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Weekly Photo Challenge: Hands

Day 155 – December 24, 2011

Hands” is the theme for this week’s photo challenge from WordPress.

As with my previous post and its challenge regarding “walk”, I am diving back into my collection of photos from our family’s December 2011 visit to Cusco.

Some of my photos posted on this blog for your viewing enjoyment have happened by accident. Some are carefully crafted. This photo is an example of the latter.

In 2011, a statue was unveiled in the center of Plaza de Armas, Cusco’s main square. It was a golden figure of an Incan man meant to serve as a symbol to the Incan heritage of the city.

Plaza de Armas is flanked by two large cathedrals, built by the Spanish after their conquest of Cusco, the capital of the Incan Empire. Upon the remains of Incan buildings were these, and many other, Spanish building built.

One of the themes of this article is the suggestion that the placement of the statue was to continue the process of Incanization, the process of “…presenting a seamless connection between the past and the present…”

As the article states…

The statue still is in the Plaza, despite threats from [Culture] Minister Ossio and strong resistance from many in Cuzco. The statue, though, is but the tip of a proverbial iceberg which includes school children and businesses organizing and performing folkloric dances around the plaza for festivals and official offerings to the earth, especially as we approach the first of August, when the custom is to make a payment to the Pachamama, the earth mother.

So just as the Spaniards tried to build atop the Incans and cover them up, I wondered if the same process was happening in reverse with the controversy surrounding this statue.

Statue of Inca in Cusco's Plaza de Armas

Statue in center of Cusco’s Plaza de Armas

My placement of the hand is no accident, and that’s why I believe it fits this week’s theme.

Photo Friday: Walk

Day 154 & 155 – December 23 & 24, 2011

Walk” is the subject for this week from Photo Friday.

While I have posted photos about our family’s December visit to Cusco (see here and here and here), I thought I would revisit that wonderful trip with photos that suggest today’s theme.

Passengers walking to terminal at Cusco airport

Walking to terminal

After landing at the airport in Cusco, passengers walking to the terminal to retrieve their luggage are greeted by a mural.

Street in Cusco

Walking across the street

Parts of the city of Cusco are filled with streets so narrow that only one car can barely squeeze through and it takes about four steps to walk across the street.

Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

Walking around Plaza de Armas

In contrast, the Plaza de Armas in Cusco has plenty of room to walk around…

Food market stall off Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

Lots of people walking amid the odor of food

…until you walk up one of the side streets radiating off the Plaza de Armas and wind up in a traffic jam. At least, the food is yummy and smells great to boot.

Street in Cusco, Peru

Walking amid the stones of Cusco

I don’t know if some travel website or magazine offers awards for the best cities to walk in, but I nominate Cusco, Peru.

Fifth Day of Five: Around Cusco

Day 158 – December 27, 2011

In your best Don LaFontaine voice, say the following, “And now the exciting conclusion…”

We awoke back at our hotel in Cusco after yesterday’s ride (again courtesy of PeruRail) from Aguas Calientes to the outskirts of Cusco and a late-night taxi ride (again courtesy of Raul, our driver from the Sacred Valley tour) to Tika Wasi, our accommodations of choice in Cusco.

As we had some time to knock off before our flight departed back to Lima, we enlisted the aid of Raul once again who drove us around some other sites around Cusco worthy of your consideration if your travels ever take you down to these here parts of Peru.

However, and here is another tip to start off this post,…

Tip #013: See all other ruins before seeing Machu Picchu.
The ruins of Machu Picchu are so breath-taking and awe-inspiring that all other Inca ruins in the area are simply pretty piles of rocks. The family and I definitely were impressed by Pisaq and Ollantayambo, but we wondered if we would have been as awestruck if we had seen theses sites after Machu Picchu.

Such was the feeling of under-whelmment (yes, I just made up that word and I hope to trademark it soon) we all had when we entered…

Entrance sign to Suqsaywaman

The sign says it all

Suqsaywaman. Located outside of Cusco, this site is reported to have a mystical purpose. Raul told us that the city of Cusco was laid out in the form of a puma, an animal sacred to the Incas and still an important symbol for Peru, and that Suqsaywaman was the puma’s head.

This site is large and comprised of two main mounds. Around these mounds are, as stated above in Tip #013, piles of rocks.

Suqsaywaman, Peru

An extremely impressive rock collection

However, these stones are rather impressive as they are huge and are fitted together without mortar. The architects, designers, and builders of this site – along with most other Incan places – simply carved and whittled away at the rocks until they fit together. There must be something to this procedure as these places are still standing.

Stones at Suqsaywaman, Peru

Note person in shot for scale

For the rest of our time, we walked around and saw the stones, looked at some llamas (or alpacas or vicunas…I still haven’t been able to tell those animals apart)…

Animals at Suqsaywaman, Peru

Mandatory shot of these animals by a blogger living in Peru.

…and was impressed by the vista of Cusco we could see from the vantage point that Suqsaywaman provided us.

Cusco as seen from Suqsaywaman

Cusco, Peru

As we completed our tour of Suqsaywaman, we knew we had come to the end because we found ourselves at the gift shop.

Vendors outside Suqsaywaman, Peru

Souveneirs...mementos...trinkets - they're all here

From Suqsaywaman, our tour group went to Q’enqo, which was described to use by Raul as a place where llama sacrifices were held. The priests would know when to do the sacrifice because the cave where the ritual was done had slots in it that would allow the rays of the sun to enter at certain times during the year.

Our last stop of our tour was Pukapukara, which was a checkpoint on the road to and from Cusco.

Pukapukara, Peru

Large view of Pukapukara

Walls of Pukapukara, Peru

Detailed view of Pukapukara, Peru

We finished our tour with Pukapukara and after a quick lunch, we were dropped off at the airport where we caught our flight back to Lima and our home.

As you might have gleaned over reading the past five posts, it was an incredible trip and one that I am glad my children will remember even when they are my age.

I’ll end – like any good speechwriter – with a joke courtesy of our driver (who we found by chance), Raul (so you can blame him if his ha-ha is off the mark).

As he drove us around the outskirts of Cusco today, he pointed out the local stadium and said it was the biggest in the world…

Stadium in Cusco, Peru

It's so big (How big is it?)

Now I have an odd collection of facts running through my brain so I was aware that there are college stadiums in the United States, soccer stadiums in Mexico, and cricket stadiums in India that can seat over 100,000 (actually the Top Ten List can be found here), but I was not aware that a stadium in Cusco, Peru, that hosts the local soccer stadium had the distinction of “largest”.

“Why is it the largest?” I asked, playing the straight-man perfectly.

After my lovely wife translated my question, his response was, “Because it’s never full.”


And here I thought football fans in the United States (and here I am thinking of the days when fans of the New Orleans Saints went to games with paper bags over their heads) were harsh on their losing teams. They had nothing on Raul.

Second Day of Five: Still Cusco

Day 155 – December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve morning dawned hazy over Cusco…

View of Cusco, Peru

From our hotel, overview of Cusco, Peru

…as we enjoyed our hotel’s quaint continental breakfast of eggs, potatoes, fruit, and bitter hot chocolate.

We began our wanderings around Cusco by learning our next tip to you, which is…

Tip #005: Before taking souvenir photos, negotiate the price before snapping.
Two blocks from our hotel, we saw an elderly woman who had two llamas with her. Her business was one of catering to tourists who felt they needed to have their picture taken with a llama to fully complete their Peruvian adventure. We asked if we could snap some shots with her and her livestock and she agreed (proof below).

Photo of woman and llama

The moment before the argument

However, after the shutterbugs had been satisfied, she asked for a fee that we all thought was a tad too much for two photos. After (to me ears) a confusing cacophony of Spanish and Quechua, we placed in her hands money equivalent to 75% of what she was asking.

As I have written before concerning taxis, one should always settle on the price first. Lesson learned.

Tip #006: Wait for people to clear out before taking shots of famous landmarks.
Otherwise, you wind up with pictures like this of the famous Twelve-Angle Stone

Photo of Twelve-Angle Stone in Cusco, Peru

You can see eight of the angles

Tip #007: For all your Nativity scene needs, come to Cusco on Christmas Eve.
On the day before Christmas, the central square of Cusco, the Plaza de Armas, is turned into a gigantic marketplace.

Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

Christmas Eve marketplace in Cusco, Peru

This bazaar has all the typical touristical items one could want to prove that they had indeed been to Peru. There were shirts with llamas on them. There were caps, gloves, sweaters, and all manners of socks sewn with llamas, pumas, and other Incan motifs. There were chessboards with Conquistadors facing Incas. There were key chains, pins, magnets, and stuffed animals (llamas, alpacas, and cuys) galore.

However, as this was the day before Christmas, this marketplace also had the most extensive collection of items for sale for Nativity scenes.

Nativity marketplace in Cusco, Peru

For those true last-minute needs

Everything, and I mean everything, that you might need for your Nativity scene is here. There are, of course, figures for the baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, but also sold here are clothes in all sizes for said family members. Here, you can buy individual animals (sheep, donkeys, chicken) that might have gone missing from the last time you displayed your crèche. Each Magi is available for sale just in case your collection is short a Gaspar, Melchior, or Balthasar.

Gold, and frankincense, and myrrh sold separately.

Tip #008: Visit the Choco Museo.
It’s a museum devoted to chocolate. What’s not to like?

Plus, where else would you see a restroom sign like this…

Restroom sign in Choco Museo in Cusco, Peru

Which human "bean" are you?

Tip #009: Uh…no real tip here…

Just some photos I took of rugs that were on temporary exhibit in the Mueso Inka that we ducked into when it started to rain…

Rug on exhibit at Museo Inka in Cusco, Peru

3D effect on a 2D rug

Photo of rug on exhibit in Museo Inka in Cusco, Peru

Textiles inspired by M.C. Escher

Tip #010: On Christmas Eve, don’t expect to sleep.
A month ago, our gardener told us of a custom celebrating by Peruvians on the night of December 24th. He said it was the tradition folk to light off fireworks to celebrate the arrival of the holiday.

In my head, coming from the litigious-heavy portion of the hemisphere known as the United States, to “light off fireworks” meant a few firecrackers here and there with the occasional sparkler to herald in the birthday of Jesus.

This is where you should mentally hear that game-show sound effect of a person giving the wrong answer.

For the whole night – until exhaustion overtook me around 1:30am – I was awakened by the sound of the neighborhood ablaze with pyrotechnics that I would classify as “professional-grade”. Rockets bursting in air and streamers of all sorts of chromatic hues lit up the Cusco night skyline as citizens exploded more black powder than Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman do in a season of Mythbusters.

Definitely not a silent night.

Coming up next: Third Day of Five – The Sacred Valley

First Day of Five: Cusco

Day 154 – December 23, 2011

Over the Christmas holiday, the family and I, along with my visiting sister-in-law, made a five-day trip to Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu.

In the interest of viajology (my completely made-up name for the study of travelling), not only will I regale you with stories and pictures for our wonderful outing, I will offer advice in case you ever decide to make the trip to Machu Picchu and its surrounding cities. (Of course, if you want real advice, you should hop on over to How To Peru)

Tip #001: Become a resident of Peru.
Residents of Peru receive discounts when buying certain tourist-related items. It’s sort of like the promotion that Disneyland (the original one in California…not that copycat operation in Florida) does every summer where they offer discounts for people who can prove they live in the 92xxx ZIP code. In Peru, everything from the cost of the plane tickets from Lima to Cusco, the bus ride from Agua Calientes to Machu Picchu, and to the entrance tickets to the Lost City of the Incas themselves is cheaper for those who make their home in Peru. I realize this helps few of my readers back in the States.

(Like I said, if you wanted real advice, you should really be pointing your browser somewhere else.)

Tip #002: Don’t fly during a strike by the air traffic controller’s union.
Starting today, the air traffic controller’s at Lima’s main airport staged a three-day work stoppage to protest wages and conditions. The government brought in military personnel to fill in the gaps. While the airport was still operational, there were delays. We were scheduled to leave at 12:10pm, but as our plane was late arriving, we did not board the jet until 1:00pm. Once inside and when the cabin door was shut, that’s when the captain announced that we would not be taking off for at least the next two hours due to the strike.

Airplane in Lima's airport

Where we spent the first 90 minutes of our vacation

Thankfully, the delay was only slightly over an hour and we were on our way.

Tip #003: Bring someone along who can speak Spanish
Phrase books and iPad translator applications can only take you so far. If you really want to make friends and influence people, having someone who is fluent in the local language is invaluable. We were graced with a duo of such people as my lovely wife and her sister both fit that bill. I have found that having a fluent Spanish speaker in your entourage means that the service in restaurants is a little bit better, the hotel staff is a little bit quicker, and market vendors bring down their prices a tiny bit more. There is something about being able to communicate in your own langauge that makes people feel happier.

Having a Spanish speaker in the group also helps with bluffing.

When we arrived at the Cusco airport (scenery below)…

Mountains around Cusco

Mountains around Cusco as seen from the airport tarmac.

…we grabbed our luggage and went outside to grab a taxi. Now, we knew through research and through talking with other folk who had made this trek, that our cab fare should be S/.10 (ten nuevo soles) so we quickly and briskly dismissed all the official taxi drivers huddled around the curb offering us rides between S/.35 and S/.55.

We did find a taxi driver who agreed to take us to our hotel for the fare of S/.10. However, when we (luggage and bodies) were piled into his van, our driver asked us for the name of our hotel. When my lovely wife repeated the name, the driver said that he had misheard us originally and that our hotel was so far away that the fare would be S/.35.

I believe at this point that your average non-Spanish speaking tourist would bite the bullet and simply accept this scam. My lovely wife is not one of those people and so she, in excellent Spanish, told the driver that that was fine and if he didn’t want to take us, we would all get out right now (luggage and bodies) and we would find another taxi.

The driver, holding aught but a pair of eights, grumbled, folded, and took us to our hotel for the fare of ten nuevo soles.

Tip #004: Bring someone who can speak another language
While not every group of travellers can have a polyglot in their midst, it certainly has its advantages. Had this not been the case with us, we would have missed out on a decent dinner experience.

My sister-in-law, in addition to speaking English, Spanish, and Portuguese, also knows Hebrew. So, as we walked around Cusco after we had settled into our hotel, she was able to read this sign…

Sign in Hebrew outside Cusco restaurant right to left

…which, and I am paraphrasing here, says “If you can read this, the food here is good.”

Since my sister-in-law could read the sign, we took our chances and had a wonderful dinner at Tuco.

Sign for Tuco

The owl is your mark of quality in Cusco dining

The oven-fired pizza is made in an oven that was only ten feet away and helped warm up the establishment. While we had been told by other residents in Lima that Peruvians do not know how to make a good pizza, we found tonight that the folks in Cusco (and here at Tuco) definitely know how to craft a high-quality pie.

Another good tip is to go ahead and try something on a menu that you’ve never had before. I had alpaca in a coca sauce. Quite good. The author of the note in Hebrew was on the mark.

Coming up next
: Second Day of Five – Christmas Eve in Cusco

Machu Picchu Money Shot

Day 157 – December 26, 2011

I’ll post more photos and a more detailed itinerary later, but I wanted to put these photos up quickly.

Over the weekend the family and I, along with my sister-in-law, made the trek to Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and to Machu Picchu. I took this shot because I could…

Back of 10 soles bill and Machu Picchu

The designers did a good job capturing the site

It’s my Peruvian version of going to the Lincoln Memorial and taking a photograph of it with a five-dollar bill in the frame.

Okay, so here’s the photo that everybody takes…

Iconic photo of Machu Picchu

The shot

Now while the above photo is the iconic snap that you’ve seen dozens of times, this post will show you a first. Below is what you see when you turn yourself 180-degrees from the classic view…

View from Machu Picchu's Guardhouse looking the other way

That's what's behind every photographer taking the iconic Machu Picchu shot

…and now you know.