Cusco is a breathtaking town, both visually as well as literally because of the lack of oxygen. Its elevation of 3,4km above the sea level makes one’s strolls around this beautiful hilly town rather challenging. The city of nearly 350 thousand inhabitants lives of its close proximity to Machu Picchu as well as Rainbow mountain. Mass tourism is however often accompanied with certain level of SCAM and Cusco is all but an exception to this rule.
Some facts first
The original city was the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th until the 16th-century Spanish conquest, which makes it one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Western hemisphere. The remains of the Inca’s capital can be seen in the early stone architecture, which is sometimes preserved in the foundations and lower stories of Spanish colonial structures. The city was declared a UNESCO World Herritage site in 1983.
From what we know, the Incan spiritual life and beliefs were integrated with their view of the stars in regard to the way that the Incas observed it from Cusco, all being inter-connected to agricultural seasons. Shame that the conquistadors burned the Incan records – it would be a direct source of what Incas – whom were by the way also rather expansive conquistadors themselves – were up to.
We however know that the two most important sites for Incan mythology are: the city of Cusco and Lake Titicaca. FYI, the latter is based on a legend of Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo in case you wanted to find out more Google it, but my subject here is Cusco and I’ll try to stay within the theme, although Titicaca‘s mythological story is also very interesting 😉
The Ayar brothers legend
Well, once upon a time there was a massive flood (surprise) and consequently there were four brothers who set to find the fertile lands. They have travelled together with their wifes, whom were by the way also their sisters (:0
So there were Ayar Cachi and Mama Huaco, Ayar Uchu and Mama Ipacura, Ayar Auca and Mama Rahua and, finally, Ayar Manco and Mama Ocllo. This jolly company travelled together for years. They they fought against local tribes as well as among each-other, as we do.
Firstly, the three “weaker” brothers betrayed the “strongest” one (Cachi) by tricking him to enter a cave that those three “role models” later blocked so he couldn’t come out. Uchu later froze from fear after jumping on a ‘statue of idol’ when destroying someone’s temple somewhere in Huanacauri.
Aucua apparently produced a pair of wings and flew to the site of the future city, where he was transformed into a rock to mark the possession of the land (of the future Cusco), which is not that bad considering the fate of the first two brothers.
The only brother to reach the place consequently appears to be Manco. Accompanied by the four sister-wifes, they then set up the city of Cusco.
Part two: The Beast AKA Cusco, the capital of SCAM
Being the gateway to one of the world’s most visited attractions Machu Picchu (read more here), Cusco currently welcomes around 2 million tourist per year. While one can often witness the friendliness of the non-tourism locals, some of the tourist industry people in Cusco could not be exactly labelled as being entirely honest people. I don’t want to paint everyone with the same brush, I did come across some honest and nice individuals but I wish there was more of them. Much more.
One might argue that SCAM is the case of every major tourist destination globally and it would be a solid argument. Cusco however took things to another level, which means that one has to be constantly ready to face the street vendors and various tricksters. I’m talking about being approached be one or two vendors per minute, if you are anywhere outdoors in the historical centre.
Their cover usually is shoe-cleaning or being a desperate artist selling “his” paintings but in fact they sell everything, whatever they think people are into. The perspectives of target audiences vary, depending to which marketing stereotype you belong to. Solo-male travellers have a different and often a bit darker offers/experience, if compared to solo female travellers and so on.
I understand that people are trying to survive. Except the fact that in an ideal world, people should have opportunities to live better lives, I wouldn’t have a problem with street vendors at all, only if there were not so many opportunists and tricksters among them. It’s not much of a secret that often it’s not only about selling their products, sometimes we’re talking about petty thieves or even worse kinds of people pretending to sell you things.
How to deal with all that?
Be nice. And sharp. Watch your back as well as your bag and also watch out for the overly-friendly people because some of them could be rather clever, exploiting your good heart.
As for Cusco, the owners of the hotel I’ve stayed in restored the balance and my faith in humanity, re-balancing the negative energy created by the tricksters. The old couple was so nice that I’ve even extended my stay for few days. There’s a lot of beauty and nice people to enjoy in this town – don’t let the opportunists to ruin it for you 😉