Maybe later? Maybe next year?
05/14/2007 - 05/23/2007
We hadn´t gone more than a dozen steps after returning to Cuzco, exhausted from completing the Inca Trail and toting our backpacks, when we heard it:
"Amigo, masaje?" (Friend, massage?)
We´ve since heard the pitch maybe 40 times, and are all but certain that massages are not what´s really being offered.
It´s virtually impossible to cross the very pretty main plaza in Cuzco without encountering frantic requests to buy a "massage," or perhaps attend an adult-oriented show, or contribute to a child´s foreign coin collection, or invest in finger puppets, postcards, "original" paintings or a woolen alpaca hat. At some point, a light jog becomes necessary to evade the hordes, who have yelled out on occasion, "Maybe later? Maybe next year?"
The llama-like alpaca, incidentally, seem to have copied their faces from the Ewoks on "Return of the Jedi." Or maybe vice-versa.
Anyway, Cuzco has continued the theme of strange but intensely fascinating cultural pairings in Bolivia and Peru. At some stores, for example, you can buy dolls of sobbing children who have bloodied their feet after stepping on large thorns. Based on our limited Spanish, the symbolism seems to be both religious and superstitious. At others, you can purchase explicit paintings of the Virgin breastfeeding baby Jesus. Still others offer grotesque masks of colonists (used during festivals), including one of an ugly man with um, his private parts where his nose should be.
The real show-stoppers, though, are the amazing Inca walls (one large stone boasts 12 precisely carved sides to allow it to fit precisely with its neighbors) and the elaborate Catholic churches, the latter often purposefully built upon the solid foundations of destroyed Incan temples.
We´ve tended to agree with the common sentiment here that it´s very fortunate the Spanish conquistadors never found Machu Picchu. Otherwise, the Inca Trail might lead to nothing more than another extremely large cathedral.
In the Bolivian town of Copacabana, home of the famous Virgin of Copacabana icon and the daily blessing of the cars, the gigantic cathedral has borrowed heavily from Moorish designs, while old women sell Ekeko dolls (god of plenty) right in front of the large cathedral plaza.
The cathedral, by the way, was located in the town because of the supreme importance of the nearby Isla del Sol, where the Incas believed the sun was born. We spent a night there, and couldn´t resist snapping a picture of a local boy riding his somewhat stubborn donkey.
The significance of other oddities has been mostly lost on us, but makes them no less interesting.
In the Cuzco church of San Blas, where a beautifully carved cedar pulpit includes cupids with arms bent backwards and (according to legend) the skull of its creator, the custodians have apparently forgotten to turn up the heat. A statue of a bishop or other important church figure comes complete with bright red knit gloves, while a small statue of Jesus sports a knit woolen hat.
Perhaps our favorite bizarre moment of all came on the train from Aguas Calientes (a town below Machu Picchu from which nearly all travelers depart). At one point, our train porter went to the bathroom and reemerged as ... Captain Cuzco!*
- (Very likely not his real name)
The cultural significance of this transformation was lost on us, but we think it may have had something to do with selling alpaca wool products. At any rate, he danced down the aisle in a red hat and white ski mask (made of the finest alpaca wool, no doubt) and wielded a large stuffed alpaca that he would thrust in the faces of passengers, inviting them to pet it.
After his spirited show, our two stewards also disappeared into the bathroom and re-emerged ... for an alpaca wool fashion show, set to the disco remix of the flowerchild classic, "If You´re Going to San Francisco."
You just can´t make this stuff up.