Saturday — April 4As the rain came to an end and night fell, we donned our layers against the gathering chill, collected our tripods and cameras, and headed back to Plaza de Armas for some nighttime photography. The Saturday night merriment was just starting to swing into action with locals enjoying a night out on the town. There were several wedding parties adding to the festive atmosphere — some getting ready to tie the knot at one of the churches on either side of the Cathedral; others using the nighttime ambiance of the plaza as a backdrop for their wedding photographs. After our late — and very satisfying — lunch, we weren’t very hungry, but seeing that the restaurants were fast filling up, we decided to postpone our photography until after dinner. After perusing the menus posted outside the eateries rimming the plaza, we settled on Norton’s Rat Tavern.
Earlier tonight, the balcony at Norton’s was chock-a-block with diners.In case you’re wondering, the “rat” in the name of the pub is not a reference to cuy, but rather to an old classic British motorcycle such as the one used by Che Guevara during his travels in the 1950s — a bit of trivia worthy of Jeopardy, wouldn’t you say. In any event, the establishment sits atop a corner of one of the most intact Inca structures around, the Accllawasi, where the “chosen women” of the Inca lived. At least that’s what I read and I’m sticking to the story. Despite the increasing chill in the night air, we took two of the last few seats on the narrow balcony overlooking Plaza de Armas. Norton’s might have been a bit more touristy than we would have liked, but it was a great spot from which to do some people-watching. The food was tasty; the Cusqueña Rubia beers we ordered were cold and quite good — all in all, it met our needs.
When in Cusco you drink the beer that is brewed locally.I’ve made mention of Plaza de Armas (Plaza of Arms), but have not said much about it. Let me rectify that omission. There seems to be a plaza by this name in almost every Latin American city. Here’s how Wikipedia describes these plazas: “… It is often surrounded by governmental buildings, churches, and other structures of cultural or political significance. The name derives from the fact that this area would be a refuge in case of an attack upon the city, from which arms would be supplied to the defenders.” That describes the plaza here perfectly. As the capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco is said to have been built in the shape of a puma (symbol of strength) with the plaza located where the puma’s heart would have been — a bit of symbolism that points to the plaza being the cultural center of not just the city, but of the empire as well. Soil from each of the conquered territories was brought to the square and symbolically mixed with the soil at the “heart of the empire.” Before the conquest, the square was twice the size it is today. When the Spanish took control of the city, they reduced its size by building the Cathedral and the Iglesia de la Compañia. You might recall I mentioned in a previous post that what is now Plaza de Armas was named Wacaypata (Weeping Square) during the time of the Incas. Well, they had another name for the square as well — Aucaypata, meaning the “Square of War.” It was so named because the square was also where pre-battle ceremonies were held. At the time, instead of churches, palaces of the Incas rimmed the square — one of which housed the current ruler, and the others housed the mummified remains of former Incas. The other half of the original Inca square was known as Cusipata (the Joyful Square); this is where all the festivities and drunken revelry took place. Before we traveled to Cusco, I had read that one day in 1997 Plaza de Armas really did become the weeping square. Why? Overnight, the mayor ordered almost all of the native Andean trees to be removed, an action that greatly saddened the residents of the city. Only a few were spared thanks to the efforts of people who chained themselves to some of the trees and refused to be budged despite the threats against them. My subsequent research had not revealed an explanation for the mayor’s action, so I asked Vidal about this yesterday when we were having lunch at Yaku Mama’s Grill. He pointed out the trees that had been spared and explained that the mayor had the trees removed because they were blocking the view of the buildings!!!!!!!!! I wrote a bit about the Cathedral in my previous post. Even though we did not visit it today, I should give equal time to the other grand edifice of Plaza de Armas — La Compañía, or to give its full name, Iglesia La Compañía de Jesús (the Jesuit Church). Some say it rivals the Cathedral in grandeur, which is exactly what the Jesuits intended. It is indeed magnificent, even though the clocks on either side of the building are out of synch (wink, wink). Originally built in the 16th century, over the ruins of Amarucancha (the serpent courtyard), the palace of Inca Wayna Capac, the church was almost totally destroyed during the earthquake of 1650. It was rebuilt and completed in 1668. I understand the golden altar is quite magnificent; time permitting, we’ll go inside for a peek before we leave Cusco. OK the informative section of the blog is over; back to our evening. After dinner, we wandered around the plaza, taking in the ambiance of a Saturday night in Cusco. It was surprisingly quiet, but it was only 8:00p; the revelry probably started much later. In addition to the many international tourists, there were quite a few Peruanos taking advantage of the Easter break to visit the city. Kids were running around, their parents watching indulgently; teenagers were cuddling in dark corners; brides and grooms were posing in front of the fountain in the center of the park; long-time friends were sitting on benches, chatting and laughing. And then there were the ubiquitous tourists, clicking shutters in complete awe of their surroundings. No one seemed to have a care in the world, which was really nice to see even if it was just an illusion.
The Cusco Cathedral looks even more impressive at night.
A wedding party uses La Compañía as a backdrop for their photos.On that note, we started our slow walk back to the hotel. It was only 9:00p, but the night chill was really making itself felt. Besides, another busy and exciting day was not far off and we needed our rest. Next Up: Day 3 — Market Day in Pisac