Day 2 — An Afternoon in Cusco

Saturday — April 4

Back in Cusco, Vidal took us to A Mi Manera (My Way — just like the Frank Sinatra song). A family-operated restaurant located on the second floor of a courtyard on Calle Triunfo, just off Plaza de Armas, it was the perfect place for a relaxing lunch — delightful, brightly decorated, great service, and excellent cuisine. A Mi Manera definitely delivered on the promise printed on the front of the menu — we experienced Peruvian gastronomy with all of our senses. I’d have to say, however, that the Rocoto (a spicy, hot pepper filled with beef and raisins, served with golden potatoes) Vidal ordered ensured that he’d be using a few more senses than we did — ay, ay, ay!

Being unfamiliar with portion sizes, we ordered a bit more than we should have — lesson learned, we won’t be ordering both an appetizer and a main course from now on. When it comes to dessert, though, all bets are off — especially if they all taste as heavenly as the Caprichiosa (chocolate mousse) we ordered to top off today's lunch.

Caprichiosa — simply heavenly!

After our meal, we took a meandering walk back into Plaza de Armas where we spent an hour exploring the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, or simply the Cusco Cathedral.

The Cathedral of Santo Domingo dominates the Plaza de Armas.
(The small building to the right is the Iglesia del Triunfo.)

The conquistadors could have picked any spot in Cusco for the Cathedral, but they chose to build it over the ruins of Quiswarcancha, the palace of Inca Viracocha (named for the creator of all things and god of the sun and storms himself). The reason? They wanted to replace an important symbol of the Inca religious beliefs with one that represented Christianity. Construction of the cross-shaped Cathedral began in 1559 and took nearly 100 years to complete. Most of the stones used in the construction were taken from a nearby holy Inca site, Sacsaywaman. In doing so, the Spanish probably intended to destroy the site, which had a defensive purpose as well as a religious one.

There was a lot to see inside the Cathedral where preparations were underway for Easter celebrations. We wandered around, stopping to take a closer look at anything that caught our eye, including the embossed, beaten-silver altar that is in use today. I have to admit that I much preferred the elaborately carved alder-wood altar that it replaced — a true piece of art that sits covered in dust behind the silver altar. The carved wooden choir that we briefly explored was also most impressive.

At one point, we sat in one of the pews to watch the Señor de Los Temblores (Lord of the Earthquakes) being prepared for the procession that traditionally takes place on the Monday before Easter. Legend has it that a statue of Christ on the cross was paraded around the city during the earthquake of 1650. When the tremors stopped shortly thereafter, the faithful credited the Señor with averting a major disaster. And so was born a tradition that has become part of Easter celebrations. We arranged our itinerary so as to be in Cusco on the day of the procession; if we’re lucky, we’ll get a good spot from which to watch the proceedings.

Señor de Los Temblores
(image scanned from postcard)

The Cusco Cathedral has become a repository of colonial art in addition to being a place of worship. The oversized paintings cover almost all of the available wall space, with some of them being framed around doors in order to make the best use of the space. Most of the paintings are from the Escuela Cusqueña (Cusco School of Art), which was established by the Spanish to educate the locals in the disciplines of European-style artwork. The Quechua artists were only allowed to paint scenes that carried European or Catholic significance and they were not permitted to sign their work. These artists sometimes found ways to incorporate Inca iconography into their work — such as the roasted cuy (guinea pig — a cultural delicacy still served today) and the bottles of chicha (a brew derived from fermented maize that was often used in rituals) incorporated into the painting of the Last Supper by Marcos Zapata.

The Last Supper as depicted by a Quechua artist from the Escuela Cusqueña.
(image scanned from postcard)

From the Cathedral, we went onto take a quick peek around the adjacent Iglesia del Triunfo (Church of the Triumph), which was the first Christian church built in Cusco. It was constructed over the ruins of the Suntur Wasi, the Inca armory where the Spanish were trapped during Manco Inca’s 1536 siege — no wonder it was destroyed and replaced with a church! The name of the church refers to the eventual triumph of the Spanish over the Inca rebels.

We completed our explorations and exited through the main door of the church, dodging the gauntlet of locals selling everything from finger puppets, to painted gourds, to massages and manicures. Then we did our best not to fall into the clutches of youngsters rattling off “Washington DC capital, president Barack Obama, Barack Obama good man, you want buy something” as soon as they figured out we were from the US. We said “No, gracias,” to all of the offers, but did stop to purchase some postcards of the interior of the Cathedral since photography was not allowed inside.

Flagging down a cab at the curb, Vidal next took us to the Church of San Cristobal, perched on Colcampata Hill overlooking Cusco. The church is currently closed to the public due to an active excavation project, but we were there to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the city, so we didn’t mind that we were unable to go inside. Even as we enjoyed the scenery, storm clouds were gathering in the distance, accompanied by occasional rumbles of thunder. Before long, a light drizzle started to fall. It didn’t last long, however, and the sun was soon shining brightly with the gift of a rainbow in the distance.

A glimpse of Cusco from the Church of San Cristobal.

A meandering walk through charming cobblestone streets brought us back to Los Apus. Our timing was perfect. No sooner were we inside our room that the heavens opened up in a downpour. Standing on the balcony, we enjoyed the refreshing coolness the rain brought with it and watched as it washed away the dust and grime in the streets.

Next Up: Day 2 — Night Out on the Town

3 comments:

  1. How I loved Cuzco! Wonderful panoramic shot!

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  2. Hi Erin,

    It's Erwin. We've just got back from the Galapagos and Peru. What a wonderful time. I will have to go through 150000 photos and then create a place on the web to show the best.
    We also visited the cathedral in Cusco.

    Just to let you know the photo of the last supper is horizontally reversed.
    The painting has Pizarro as Judas on the right. I guess they told you that Judas has the face of Pizarro right?

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    1. Welcome back ... I imagine you had a terrific time ... I hope you share a link to your photos when you get them published online or to a review/blog if you decide to go that route.

      I do recall our guide telling us about Pizarro/Judas ... must have slipped my mind though, so thanks for refreshing my memory.

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