An hour outside of Cusco is Pisac, an Andean village set on the banks of the Urubamba River. The streets are cobblestone, a large pisonay tree provides shade for the town’s plaza, and perched high up on a nearby hill is a large complex of Inca ruins surrounded by agricultural terracing. It is a beautiful place to visit on any day of the week but even more so on Sunday, the biggest market day. Sunday is also the day that a Quechuan mass is held in the local church drawing in worshipers from all over the countryside dressed in their finest traditional clothing.
We found ourselves outside the white-washed church just before the service ended and enjoyed sitting in sun listening to the sounds of prayer and music floating from the open doors. Peering over the heads of the short Quechua women were a group of geared out French tourists on a group tour, digital SLRs in hand. The sea of Ex-Officio parted to let out the church goers who filed out wearing the most beautifully woven wool ponchos. The younger boys lined up for a photo op while blowing into their conch shell horns; only asking for a small tip in exchange for photos. Eventually the crowd dispersed as everyone started walking to the market or back to their homes. We joined the group of Peruvians heading towards the market until Andy felt a rough tap on his shoulder and some French words came flying at our way. Unsure of what the old guy wanted we continued walking with the group. He came up to us again and this time loudly told us in broken English to move out of the way because we were ruining the picture. We thought this was hilarious and after an eye roll we continued to ruin his photo. It seems ridiculous that one person’s experience is more important than another. People can get pushy on vacation wanting to get the perfect photo or have the perfect experience, but I’ve come to realize that my favorite photos and memories are the crooked ones where everyone looks exhausted and the real feeling of the place shines through.
Being located so close to Cusco, Pisac gets bombarded by tourists on market days, us included. Despite this Pisac is a very charming place and the market, although full of knick knacks made especially for us tourists, is still a functional one with locals buying produce and other necessities. The people we encountered seemed remarkably un-jaded by tourism which is something we found to be true throughout Peru. Most people we met seemed happy to see us, or at least didn’t mind that we were there, especially in the hole in the wall restaurants or small bars that we usually found.
In the market the first thing we did was hunt out the chicha stall. This one specialized in strawberry chicha and sold it in larger and smaller sizes. We wanted to fit in and be cool like all of the other regulars so we each ordered the large size which turned out to be about the size of my head. The glass was so big my hands looked like a child’s trying to fit around it. As we drank we watched a couple of market vendors come up and throw a few coins down before chugging a small glass and continuing on their way. At my feet was a woman selling herbs laid out on a blanket in separate piles. Each herb had a different curative property and she would tell anyone who asked which ones the needed to cure which ailment. Following the lead of the other stool sitting drinkers we each ordered a second chicha. No matter that is was delicious, it was still a hard task to fit all of that fermented corn into our bellies. A woman passed behind me and gave me a huge pat on the back announcing that “this girl is a drinker.” We managed to finish the second glass and say thank you before the chicha maker gave us a free half glass pour for good measure. It’s hard to turn down such a nice gesture and somehow we fit the last of it in.
There were a lot of good options for street food in the market, so we decided to do a short hike to work up an appetite for lunch. We started off straight up hill towards the Pisac ruins passing a lot of incredible stone terraces. It didn’t take us long to get pretty tired and after an hour we turned around. We found out later that to hike to the top, explore the ruins, and hike back down is a five hour trip! If we had realized we could take a taxi to the ruins we may have done it, but as it was we still got to see some neat stone work and a great view down into the valley.
Evening came too quickly and we didn’t feel ready to go back to Cusco, but the market was over and the buses were leaving. If we find ourselves back in Pisac I think we may just take the time to spend a night.