Peru Day 7

Next morning Alvaro leads us in brilliant sunshine on a walking tour of the downtown. First, directly across the street from our hotel, the Koricancha or Temple of the Sun, the religious center of the Inca temple, on top of and around which the Spanish built the Convent of San Lorenzo.

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Then, the city’s central market, which all this week in celebration of New Year’s is festooned with yellow balloons, streamers, confetti and underwear.

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Inside is a riot of colors, sounds and smells and of merchandise, costumes and activity.

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We pass through packed streets to the bus and drive by another new community on the hillside to a 17th century church overlooking the city

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and then a little higher to Sacsaywaman, an immense Inka temple fortress laid out in the shape of a bolt of lightning. It was the scene of a famous battle between Pizarro and the rebel Emperor Manco Inka, and still competes for prominence with the large statue of Christ on an adjoining hilltop.

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Much of the temple was dismantled by the Spanish to build the cathedrals that were intended to replace it, but the megalithic foundation stones, perfectly fitted and exquisitely shaped–here like a puma’s paw–have withstood Qosqo’s earthquakes and provide a site for locals to enjoy holiday picnics.

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Another stop brings us to Q’engo, an underground labyrinth carved out of a natural rock formation where Inkan royalty were mummified.

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Two minutes down the road we get off the bus at the edge of a field overlooking the city. A shadowy figure appears in the distance sitting under a thatched pavilion.

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As we take seats, Alvaro introduces him as a curandero or shaman, a healer who has traveled here a long way from the highlands to conduct a ceremony for us. We agree to refrain from picture taking while the ritual proceeds. The curandero unfolds a blanket and covers it with a large white sheet of paper. He pours libations of beer on the ground and unfolds small packets containing corn, rice, sugar, candies, flowers, potatoes, alpaca jerky and other substances and arranges them in a mandala-like pattern surrounded by cotton for clouds and multicolored strings for Inka roads. He rocks and chants to himself like a davener in synagogue. All of this is meant as an expression of gratitude to the earth goddess, Pachamama.

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He folds the loaded paper into a compact bundle, tucks coca leaves into the top and blows on them,  laying hands on each person in the group. To dispose of any illness or ill-feeling, Alvaro says we should exhale it onto the packet. When everyone has done so, the curandero places the bundle on a wood fire Alvaro has kindled outside. As it burns, he poses for more photos and accepts gratuities.

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Though logically contradictory, it doesn’t seem inappropriate that we offer up both our goods and our evils to the goddess. And given the prevalence of coughs and swollen eyes at this stage in the trip, the promise of a purge of poisons adds immediacy to the exotic ritual.

We cross the road to an unobtrusive storefront and inside find a large showroom full of alpaca woolens of varying grades. Alvaro encourages us to buy here rather than on the street or in the markets for the best prices and quality. Jan and I comply, purchasing gifts for friends and relatives back home and for ourselves.

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The day’s planned activities conclude at a hillside restaurant with panoramic views of the city where¬† luncheon is served by a woman in spectacular traditional garb.

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On the way back to the bus after the meal, we’re serenaded by passing holiday celebrants.

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While Jan stays at the hotel, adding rest, antihistamine and more ibuprofen to the curandero’s cure, I explore the walled streets of the central downtown for an hour or so, but then join her, satiated with stimulation and grateful for the chance to read more in Mann’s 1491 about the historical background of what we’ve seen .

Slideshow of these and more full-sized photos

Linnk to Day 8

 

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