IN THE THIN, SHARP air of the high sierras even the tolling of the bells seems to carry differently. They are calling the Indians to early mass, and behind their clanging is the gong-like sound of the cathedral’s largest bell, the Maria Angola. Made of gold, silver and bronze, its brassy oriental sound comes shimmering through the grey morning light. The echoes seem to hesitate, then spill strangely over the cobbled streets and high stone walls of Cuzco, one of the highest cities in the world.
Cuzco is a lonely city of 80,000 souls, perched 11,150 feet high in the Peruvian Andes. According to legend, the first Inca, Manco Capac, ordered his people to lay out enormous stones and build a city of palaces in worship of the sun. Then the Spaniards came, in the 15th century, and after slaughtering the Incas, they raised stone arches and walls on top of the foundations laid by the Incas. They built 12 imposing granite churches to the greater glory of God. And in the days of the Inquisition the priests hanged the condemned from wooden beams, placed so that the dying men’s last glimpse was of the cross above the church. Now, of course, the Spaniards have gone, and although Spanish is the language of Peru, here in Cuzco it is Quechua, the language of the Indians. The moral, they say in the sierras, is that only God, the stones and the Indians survive.
The Indians now are hurrying over the stones in sandaled feet. Their long, intricately woven ponchos hang from their shoulders, forming blurs of red in the still half-dark. They are short and have broad, open faces that stare curiously up at the gringo walking beside them. But there is no animosity.
The crowd spills out into the main square of Cuzco, Plaza de Armas. From a sleepy-eyed little boy who is wandering around with a tray, I buy for one sol and 40 centavos (about four cents, Canadian) a packet of Corinas. The cigarettes are black and the / continued on page 61
continued from page 25
Cuzco puzzle; why a statue of a North American Indian?
tobacco is pungent but has a surprising sweetness that 1 later find comes from sugar that is added in the manufacture; they’re a great favorite with the peasants.
The plaza is surrounded by low stone-roofed arcades, built by the Spaniards in the 16th century. To the east side are the ornate façades of the Church of the Company of Jesus and the Church of the Triumph. The day before a priest told me that the last church was built on the spot where, in 1536, the Virgin descended from heaven and came to the aid of a company of Spaniards who were being savagely attacked by the Inca, Manca 11.
Looking up, there is no activity in the sky this morning. Only the rays of the sun begin to strike over the mountain range, and the first light casts long, dramatic shadows across the plaza, pointing at the fountain in the centre of the square. The fountain is dry, covered with a bizarre conglomeration of angels and cherubs and topped by, of all things, the gilded figure of a North American Indian in a Hollywood pose. The townspeople are a little embarrassed by the Hollywood Indian, and mutter that “it was an incomprehensible mistake. One of these days he will be replaced." But for the time being he stares into the vast entrance doors of the cathedral.
Inside, the cathedral is a fantastic place. The interior is veiled in shadows upon shadows pierced by beams of light that come from small barred windows set high in the knave wall. Corners glow with candles around the altars of saints. Gold leaf is everywhere. so thick it looks as if it has been sprayed on. The high altar is solid silver. Most brightly lit with candles is the altar dedicated to el Señor de Los Temblores (Lord of the Earthquakes), patron saint of Cuzco. God. guilt, hell and the devil become
palpable in this place. Enormous paintings from what is known as the Cuzco School of the 16th century, hang everywhere. And little gnomelike clerics with enormous jug ears scurry officiously around. I do not stay for the mass because already the dank cold from the stone floor has felt its way through my legs and into
my stomach. Outside, the sun is still too watery and I can't stop shivering. I need a poncho. On the sidewalk a thin, fair-haired young man is shaking money in a round tin. He addresses me in stumbling Spanish. He turns out to be a young missionary from Oshawa, Ontario. He has' been in the Peruvian sierras only two weeks.
Right now he is trying to raise money for an Indian family that lost everything in a fire. I donate 10 soles (25 cents) and ask where I can buy a poncho. He directs me to the public market, which I find to be a fascinating and beautiful place.
1 he streets are crowded with stalls and people. Donkey carts creak over the cobbles and it is strange to see a 1939 Plymouth rumble by without a spot of rust on its body. The streets of continued on page 64
the market are organized, one for bolts of cloth, another for ready-made garments, another for vegetables. Two men spread a blanket on a sidewalk. They have an enormous duffel bag, large enough to hold six men standing upright. They open the neck and tip it up; out pours a pink-and-blue mountain of women’s nylon underwear. I find an old grandmother minding a stall covered in the thick, coarsewoven ponchos worn by the peasants. 1 ask her the price of a nice brown one. She calls over a 15-year-old girl, and it becomes a three-way bargaining and gesturing session. I know a couple of words of Spanish. The girl knows a couple of words of English, and she translates into Quechua for the old lady. But everybody is smiling and the young girl flirts outrageously. This is much more fun than buying in the stores where I found the shopkeepers grasping and contemptuous if you tried to bargain. The grandmother starts out at 300 soles hut after 10 minutes we close at 180 ($4.50). Everybody is satisfied. I slip the poncho over my head. The girl giggles and shows me that 1 have it on sideways. She turns it, and the poncho hangs properly. More smiles and more buenos.
The foodstalls make me hungry, and I notice that blenders are a big thing in Cuzco. Almost every little rickety food counter has one, and they’re churning away all the time preparing papaya juice and all kinds of exotic drinks. I wait in line and buy juice of avocado for 30 centavos (less than a cent). The plastic cup is grubby but the juice is delicious.
Leaving the market, Ï meet my friend Manuel Johnson who chuckles at my poncho and invites me to “a real Cuzco breakfast.” We walk two streets over to the Calle Maira, a narrow, whitewashed street of stone walls. In the doorway of a tiny café a group of barefoot children keep warm by standing around a large red pot that bubbles over a charcoal fire. It smells appetizing. Inside, the floor is earthen and there is just enough room for four small, rough, wooden tables. Two young girls are in one corner, continued on page 66
shyly finishing their meal. A fat lady who wears a round black hat over her long pigtails, ladles food from the red pot onto platters. Manuel explains, “This dish is called adobo and it is a speciality of Cuzco. You can only get it between 7.30 and 9 in the morning.” Adobo turns out to be marinated pork, highly seasoned, served with pickled tomatoes and unleavened scones to sop up the thick gravy. To drink, there is cinnamon-flavored tea — an original breakfast, but one of the best I’ve ever had.
In walking back to the hotel, 1 have to stop and rest a couple of times and I feel terribly short of breath. It’s the altitude. By the time 1 get back to the hotel and lie down, I can feel my heart racing. Beside the bed the hotel management has placed a small card reminding you that to overcome the effects of high altitude it is wise not to drink alcohol.
Belated advice to a man who stayed up most of the night to help the citizens celebrate the Inti Raymi fiesta by drinking a countless number of Pisco sours, the national drink. But the card ends on a note of reassurance; you can always order up some oxygen from room service.
THE TRAVELER’S PERU
How to get there, where to stay, dine and sight-see
CPA FIJES DIRECT from Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver to Mexico City, and from there it’s one long hop to Lima, Peru. Return economy is $591. (A better deal is to take out a 21-day excursion ticket with CPA, which will take you on to Santiago, Chile, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. That way, you can organize visits to three very different South American countries, with a stopover in Mexico City as well.)
Some advice once you are there:
In Lima, there are three first-class European-style hotels. As yet there are no Miami-type establishments with rhinestone light - switches but, along with tourist helicopters, they are inevitably under construction. Rates are reasonable: $10 to $15.
About food: There are a number of excellent restaurants in Lima. Try the Aquarium in San Isidro, or La Granja Azul, a rambling converted farmhouse in Santa Clara, 20 miles outside the city. On a more moderate scale is the LI Cortijo in downtown Lima. On the coast, all sea foods are excellent. A specialty is deep-sea scallops served au gratin in a half of avacado pear. But don’t pass up sampling the Peruvian equivalent of the hamburger — butifarras, a large roll, opened and stuffed with spiced meat, onion and hot chili.
There are any number of traditional tourist sights: the presidential palace, the cathedral in Plaza de Armas, the Inca museum of Señor MohicaGallo. But take a cab out to the barriadas (shanty town), or better still, find a Peruvian to take you out on a colectivo bus. If you have not been abroad before you will find poverty that will dismay you. but you may also be fortunate enough to discover a courtesy and respect between men that has long since disappeared from our own way of life, -k
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