Wednesday 12 August 2015

High and low

You would think, it being such an ancient city - 10 centuries, and counting - that Cusco wouldn't change much - but it has, in the 8 years since I was here last. It's much cleaner and tidier, remarkably so; the Plaza de Armas in the centre is pedestrianised, the stray dogs look better-fed, the vendors are less aggressive, there are fewer beggars, the local people look more affluent. All good, of course, though it does feel faintly sanitised - no doubt something to do with the high police presence with their guns and riot shields. Even they have been cleaned up, though: there was a security guard checking her phone by the central statue this afternoon who was so glamorous, her makeup so perfect that she really could have been a model - if it weren't for the boots, the helmet and the bright yellow vest.
Passing back through again this evening, there were more police with riot shields, standing aside looking faintly bemused as a noisy group of young women loudly demanded their rights in a pro-abortion demonstration, shouting, waving placards, lying on the road, one of them even topless and grafittied. Good for them.
Today was about acclimatising, to the altitude (3,399m) and trying to stagger through a whole day after only two hours' sleep the previous night. I tell you, jet lag is such a huge pain in this job, it can really get you down. I'm here in Peru, and then in Ecuador, to experience some of the customised tours that Viva Expeditions can put together, and the first starts tomorrow, hosted by Chimu Adventures. It turns out that I'm the only one of the dozen of us, the others all Americans, who's skipping the 'moderate hike' to go to a weaving centre instead. Tch. I shall have to make it my business to spread it around that I've already hiked the Inca Trail proper.
It's good to be back here, and will be even better when I'm feeling normal again. I remember my way around, and it was lovely to walk over the shiny cobbles, the car tyres flapping softly past, see the odd Inca-built walls, fountains, cathedrals, wooden balconies, people out on the streets being sociable, smell the food, see the hills behind looking like Christmas sprinkled with sodium and fluorescent lights. Nice too, having toiled up the hill, to enter the peaceful haven of Palacio Manco Capac with its thick studded doors and the frogs croaking quietly outside.

Incidentally, the locals strongly prefer Cusco, not Cuzco. They're also pretty irritated that the city's rainbow flag has been put to another use altogether. Don't give much for their chances on that one (still mourning the loss of the original use of 'gay').

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