Buildings, Beetles & Alpaca

After acclimatizing, we found out that Cusco is a clean and nice little town, and well worth the visit for its own sake. People here are celebrating the week of Peruvian Independence, officially July 28th, but with many festivities leading up to it. The central fountain is lit with constantly changing colored lights. Peruvians seem to love brass bands, guitars and pan flutes. There are marching bands everywhere. In our hotels, the music has been of popular rock artists slowed down and with the pan flute substituting for the vocals. U2’s “In the Name of Love” remixed with a pan flute doing the singing, for example. Things happen a little differently in Peru. We had to walk about 300 meters out to the plane the other day, on the tarmac. I haven’t done that since I was very little.

During our Cusco city tour, we saw the inside of the cathedral (again, no photography allowed –it conflicts with their postcard business…). The cathedral was long and full of individual chapels, and images of Mary and Jesus and the saints and apostles in long, stiff costumes, ready for a procession. If you don’t already know about the “procession”, it is a long walk around town with a statue or other religious item such as a relic, painting or even an altar. This is a very popular way of showing respect and faith in many countries, particular those once colonized by the Spanish. In fact, an oil painting of Jesus in this cathedral is considered sacred because a massive earthquake stopped after the people made an impromptu processional with the painting, in the mid 1600s. It is now referred to as the “lord of the earthquakes”. When it had to be restored a few years ago, Cusco people lamented that it would never be returned. When it finally did come back after a couple of years, the streets were lined for miles with people to welcome the image home. People take their holy objects and processionals pretty seriously around here. This church, a nearby abbey and most of the local buildings were built with Inca parts, either using existing walls as foundation, or using stones acquired from dismantling the original Inca buildings. The Inca work is distinctly different and obviously not Spanish. An earthquake in 1950 removed the Spanish cover on the local abbey’s walls, revealing the Inca stones underneath.

The Incas learned about earthquakes in the mid 1300s, when all of Cusco had to be basically rebuilt due to a massive earthquake. From then on, they built their walls with a 10% slope, facing inward, and it seems to have worked. The sites we saw have successfully weathered many devastating earthquakes, the most recent in May of 1950. The US Geological Survey says this about it:
“An interesting result was the destruction of buildings constructed in recent centuries since the Spanish conquest, while the stone walls and doorways constructed by Incaic artisans were nearly all intact, showing little or no effects of the earthquake. Since the Incas were not known to use mortar between stones in construction, this is even more remarkable. They skillfully fitted together great massive stone blocks in an extremely strong, interlocking manner. The extreme damage in Cusco (about 63 percent of the buildings had to be reconstructed) was due to poor construction of adobe dwellings, and to the thickness of alluvial gravels and degree of soil saturation.”

Another thing we found in Cusco is that the Volkswagon beetle is alive and well in Peru. They are everywhere and many are in excellent condition. I’m talking about the original model, not the “new” beetle. I believe they were manufactured in Mexico and sold later in Latin America than in the US, but still I have seen some clean looking models from the 1960s tooling around town. I used to own one, which makes it strange and familiar all at the same time. The climate is very dry to the west of the Andes, so I am guessing they are still on the road due to a lack of rust. They can be economical cars to own if you have a good one and know how to keep it running (something I only managed occasionally). Parts are often interchangeable and millions were manufactured.

There are many grades of yarn sold in Peru, and more woolen goods than you can shake a stick at. People in the streets try to sell you hats, sweaters, bags and blankets. I like to knit, so this was a fine opportunity to study what other people were making and get some creative ideas. I did some shopping, and found out that a kilo of alpaca yarn on a cone goes for about $25 US. Baby alpaca, which is far softer, is about $100 per kilo. That’s about half the price of the stuff back home, when you can find it. In Cusco, plain yarn not made up into something is hard to find, at least yarn of good quality (the acrylic “maybe alpaca” can be found in all the markets). But it can be done if you ask the right questions, so I have been working on my Spanish. [Aside: having an errand to do or a thing to find makes a foreign trip far more interesting. You are forced to learn a little language and interact with locals a lot more. Try to give yourself a little project next time you’re not in your own country and you’ll see what I mean.] Tom took a giant bag-full of yarn onto the airplane home to San Francisco. Maybe I should have titled this post “Baa Baa Black Sheep, Have you Any Wool?”…

We went to a bird and animal park and saw the great Andean condor. These were captive and were pretty used to people. I was able to get within a few feet and take pictures of them. At the same place, we saw a dog that recently won the title of “world’s ugliest”: the Peruvian Hairless dog. I can see why it got the award. We saw a fiber and dye demonstration and some weaving demonstrations at a co-op. The co-op was a group of many families who raise alpaca, llama and who corral vicuna (which will not submit to domestication despite many attempts). These families make their living with the animals, cut, wash, spin and dye the fibers with natural elements, and the people gain expertise in fiber arts (weaving, spinning, knitting & crocheting) as they grow older. Peruvians do clever fiber work, and combine crochet and knitting together for an artistically finished product. There are also weavings that look three-dimensional, helical, and traditional, depending on what you like. Some of the tapestries they made were truly works of art; very beautiful. Of course, as artisans, they don’t want us to photograph the work because it might be copied. I can understand that – you’ll have to take my word for it that it was outstanding. One of the other things we did at the co-op was feed the animals, and honestly, it was sweet. So far, we’ve had a great introduction to the indigenous way of life in Peru.

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3 Responses to Buildings, Beetles & Alpaca

  1. Meggi Raeder says:

    As always, very interesting reading.
    Travel safe, Meggi

  2. d says:

    I am glad you got over the high altitude sickness and are feeling better.

    If I ever have another life, I want to own sheep, lama and alpaca and go through the process of dying, spinning and knitting or weaving my own yarn. I use to have a wonderful sweater from Peru that I wore for years in Colorado. It was extremely warm but soft and light weight.

    Are you going hiking while in Peru?

    • Oh yes, yes we are. A whole lot! There’s no choice if you want to see the ruins. But we are not taking the Inca trail (not enough time for that 4-day hike). Alpaca is warm and durable fiber, that’s for sure.

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