Ancient and modern living side by side
Two and a half days in Cusco – the most amazing city that I think I’ve ever been to, that carries so much ancient culture and tradition that is kept alive by indigenous people and those that know how to integrate this tradition into people’s lives. Here I had half a day off to – believe it or not – get my hair done, and my nails done, and generally be pampered and find out what had been happening in Cusco for the last few years. I met old faces and was introduced to new ones.
My grandson, who was with us on the trip, told me he felt that Cusco was the right place to be, and I knew just what he meant. While here we spent two days with Pedro and his family. They have been part of my life for about 20 years. His youngest daughter, who is my goddaughter, has a photograph by her bedside of her and me when she was tiny, and I was very touched by how she still had that connection. We had great ceremonies with Pedro and his team, partly because he lives in the centre of one of the most powerful places in Cusco, Saksaywaman.
Cusco is also a very cosmopolitan city. And everybody agreed they all felt at home there – they loved it, and they shopped ‘til they dropped. The hotel doorman quickly picked up on who was who, and he would let me know who had gone in and who had gone out shopping (again!).
One young man who was selling jewellery on the street told me I had a very familiar face and I said I had been coming a long time. About an hour later, as I was on my way back to the hotel, he came up again and told me that he remembered my son Dean, who had travelled with me in the past. He reminded me that Dean had taken on board two young underage street traders that used to sell postcards and jewellery – he used to take them for food, and buy all of their stuff so that they could go home with some money. And this was one of those young men that Dean had befriended. And though he was still selling jewellery on the street, he was very smartly dressed, and his jewellery was good quality, and even better he had a big smile on his face. He told me he’s married with a child now.
This is why we had to get Pedro some proper shoes…
So off with the shorts and sarongs, and off to Cusco with our hiking boots, ponchos and rucksacks, ready to visit the Sacred Valley and Pisac. Pedro the shaman told me he would be conducting the ceremony at the Pisac temple. But when I looked at his shoes I wondered how he was going to walk up the mountain without his normal walking boots. He said he’d left his boots by his bed, so there was nothing for it but to go to the market to get him some – and that was the start of the shopping. Everyone wants to shop in Peru, it’s the colours, the textiles – we all thought it would be nice to take something back to grey England that was warm and colourful.
We stayed in a different hotel in the Sacred Valley to the one I normally choose, and this one had the most incredible labyrinth and firepit for use in ceremonies. It made me very happy to see this incorporation of ancient culture into a modern day facility. We were the envy of other hotel guests as I had organised a fire ceremony for one of the nights. The indigenous staff that worked there made a point of placing offerings on the fire, which is traditional. This was the beginning of our Sacred Valley ceremonial journey to Machu Picchu.
By this time the girls had become good companions, supporting each other through their highs and lows. I lost track of the exclamations of delight as we visited temple complexes and ancient sacred sites that were off the beaten track, which always have something magical about them.
And there was so much laughter. For a change I asked the driver if he knew a different route back to the hotel and he said yes, over the mountain. Minutes later, having wound round and round in a spiral on this bumpy old mountain road I was beginning to think I’d done the wrong thing. And as we came round one very tight bend the bus stalled – right by the edge. A little voice in the back of the bus piped up, and my grandson said, ‘should we all move to the front of the bus at this point?’ At which we all absolutely cracked up laughing. The driver reassured us that it was OK, and sure enough off we went.