Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Dawn of the Cusco Knitting Club

I have started reading the second Game of Thrones book, (it seems to be moving a lot slower than the first, though that may be because I'm a lot busier with various writing projects and what have you,) and I still have the same mixed feelings towards it.  This is a small, pedantic detail, but I'm somewhat miffed at how Martin keeps taking perfectly ordinary things and giving them epic fantasy names.  "Lizard-lions" for alligators... OK, that makes sense.  They are lizardy, and they violently eat smaller animals.  "Zorses" for zebras, mmmm... where did they get the "Z" from in the first place if not from zebra?  But "Myrish lens tube" was the one that really got me.  How is the word "spyglass" possibly not old-timey enough?  Urgh.

Otherwise, I know there's been a considerable lack of knitting posts lately, and mostly this is because I've been too caught up in traveling, writing, and writing about travel.  But Cusco is essentially the Shangri-La of knitted products.  Everywhere you go you see women hanging out in the streets knitting frenziedly to pass the time as they sell apples, avocados, frogs' legs, or whatever else.  I've bought so many alpaca sweaters, scarves, hats, and mittens for people back home that I'm going to have to throw out pretty much everything in my backpack before moving on.  (Apparently you can get knitted products for a third of the price in Puno, but I was too excited to wait that long....)

Before the gang of my Machu Picchu buddies left for Lake Titicaca, Lisa, Charlotte and I went to explore a yarn store, which was essentially one of the most amazing things I've seen since I've been here - it was like a library, with all the walls stacked from floor to ceiling with skeins of multicolored yarn.  There was even this spidery, wooden spinning yarn-balling machine.  So Lisa bought me two skeins of rainbow yarn, which I've knitted into a pretty spiffy matching set of hat and gloves for her.

  Otherwise, we set up a knitting club, where I taught both Lisa and Charlotte the basics of knitting - the first meeting of knitting club mostly consisted of us balling yarn and attempting to untie knots and tangles from Lisa's skein.  But the second meeting of knitting club was a success!  They're both knitting enormous scarves, and I'm once again attempting to knit a sort of sundress out of skinny turquoise yarn and the remainder of Lisa's rainbow yarn.  It will either turn out to be really awesome or will make me look like a rag-doll... at this point it could go either way.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Cusco, Throwback to the Inca Empire

Happily, Cusco is absolutely lovely.  It was the capital of the Inca Empire and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it's the perfect mix of bars and restaurants catering to tourists.  There is a bagel cafe just off the main plaza that serves proper Jewish bagels with your choice of cream cheese, avocado, and/or various types of salad.  Across the center of town is the San Pedro market, where you can find all sorts of woolen items for cheap, as well as baked goods, dried fruit, horrible Andean cheese (it's practically impossible to find good cheese down here... all they have is this white, crumbly, mildly salty stuff similar to Colombia's campesino cheese,) pasta, coca leaves, cow entrails, disembodies donkey faces, frogs' legs... virtually anything you can think of eating.  And aside from all that, the buildings are beautiful - churches and museums and statues all over the place, hiding around every corner.

People from Cusco are also all incredibly friendly.  Lisa, Darragh, and I have been here at least ten days now and nobody has tried to rip us off or been unnecessarily nasty to us.  In fact, people seem to be thrilled to say hello to tourists.  While going on a nature walk with a shaman in the Inca archaeological site outside the city, Saksaywaman, I wandered off by myself and happened upon two farmers carrying bundles of sticks.  They were very nice, even though I may have been technically trespassing, and eager to hear about where I was from and where I was going.  Later, when we stopped for lunch of bananas and pepinos (these shamans have hardcore dietary restrictions...) at a one-room house built of adobe bricks and corrugated tin where a little old couple lived, they lamented that they hadn't had notice that we were coming, or they would have cooked us a lunch.  They were adorable, and we left them the rest of our bags of fruit before heading off.

A gang of nine of us recently took a three-day trip to Aguas Calientes, the tourist town set up as a springboard to Machu Picchu.  To quote the venerable Obi-Wan Kenobi, "You'll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy."  (Unless, of course, you go to Máncora.)  The people, knowing that anybody who wants to visit Machu Picchu has to spend at least one night in Aguas Calientes, use that as an excuse to suck as much money out of tourists as they can.  Everywhere we went we met with secret, sneaky "local tax" which is basically restaurants adding an extra 20% onto your bill without telling you.  Philip, one of our traveling crew, accidentally left his camera at a restaurant and had to use both bribes and threats of calling the police before the proprietor would give it back to him.  There are other crummy things I can say about Aguas Calientes, but I would rather talk about how wonderful Machu Picchu was.

An old Inca town way up high in the mountains, it was the only place never discovered by the Spanish conquistadores, meaning it was discovered in the 19th century almost entirely as it had existed centuries earlier, except that all the thatched roofs were gone.  So the layout of the town was perfectly preserved, with its temples and plazas and irrigation ducts and houses, and we just spent all day exploring the ruins and climbing up and down the walls.  We hiked up to the Sun Gate, which gave us the perfect view of the village just as the sun hit it from the west and made the entire mountainside light up.  It was beautiful and tranquil, and the whole day was an exhausting hike but well worth it.

Now I'm back in Cusco for two weeks while the guys have gone off to Copacabana in Bolivia, to return on my birthday which is coming up!  So I have two weeks to write and work and explore Cusco, which I am looking forward to hugely aside from the fact that it's cold and rainy nearly all of the time.  Rainy season, sigh... and here I thought I'd timed my trip so perfectly to coincide with summer.