Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Churches in the morning and a talk about ballooning at the British School in Quito

PHIL: Day 86/10 May
the basilica in Quito

I feel well prepared for my school presentation so we decide to visit most of the major ecclesiastical buildings in Quito from the new basilica ,completed in the 1980s (and indeed still missing a few bits), to the sixteenth century Cathedral of St Francis.
At the basilica we take the lift to the top of the bell-tower as altitude exhaustion has set in again. There is a catwalk inside the roof of the nave which, fortunately for me, does not have a direct view to the ground. Allie climbs even higher up an external ladder to the top of one pinnacle but I can’t face that.

the children have already prepared a lovely hot air balloon!

 The more ancient churches of old Quito have a surprising variety of decorative styles ranging from Roman to Gothic but all with exceptional nave ceilings of decorated wood with massive areas of gilding. Whilst walking between the Company of Jesus church and the Cathedral a band is playing at the Presidential Palace.

so much enthusiasm!
Closer inspection reveals a trio of new ambassadors to Ecuador being accredited to the President – diplomatic cars containing the Belgian, Turkish and Ghanaian representatives draw up with much pomp and many sunglass-equipped ‘heavies’.
We are soon in our own diplomatic vehicle, however. The British Embassy Land-Rover, only a month old, draws up at our hotel to take us to the British School, which proves to be an hour out of town.

talking balloons

On arrival a rather shambling headmaster and his delegated ‘co-ordinator’ (who looks about 12 years old but has apparently been teaching for a decade) greet us. The programme they have devised is nothing like the original and so I quickly re-jig my presentation to cope with 20 minutes of 6-year-olds followed by 40 minutes of 7-10s.  
The school lunch is as excellent though the staff at table are uninspiring, but the younger pupils reward me with ‘oohs and aaahs’ whilst the older ones ask intelligent questions. Allie is a star with the computer linked projector so I leave feeling something has been achieved.

ALLIE: DAY 86: Thursday, the 10th May
A wander around Quito and a speech about ballooning in the British School
fabulous views to the snow capped mountains
It’s a beautiful clear morning. How lucky we are with the weather. After finishing up more emails (invitations to go to Jemen, Senegal or Italy for ballooning pop up but are unfortunately all at a bad time when we are committed else wise) we take to the narrow streets of Quito and walk up to the Basilica.
This is the largest of all churches and the two spires stand up to 47 meters. You can take the elevator and climb the rest to the top – which at least I do since I know my husbands love of heights! The view across the city and up to the Virgin de Quito on the hill Panecillo is literally breathtaking the altitude definitely taking its toll again.

Iglesia La Compania de Jesus
More squares and churches are on our list this morning. The next one being the Iglesia San Francisco which is the oldest of all churches here in Quito. It dates back to the second half of the 16th century and style is quite different for the others. It’s mostly made of wood.
Even the floors are wooden panels, so is the skilfully carved ceiling and some of the side alters. A mass is just in progress and we listen to the singing and the sound of the organ. Amazing how full it is considering it’s just a normal Thursday morning 10 o’clock.  You wouldn’t get that many people even on a Sunday in any church in Europe!

The next one is of the Jesuit order called La Compania de Jesus. This is the most decorated churches of all with 7 tons of gold! It’s really incredible and you don’t know where to look first: there isn’t an inch left in the whole building that isn’t filled with angels, roses, stars, leaves, saints or other heavenly figures or motives. Gold blinded we walk out into the Plaza Grande just in time to see the inauguration of the Ghanaian, Belgium and Turkish Ambassadors all accompanied by a military band and heaps of police. We really do have it with parades this trip!

eager kids at the British School in Quito
We are nearly churched out but decide to do a last must: the cathedral which stands a bit unspectacular in the plaza. Again it’s different in that it has a beautiful wooden ceiling but rest is quite simple compared to the pomp and extravagance of the other churches. Back to the hotel for a quick brush up.

At 12.30 we are being picked up by Joja, an Ecuadorian girl who works for the British Embassy and drive down to the British School which is situated in another valley nearly an hours drive away.
We are greeted by Darroll the head master of the school and invited to ‘school lunch’. The lunch was surprisingly good compared to the sort of cold, unsalted rubber I had to eat when I was studying a term at Durham University in the early 90ies.

the children loved the Churchill dog
We are being introduced to the other teachers and then it’s time for us – or Phil – to do our presentation. We struggle a bit with technology (a beamer that needs somehow to correspond with our compi!) but eventually manage to run a picture show of our ballooning adventures around the world.
The first class we are supposed to entertain are youngsters in the age of 5 to 6. So poor Phil had to switch quickly in form and he tried his best to make an interactive talk for the kids.
And they loved it! Nearly every picture created a big ‘wow’ and ‘oh’ and when we finally came to show the dog – and pumpkin shaped balloons from the Hamilton fiesta they couldn’t stop raving about it.
answers and questions
When it came to question time, they mostly said ‘I love the dog!’ How cute was that? The next class was a bit older and the kids were quite smart a few even knew when and where the first balloons were built.
But they weren’t so enthusiastic about the pictures. What a pity though that we didn’t have a balloon here to show them how it really works. All in all, it was a lovely experience and the kids (mostly Ecuadorians) were great fun.

Driving back to Quito though was a bit of a nightmare. Severe rainfall had brought the already chaotic traffic to a complete halt. Back at the hotel we desperately need a ‘cristal’ (sugar cane schnapps) and a hot bath.
We end up in the same courtyard for dinner as last night since our ‘vegetarian restaurant’ turned out to be a a poker hole!

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Bumpy flight into Quito and lunch with the British Ambassador

ALLIE: DAY 85: Wednesday, the 9th of May

A bumpy flight to Quito, Ecuador, the second highest capital in the world

on our way to Ecuador

After a relaxed morning we board our 9th LAN flight, this time to the capital of Ecuador. I had been to Quito 10 years ago on a very stressy trip with a small group from ANDERS-Reisen meaning ‘Different Travels’.
Well, this tour certainly turned out to be very different form any tour I had been doing so far. Nearly everything that could go wrong went wrong: we had nobody to pick us up at the airport, the weather was crap and we got stranded on the Galapagos islands since somehow we didn’t have the right tickets to fly back.
on finals into Quito
So we ended up on a nightmare tour in a military freighter airplane flying around all of the islands in Galapagos (Phil would have loved it!) with no water, no toilet and no food on board and not knowing how long we would stay in each of the tiny airports.

reminders of the old Kai Tak airport in Hongkong
We finally arrived in Guayaquil at midnight (this wasn’t a planed stop on our official route) and I had to find and organize an overnight accommodation for 10 tired and angry people. The next morning we went back to the airport and to our aircraft only to wait for the officers to eventually decide that they would fly us back to Quito. A storm was forecasted and prospect of flying in this window-less aircraft in bad weather took my last drop of energy out of me. But I remember being allowed into the cockpit for our approach to Quito and I was literally standing behind the captain as we rolled finally with a big sigh onto the runway at 3200m above sealevel. We were by now 2 days behind schedule but had seem every on of the Galapagos Islands – at least their airports!

The weather on this flight wasn’t much better. It was bumpy all the way through and we only caught a short glimpse of the snow-white Cotopaxi (5897m) which stands very near Quito.
dining with the Ambassador of Ecuador
The landing reminded me of the old Kai Tak airport in Hongkong. Houses and built up areas right till final touch down. Quite exciting. Immigration here was quick and efficient and after 30min in a taxi we arrived at our luxury hotel in downtown Quito called the ‘Patio Analuz’.
It’s a lovely boutique hotel with two light courtyards and it’s only 200meters off the Grand Plaza in the old city. Money wise a bit of a splash out, but we wanted to use our little time we had here to be right where things are happening.

After a little orientation stroll around the streets, we meet Peter Evens, deputy Ambassador from the British Embassy here in Quito. Phil had known the previous Ambassador and he has arranged for us to meet Peter and to do a talk tomorrow at the British School.

downtown Quite - the main church
We sit down at a little bar near the square and talk about life in Ecuador, Iceland (that’s where his last posting had been), living in Bristol (funnily Peter was at Clifton College and even knows the Corrie Tap our favourite Sunday lunch pub!) and how terrible American Immigration is!
We start a scathing conversation about some of the American rules not realizing that behind us sits an American lady. Eventually she turns around and we realize our faux-pas. Peter then explains that the Brits share the Embassy with the Germans. “So do you really get along with each other?” I want to know. “Well, you know, if the alternative is to share it with the French, we rather stick to the Germans!” he says with a big smile. These Dips have a great sense of humour.
view along the streets of old Quito

Next we talk politics here in Ecuador. A lot has changed since the new government in 2001. Most of the old buildings have been renovated and all the street vendors have been removed. There is more tourist police around to prevent theft and crime and in general things seem to have improved. Only the Galapagos Islands must be in a desolate state, he says.
Corruption leads to illegal tours and cruises, more people now try to actually live on the islands and therefore destroy the delicate ecological environment. What a shame. When I was there 12 years ago it still was the unspoilt paradise of birds, marine iguanas and swimming with the dolphins in crystal clear water.

After a couple of beers we bid farewell to Peter (he is leaving his post in a week to return to London, so his is up to his eyeballs with farewell dinners) and find ourselves a nice restaurant to grab some food.
PHIL: Day 85/9 May

view over the old town of Quito

Flight to Quito. We’ve both been to Ecuador before but separately and many years ago (35 in my case).
I must prepare to give a presentation on ballooning to the British School in Quito tomorrow using illustrations from our trip so far. Again, it is to be given without charge, though the School principal is offering us a lunch at the school. I must admit it is galling that others can charge several thousand dollars to relate less interesting tales.
After a short exploratory walk around the old city, which has clearly had a recent facelift, we meet Peter Evans, deputy at the British Embassy. Over a couple of beers he tells us of previous postings to Iceland and his forthcoming departure to the Foreign Office in London. By coincidence it turns out he attended Clifton College in Bristol, just round the corner from us, and is familiar with our local haunts.
climbing up the church tower - not for the faint-hearted
The conversation moves on to Cuba and relations with the USA. We agree about the surreal nature of the US retaining Guantanamo right next to their most implacable enemy, and how the Department of Homeland Security’s over zealous activities at airports offend America’s allies more than they deter terrorist activity.
There is a lone woman sitting at an adjacent table in the bar. She is, of course, an American and as she leaves sheepishly admits the fact with a mute apology for her country. Peter leaves for another in his round of farewell dinners and we agree to meet up in Bristol soon.


Exploring downtown Lima and its Bohemian quarter

PHIL: Day 84/ 8 May

impressive architecture in downtown Lima
Downtown Lima consists mainly of the Plaza Major from a tourist viewpoint and we leave the cold mist of Miraflores for hazy sunshine in the Plaza.
Colonial architecture is well preserved, especially the enclosed wooden verandahs which are attached to almost every older building. There are even some good examples of Art Deco and the occasional Gaudi-esque frontage which I guess slipped in from Barcelona.
a lot of armed police - for what?
There is a large number of armed police with riot shields and armoured vehicles around the Government Palace, but as before in La Paz we are denied a riot and the show of strength seems to be to protect (?) the ceremonial changing of the guard.
Watching the out-of-step squads marching to the out-of-tune band reminds us that the effect at Buckingham palace is a good deal more professional.

A quiet evening, first walking along the malecon (boulevarde) at Miraflores watching paragliders using the updraught off the cliffs to beat along the clifftops seemingly only just clear of the reflective glass of the high-rise buildings.
changing of the guards
Later, in Ba……., a quirky bohemian area of restaurants, pubs and older houses, we eat at a pub tucked away on the undercliff looking out to a rocky headland never visible before because of impenetrable fog.
Talk is of our future employment. Allie is concerned about my propensity for offering help and advice without charge to balloonists and would-be balloonists worldwide.
I have just read Paulo Coelho’s ‘Zahir’ – a book Allie started but abandoned because it was not graphic enough of his travels as opposed to his philosophies – and I reminded her of the ‘Favour Bank’ principle which Coelho expresses so well. She still thinks I do too much for nothing.
ALLIE: DAY 84: Tuesday, 8th of May
Downtown Lima: changing of the guards, more churches and plazas
Had a terrible night again...
So went for a run along the coast. That was good, but my body felt like a log. Miss my fitness. After a late breakfast we take a taxi and drive downtown.
The traffic is horrifying. The main square here is – guess what? – called the Plaza de Armas and it’s quite beautiful. It’s surrounded by stately and elaborately decorated main buildings with the presidential palace in the middle.
We wonder why there are so many police around. We even see three guarded tanks. It’s just midday and the changing of guards just starts with a band playing and some soldiers parading in front of the palace. They don’t seem to be all that exact and trained and some of the police nearly fall asleep during the 15min long ceremony. I nearly do the same.
beautiful altars in the church
We retreat to the cathedral for more altars, Maria statues, a catacomb with bones and a crèche display. Quite nice, but not all too special. Actually Santa Rosa, the other church we visit, was more interesting. It had a very Moorish touch to it and a lovely peaceful cloister.
An afternoon stroll along the beach and sundowner at the ‘Vista la Mar’ overlooking the coast. It’s been a fine sunny day, and Phil can’t get over the fact to see a mountain at the southern side of town, that he didn’t see for all the 2 weeks he had been here last. 
parliament in Lima
In the evening we drive to the bohemian quarter of Barranco, actually probably the nicest of all areas in Lima. It’s full of small colourful houses and various interesting restaurants. It was here that the famous drink ‘Pisco Sour’ was invented, probably by one of the famous Peruvian artists and writers that had been living here.
We walk across the ‘bridge of sighs’ holding our breaths and thinking of a secret wish. This love-bridge became famous through the song ‘Flor de la Canella’ by Chahuca Granda and was built in 1876. Since I have two wishes we have to walk it twice!

La Merced church, flight to Lima, a wander in the fog along the coast and a fancy dinner

ALLIE: DAY 83: Monday, 7th of May

Flying to Lima, a walk along the coast and a superb dinner at la ‘Rosa Nautica’

the cloister at 'La Merced'
My sleeping problems persist. Every night is a struggle. I don’t know what to do about it. Since our flight doesn’t leave until nearly midday we decide to catch up with the recommended church ‘La Merced’.
Flight to Lima
The 6 soleros are well worth it. The church has a beautiful cloister and the ceilings show exquisite woodcarvings and masonry. We are the only guests. Silence. Only the stones with their 500 years of history speak to you. That’s lovely. Pizarros grave is supposed to be here, but it’s closed for the public. We wonder why? Phil insists to buy me a pair of outrageously looking pink boots. “You must have them, they are just great!”
Coastline along Lima in the fog
Yes, but I do already have loads of shoes and our luggage will be heavier and they are expensive (well for Peruvian standards) – but eventually we do buy them and for our luxurious dinner I am wearing them together with my pink miniskirt.
When we check in for our flight to Lima, the lady offers us an earlier flight and of course we take it. A prearranged taxi brings us straight to our hotel ‘La Senorial’ in Miraflores, a nice area near the coast.
Thick fog hangs over the city and the coast. “That’s normal”, Phil explains, “there is always fog here and it hardly ever clears”. What a great prospective for the next couple of days! “
some brave paragliders
And you can’t swim here, since the sea is too dirty and it’s too cold!” I would get suicidal in such a surrounding. With the fog it’s actually quite chilly. After a late lunch I stroll along the park on the cliffs overlooking the steep coast line.
A few paragliders take their chance to the winds and sail along the cliffs. It’s looks scary. What if they can’t get enough lift and crash against the rocks? But they sail about just like birds. Suddenly a ray of sun. Wow! I must be lucky.
Phil insists in taking me to the most famous (and probably expensive!) restaurant in Lima: the ‘Rosa Nautica’.
This restaurant is situated on an old pier built by the Brits a hundred years ago. We are lucky and get a table right overlooking the bashing waves.
At the famous 'Rosa Nautica'
The interior decorations are in style with the old wooden building and food and wine are excellent! We have a cerviche and a bottle of nicely oaked Chardonnay and discuss our further plans and all the stuff that’s going on at home. 
PHIL: Day 83/7 May
looking down from Miraflores
Before leaving for Lima there is one important ecclesiastical monument to visit. The church of La Merced, where conquistador Pissaro is entombed – though sadly not on public view, which may reflect a pro-indigenous policy in the 21st century, or perhaps just ‘restoration in progress’.
It encompasses a superb pillared cloister with oil paintings hung on every wall and ceilings of intricately-carved wood. A monstrance of gold encapsulating the world’s second largest natural pearl (found in Costa Rica and shaped like a mermaid) is the centrepiece of the museum.
beautiful house decorations in Lima
LAN-Peru offer an earlier flight which we take so as to give us chance to catch up on e-mails at Lima airport’s wi-fi network before being picked up by pre-arranged taxi to our hotel in Miraflores. Miraflores is one of Lima’s better suburbs, a mixture of early 20th century villas and early 21st century high-rise blocks sitting overlooking the Pacific on high cliffs of unstable-looking conglomerate earth. 
The whole area is permanently engulfed in sea fog arising from the offshore Humboldt current, with the only seasonal changes being tempting glimpses of sunshine in summer and penetrating drizzle in winter.
 I recall a station engineer in my BOAC/BA days bemoaning life in Lima under the dull grey skies.
challenging modern art
Allie needs her lone walk to help recover from the sleepless night – it is one of her strange remedies. I warn her not to go alone to the beach or wander too far off main thoroughfares as even the best parts of Lima have a bad reputation for street crime.
Peru has, evidently, taken enthusiastically to the technology of the 21st century, with airlines offering very slick on-line check-in and wi-fi (free) in most hotels and airport terminals.

pleasant squares and architecture
A curious anachronism, though, is fuel prices which everywhere are quoted per US gallon rather than litres. It will be interesting to see if this habit prevails elsewhere in South and Central America.
A walk down the cliff to the shoreline takes us to the Rosa Nautica, one of Lima’s institutions which was in sore need of refurbishment when I first visited a decade ago.

 This time the renowned seafood restaurant, perched on a Victorian-style pier over the crashing Pacific waves, is host to clients who look like artists and ambassadors and staffed by impeccably mannered waiters including two Master of Wine sommeliers.
Huge portions (and prices to match) limit us to traditional ceviche (marinated fish) and an excellent Chilean Chardonnay with my requisite heavy oaking.
Allie has dressed for the occasion in her ‘smart hippie’ outfit of short skirt, a woven Inca belt bought in Urubamba, and a pair of pink suede calf-length boots with traditional decoration sewn in that I bought her in Cuzco. I felt quite bland by comparison.

The ancient Inka sanctuary of Sacsayhuaman and Santo Domingo church

ALLIE: DAY 82: Sunday, 6th of May

A quiet Sunday in Cusco: more ruins, stone palaces and churches
incredibly massive stone walls

Wake up feeling trashed. Even though I was in bed for such a long time, I couldn’t sleep well (oh dear, not again!).

After a good breakfast with fruits and cereal (we have missed that kind of thing!), we wander up the hill to explore the ruins of Sacsayhuaman. Some tour guides suggest the convenient abbreviation ‘sexy human’, because not even they can pronounce this word properly.
 The Incas were masters in building absolute accurate stone walls. There is not an inch of space between the huge blocks of granite. It looks as if they were computer designed to fit together – but of course that was 500 years ago and there weren’t any computers.
Three walls run parallel for around 350m with some of the blocks weighing more then 130 tons.
Archaeologists today are still not quite sure of the main reason for this tremendous effort but it is common assumption that this was a sanctuary and temple to worship the sun.

Another site is rather disappointing: it’s called Qenqo and supposed to be an ancient amphitheatre. But not much is left except more big rocks and a cave.
Santo Domingo
We decent downtown again and end up at the ‘Norton Rats’ for a coffee. It’s amazing how many quite good reproductions of British pubs there are in Cusco. A military parade is in full swing and from our balcony we have the best view to see what’s going on.

The weather isn’t very good today and we are quite cold. Return to our hotel for a rest and more computer work.
In the afternoon we stroll down the lanes to Santo Domingo, a church that was built on the ancient site of  Qoricancha - the Temple of the Sun (amazing how many temple there were for worshipping the sun).
military parade in full swing
Compared to some of the rip off entrance fees like Machu Picchu or even Sacsayhuaman, this is a reasonable price and we find good English tablets with information. Some lovely paintings framed with massive gold from the 18th century depicting the Virgin Mary decorate the indoor rooms and again we marvel at the masonry skills of the old Inca.

dramatic processions
Unfortunately ‘La Merced’ is closed. This is the church where Gonzalo Pizzaro is buried. Oh well, then we just have to have our ‘Pisco Sour’ a bit earlier. Walking back to our Hotel I notice the incredible amount of laundry and internet places. Even La Paz was so well equipped with internet, it’s quite surprising.

For dinner we end up in what could well be a ‘coca drug cave’ disguised as a ‘vegetarian restaurant with herbal infusions’!
When we enter, a curly haired man greets us and we finally sit down in the empty little restaurant.
in the pub
The menu turns out to be an asparagus soup followed by spinach rice with sweet potatoes as a main. The desert is the ‘herbal infusion’ - a nice tasting tea – or God knows what! As we eat more and more dodgy and weird looking people walk in and out of this place. Dreadlock hair, nose pins, hippie clothes. A live band is supposed to play later, we escape.
PHIL: Day 82/6 May
It is a cold, grey day – the first without sunshine in many weeks of our travels. A cold wind bites through our inadequate clothing as we climb through the filthy suburban streets to the Sacsayuman Inca site overlooking the city.
Jesus overlooking the valley
We are both short of breath after only a few steps and only on reflection realise that Cuzco is 1000m higher altitude than even Machu Picchu where our long climb had nowhere near the same effect.
Another entry fee and groups of women and children dressed in Inca costume and tending young goats and a variety of camelids (llamas, alpaca and the occasional vicuna) in the hope of gullible tourists shelling out a Sole or two to take a photograph.
Llama's having fun
The Inca masonry, consisting as it does of a massive jigsaw of perfectly aligned diorite blocks, is quite incredible in its mortar-free accuracy. I comment that even today with computers and diamond drills it would be hard to achieve such perfection.
Nearby Allie spots two white llamas having sex – the female lying prone and mindlessly chewing cud whilst the male puffs and grunts in obvious reproductive effort. I’m not sure I like Allie’s wry smile.
On the way down to the old quarter we pause to watch aircraft land at Cuzco airport, noting their weaving approach through the surrounding mountains and valleys. Landings and take-offs are always from and to the east because of the (bowl) of mountains which hem the city in tightly to the west.
One of the British-style pubs, named the Norton Rats in honour of the once-famous brand of motorbike, attracts our attention but seems from the outside to be closed. “They’re never closed”, quips a teenage Californian who was in Cuzco avoiding the US liquor laws, and he’s right so we sit on the balcony to watch the last of many squads of Peruvian soldiers goose-stepping round the Plaza to celebrate Workers’ Day.

watching the parade

It is so cold we retire to the hotel for a shower and siesta before making a final effort to look inside the Monastery of Santo Domingo which, like the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, blends Inca paganism with Spanish colonial church architecture.
Allie has found an interesting restaurant – again vegetarian – after passing literally dozens of others which not only offer ‘cuyi’ (guinea pig) but show lurid photographs of tiny naked bodies complete on the plate. Our interest in sampling local dishes can only stretch so far.
When we reach the chosen café, hidden in what appears to be a private house down a back alley, we are not so sure.It looks so ‘alternative’ as to possibly be the base for some revolutionary group such as the Sendero Luminosa, a feeling reinforced as one after the other girls and men in outlandish clothes of homespun wool and with dreadlock hair and body piercing drift in off the street.
They do not stop to eat but disappear to some inner sanctum. One explains that he is a musician from the north coast of Colombia, but are they all?
Allie has another terrible night without sleep, partly because of incessant dogfights, partly because she works herself up into a frenzy of irritation, and most of all because she insists on sleeping with windows and curtains drawn open which, of course, only exacerbates the problem. She wakes me up to tell me.


Thursday, 4 May 2017

Exploring Cuzco downtown

ALLIE: DAY 81: Saturday, 5th of May
view over one of the passes leading to Cuzco

Drive to Cuzco, traditional weaving and interesting churches, streets and plazas

Women weaving and making hats and belts
After breakfast with the Rogers we are setting out to drive back to Cuzco with them. Jim stops for us in the little town of Chinchero where we can watch some thirty women and children weaving and spinning Al paca and Llama wool into the most colourful and elaborate designs.
These women wear the most stunning looking traditional dresses and hats and Jim engages the young ones in a little conversation on their names and ages.
This is a great project initiated in the late 70is to protect these ancient traditions and to pass on the knowledge of weaving to the younger generation. We buy a belt and a string for my sunglasses and feel that we have contributed at least a bit.

In Cuzco we check in the ‘Hostal Rumi Punku’ in the unpronounceable sounding street Choquechaca. It’s a nice and clean 2 star hotel with a lovely courtyard and a roof terrace.
Then it’s time to explore the city. We would like to see some of the churches and historical sites but it seems that the tourism board tries everything to prevent tourists from being able to see theses sites!
the basilica in Cuzco
We want to enter the basilica cathedral in the main square, but we need tickets for it. ‘you can buy them at the tourist office two blocks from here’, we are being told.
Ok, try to find that. Hidden in some off street we are told that you cannot buy the ‘religious tickets’ here, go to such and such a place. Al right.
After at least 30minutes we finally find the right ticket booth, pay our admission fee of 12 Dollars (nearly everything here costs that amount for two people) and enter the Eglesia.
the main square in the town center
The darkness is illuminated by massive golden alters. All the gold that the Spaniards have found in this Inca city were taken away from them and melted into church decorations.
It’s too baroque for my taste but the paintings, wood carvings and metal works are very impressive. In this church you also find one of the most unusual paintings of the ‘last supper of Christ’: here Jesus and his apostles are eating roasted guinea pig and sweet corn!

It’s time for a coffee in the square. We find the cosy looking ‘Café Trotamundos’ which has an upstairs balcony overlooking the Plaza de Armas.

ornaments at a front door
As Jeff had explained earlier on, all cities in Peru have a Plaza de Armas, because that’s where the Spanish disarmed the Indians and forged their weapons into religious objects.

We walk up some narrow stairs to the northern side of the town which rends us fantastic views across this amazingly well preserved city.

Not a single modern high-rise building spoils the integrity of this old Inca capital. And all the streets still show the skills of the Inca masons that carved exact sizes of stone blocks to build their walls.

After spending some time on the internet and doing our diaries I go out again, this time up the hill to the Area of San Blas. Cusco certainly is not short of a huge variety of hotels, cafes, bars and markets.

the old city of Cuzco with its unique architecture
The light is beautiful and we meet again for a sun downer at the Plaza de Armas. Phil shocks me in saying that we he cannot find our ballooning shots from Urubamba. That would be a disaster! (Fortunately I do find them later and the evening is saved!). We are both rather tired and decide to have an early bite at a little and very cheap vegetarian restaurant (only 3 Dollars a meal) and then collapse. It’s amazing how tired one can feel at only 8pm!
PHIL: Day 81/5 May

Jim gives us a lift to Cuzco and we are diverted on the way to look at the World Championship paragliding competition in full swing from a cliff high above the Sacred Valley followed by a fascinating visit to a co-operative set up to perpetuate Inka weaving amongst Quechua girls all of whom sit on the grass on an sunlit adobe courtyard learning their skills.

Cuzco is possibly the only major city in the world with no high-rise buildings, and for this the Peruvians deserve much credit.
The universal greed for more ‘productive’ use of valuable land has been totally resisted and even new or restored buildings are kept in character. The tourist authorities seem less good at affording multiple entry to their vast stock of religious and secular treasures with a complex system of charging which defeats any logic and seems aimed at not providing what most tourists want.

Papal greetings to the world of the Andes
One feature of the city which is less appealing is the ubiquitous smell of (presumably) human urine – no doubt because there are almost no public toilets - and the universal presence of dog shit. Walking the narrow alleys is a minefield which deters any attempt to enjoy the wide variety of balconied windows and Inca-built stone doorways.

street life in the city
These shortcomings aside, Cuzco is crowded with churches, museums and accommodation of all types for the visitors who come to see them.
The cathedral is filled to bursting with elaborate gilded woodwork, silver altars and oil paintings from the ‘Cuzco School’. Restaurants and pubs abound ranging from very basic to luxurious and ostentatious, The Brits and Irish are particularly well represented on the pub scene but after a Pisco sour we settle for a vegetarian restaurant close to the Plaza de Armas.
The Hostal Rumi Punku where we are staying is predominantly occupied by English-speakers and rooms surround a courtyard in the Spanish-Moorish tradition. Our sleep is punctuated by dogs and discos (as usual) and occasional fireworks .