chose to stay at the hotel in case, well, you know. It is not fun to get sick or otherwise indisposed on vacation, as you can appreciate. Meanwhile, my guide took me to Pisac, Qenqo and Sacsayhuaman. The last was a most amazing place, an unbelievable design of huge megalithic stones.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. LaVagabonde

    Awesome photos, Dave. Your wooziness was most likely from the altitude. Some people can get very sick. I can just imagine the meat small and cemetery on top of it. You are a tough dude.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I hadn’t had any issues with the altitude leading up to that, and I have had altitude sickness and it wasn’t quite the same. Just the same, I suspect altitude did play a part along with dehydration.


  3. I quite enjoyed your piece here on the cemetery. It would have been fascinating to wander through. I wonder if space is at a premium if you only rent your spot… perhaps it’s incentive to have children so there will be a family line to keep up your remains?

    When we were in Cusco, I brought along a book to read that brought a lot of the history alive. Reading your piece on Pizzaro reminded me of that vivid scene in the book. A relatively recent (2015) piece of historical fiction, you might enjoy it now that you’re back home, having seen many of the places in the book. It’s called The Gold Eaters, by Ronald Wright.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It is pretty good. The ending wraps up far too quickly… I get the sense the author grew tired of writing it, either that or writing the lifespan of a person was too ambitious a feat… but it was still a pretty good read, and much better if you’ve been there and seen the places he uses as settings and heard the history of the events he’s embellishing.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m really enjoying reading about your trip. And as somebody who likes wandering through cemeteries, I’m especially fascinated by the above-ground vaults. I’ve heard there are graveyards like that in New Orleans, as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And funeral processions with bands too, if I can believe movies. I think in New Orleans they’re above ground because of ground water, not sure why that was the case in Cusco.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the travelogue. Alas, it will end soon and I’ll have to figure out something else to write about.


  5. I think if I had to rely on a market in Peru for my food, I would become a vegetarian very, very, quickly! On a more serious note, I’m really enjoying this series of posts, as I’m learning so much more about Peru than I ever knew before. The natural beauty is incredible, and the architecture is interesting, but the photos of the people are the best of all. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it there or not, but it sure sounds as if it’s worth the discomfort! (Hope you didn’t suffer too much from you back, though.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I’d be trying to figure out where the fresh, normal cuts are sold too. For what it’s worth, I saw more conventional supermarkets in Lima.

      As for the back, it’s still healing, with a bit of sciatica being more of a complaint than back soreness. I’m sure it’ll be okay in time.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m loving your Peru series also and was happy to see the smelly San Pedro market here! I’m not sure about now, but back when I was there, there were virtually no tourists in that market (perhaps because of that meat pile?!) and it was so fun to just be among the local people in their market. Sorry to hear that a number of your days were affected by feeling crummy in one way or another. I don’t tend to be bothered much by altitude, but something about Cusco hit me harder than usual, too, and I’d been at much higher elevations before with no trouble. Maybe just a bad combo of things. Great place, though! I hope you enjoyed it anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t say I was on the lookout for other tourists, there may not have been many. Maybe you had good timing and missed the groups, or touring companies are starting to pick up on how markets reflect current life instead of getting hung up on Inca this and Inca that. I’m glad you’re enjoying my Peru series, I know you’ve got a soft spot for the country and I hope I’m bringing back good memories for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You are indeed bringing back good memories, and I think you are right about the touring companies looking for more local, real life options for their customers these days. The Inca stuff is really interesting, but after a while, it’s nice to see something of the current inhabitants, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It all sounds fascinating. Evicting the coffins of non-payers might be a little harsh, though, since the deceased are not in a position to do much about it. The market must be very interesting to see, but I don’t think I’d dare buy anything from there, particularly meat or one of the eggs from the bottom of the pile. Incidentally, I’m glad your medicine worked in the end. It would be a terrible shame to be in such an interesting place but be too ill to enjoy it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess they’re trying to find out if the deceased person’s family are deadbeats. (Sorry)
      I might question buying some of the meat, and would veer away from eating anything medium rare. By and large, Peru actually has a reputation for tasty food.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I love the food markets in Peru….! The rows of vendors making fruit smoothies and of course the varieties of potatoes for ehich the country is famous.

    We have visited some elaborate cemetrues, with the one in Buenos Aires being the most memorable for its beautiful sculptures. My husband, unlike your wife, has a definite fascination and enjoyment if cemetries…so we have visited quite a few.


    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hey there Dave, I’ve just found your blog! I’ve recently returned from Peru and Cusco where, admittedly, I hadn’t visited the graveyard (or the market, for when I went there it had closed for the day, talk about planning!). Anyway, the walled-in tombs are quite common in Italy as well, they’re called ‘loculi’ (almost a direct translation from Latin) and here too they can be rented… In facts some also work as a “final final resting place”, for after some 80-100 years those who are buried in the ground, in certain cases, get moved into the “loculi”…

    Thanks for the read!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Fabrizio. I’m glad you stopped by and commented, it gave me a path to find your own excellent blog. I didn’t know about loculi, what above ground graves I knew of are mostly done that way because of groundwater.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t speak Italian, but Google translate provides this:
      “The joy of color and nature, a wealth that makes us more peaceful living.
      Beautiful picture. ” I’d have to agree.


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