There’s a moment which happens to every long-term traveller every now and again. It’s a moment of either excitement or dread. I happen to absolutely love it.
Sitting at the breakfast table I caught a waft of Irish accent, and immediately I’m there like ‘Whereabouts in Ireland are you from?’
Those times you meet someone from home are the best chance to catch up, share stories, and laugh at how different where you are is compared to where you are from. It also leads you to do things you might not otherwise have planned.
All this led quickly to us all heading out on the Free Cusco Walking Tour (the one with the white t-shirts, 10:30am, by the fountain) and having a great experience all round.
Being as cheap as I am, I’m always tempted to skip free walking tours and the tipping awkwardness at the end, but this seemed a sensible one to jump onto. Off we went snaking through the streets and seeing Cusco through the eyes of a local.
Describing the Inca as ‘astronomical, agricultural, and religious’ people was a swift summing up of a culture which our guide was more than happy to flesh out. It’s great to hear that people here still connect with their past religious beliefs despite the 16 churches here firmly stamping Inca religious practice.
What struck me more than anything was the influence colonial occupation had on the native peoples. Time and again our guide told us how life had changed rapidly for the local people, with Catholic Churches being erected on former holy sites and various forms of ‘encouragement’ being used to gain conversions.
This story of cultures being irreperably changed is one we have seen frequently in South America. The Native Peoples continue to live poorer, be less educated, and die younger than their more European counterparts. It can be no co-incidence that across the world, the lot of Native Peoples has been a tough one, and one we need to continue to work towards improving.
The tour also had a brilliantly light side. Whether explaining that Cusqueño’s knew more positions than the Kama Sutra, or describing in detail the guinea pig being eaten at the Last Supper painting in the Cathedral, Freddy, our guide, made us laugh repeatedly.
Now don’t forget that these free tours serve a commercial purpose. You will visit shops and have Llama keyring gifts thrust into your hands, but as long as you are ready for it it shouldn’t phase you. It’s how the local’s advertise their business and what makes ‘free’ tours possible.
It was a great introduction to Cusco, and a brilliant chance to hear local tales and stories as we walked. It also made visual so much of what we had read about Cusco, and took us to areas we hadn’t previously wandered. It was great to have my eyes opened, and gave me an appreciation for the story of the people here.
So; bored in Cusco one morning? Meet someone from your own country and head out on a walking tour. You’ll have a blast!