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