Day 11 — Can't Leave Town; Let's Wander Around Cusco

Monday — April 13

Don’t get me wrong, I’m completely happy with what we did today. It would have been even better, however, had we been able to include some of the places on the outskirts of town — such as Oropesa and Tipon — in our itinerary. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible because inter-city transportation was brought to a halt by the farmers' strike. The silver lining — there was very little traffic in Cusco, making it a lot easier to cross streets!

We’d made arrangements to meet Vidal around 11:00a, leaving us free to do as we pleased until then. You’d think we’d take it easy, wouldn’t you — especially after getting to bed so late last night. Well we sort of did. It was 8:30a when we left the hotel; in our book, that’s considered sleeping in. The skies were overcast and dreary, and a light drizzle was falling. Taking the Siete Culebras shortcut, we arrived at the Hotel Monasterio, operated by the Orient-Express Hotels company.

Our goal wasn’t to see the hotel so much as to see the gardens and the church, which can be accessed from the courtyard. You see, the hotel is located on the grounds of what used to be the Seminary of San Antonio Abad.

The white building is the original seminary;
the stone building is the church that was added on later.
(for those who notice such things, I confess — the photo was taken on a different day)

The conquistadors built the original monastery in 1595 on the foundations of the palace of Inca Amaru Qhala. In 1598, the seminary was founded for the purpose of training Catholic priests. From 1692 until 1816, the seminary served as a Royal Pontifical University. After which, it reverted back to being a seminary until 1965 when the building was remodeled into a hotel.

The front courtyard of the Hotel Monesterio, formerly the Seminary of San Antonio Abad.

Glimpse of the grounds from a second floor window of the hotel.

After wandering around the grounds of the Monasterio, we went into the church, which dates to 1678-1699; it was added during the restoration of the seminary following the 1650 earthquake. Since simple wins my heart anytime, I’m probably not a good judge of the architectural splendor of the colonial Renaissance style of the church. I found the heavily gilded, ornate altar and frames to be a bit much — they overwhelmed the otherwise simple interior of the church and the superb paintings, most of which are products of the Escuela Cusqueña (Cusco School of Art).

Left: Heavily gilded, ornate altar of the Church of San Antonio Abad.
Right: One of the paintings in the entry to the church.

Leaving the Monasterio, we donned our handy plastic ponchos and walked down to the Plaza de Armas. It was so odd seeing this normally bustling square quiet and mostly empty of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. For a moment, I wondered why. Then it dawned on me — the strike!

Where have all the vehicles gone?

The normally bustling park in the center of the plaza is devoid of crowds today.

Taking advantage of the covered colonnade rimming the perimeter, we made our way around the plaza, stopping occasionally to do some window shopping. Eventually, we made our way down side streets to a cambio on Avenida del Sol. Could we have exchanged dollars to soles somewhere more convenient? You bet — cambios, which are often co-located with other businesses, are a dime a dozen. Then there are also the vest-wearing guys and gals on the street who are ready to do business with you at the drop of a hat — they seem to have a thriving drive-by business. But we wanted a tried and tested location; the cambio Vidal had taken us to on our first day in town fit the bill.

With soles in our pocket, we asked the people in the store to point us towards the nearest internet café. All we got in return were some quizzical looks. Apparently, there are lots of places with public internet stations, but few of them are “cafés.” As soon as we posed our question as “¿dónde está internet?”, we had about 10 recommendations to pick from. Going into the nearest place — co-located in a camera shop, by the way — we checked our email, printed boarding passes for our flight to Juliaca the next day, and browsed the US newspapers. Use of two computers for about an hour = S/.5; less than $2. What a bargain!

This mural decorates the side of a building not far from the Palacio de Justicia.

A small portion of a tile mural near the internet shop on Avenida del Sol.

Taking advantage of the clearing weather, we followed a meandering path that eventually brought us to Hatunrumiyoc (the Street of the Great Stone). Have I said before that Quechua place names are often a literal description of the place? Well, they are. Case in point, the street is named for a 12-angled massive stone embedded in an Inca-built wall that runs the length of the passageway. The stone is renowned not only for its size, but also for how perfectly it joins with the other blocks around it. Some scholars have speculated that the 12 angles represent the months of a year, but there’s no evidence that the Inca masons intended any symbolism; they were simply trying to make the stone fit the space in the wall. Amazing craftsmanship.

I provide perspective for the size of the 12-angled stone on Hatunrumiyoc.

With about 30 minutes to while away before we were scheduled to meet Vidal, we next went up to Yaku Mama’s Grill for a cup of coffee — in my case, an ice-cold Coca Cola. When I returned to the table after checking out the small display of dried potatoes and maize near the entrance, there was a little something extra waiting to be consumed: a chocolate drizzled, crispy crêpe … very yummy!

Left: Mui in front of Yaku Mama’s Grill.
Right: A “layered” cappuccino for Mui’s drinking pleasure.

Yes, there is a plate under the crêpe!

Thus, with a snack to hold us over until later, we went off to join Vidal.

Next Up: Day 11 — Qoricancha

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