Our current time zone: GMT +8 (We're home in Singapore!)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

San Blas (Not Sandblast!)

Just last night, the husband admitted publicly on Facebook that he kept thinking that we were staying in the 'sandblast' area in Cusco. I was very sure that I took pains to pronounce it properly as "sahn blahs", but that's what happens when the wife does all the trip planning and the man just flips through the relevant section of the travel guide upon arriving at the place!

We spent almost all our time in Cusco hanging around San Blas and lovin' it there. We have seen many a 'pretty colonial town' on this trip and San Blas was definitely quite a charmer in this aspect: narrow cobblestone streets, whitewashed walls with dotted with blue balconies and window shutters, tiny homely restaurants hidden behind narrow doors.

The streets are so narrow that should a vehicle come rumbling by, you have to balance on the narrow 'sidewalk' and press up against the building walls to avoid being smacked by a passing side mirror. Woe be unto you if the pavement is crowded with fellow pedestrians or puppy poop.

Taxi drivers loathe a trip into San Blas and use the narrow streets and steep uphill climb (yes, it's a struggle even for the 4-wheel engine-run species) as an excuse to levy a surcharge on the cab fare. It's hard to comprehend how some of these narrow alleys can be 2-way streets. Should vehicles come to a headlock, there is only one traffic rule when it comes to who should have the right of way: whoever has more cars lined up behind him gets to move forward. If you are a lone driver facing an onslaught of 4 oncoming cars. Too bad - you reverse out of the street. It doesn't matter if you are more than halfway down the street. Nor do the other drivers care if you're driving a Mini or a gargantuan garbage truck. As long as you don't have a posse to back you up, you lose.

You know those tile or block puzzles where you have to rearrange the scrambled pieces of a puzzle to either form a complete picture or "free" a certain piece of the puzzle? Moving vehicles through San Blas is just like that. It almost makes navigating Raffles Place at peak hour seem easy in comparison.

Our favorite street to walk along en route to the main plaza and back - Carmen Alto. Peaceful, uncrowded and relatively car-free.

Splashes of blue and stone arches

As you get nearer to Plaza San Blas, the hive of activity picks up. You meet more street vendors making handicrafts, lining the sidewalks with newly minted friendship bands and trinkets adorned with the easily-recognisable Inka or Andean cross. More restaurant staff pop out through narrow doorways to extend an invitation to peruse the offerings on their menu. Within the plaza itself lies a mini handicraft market where you can buy alpaca wool sweaters and hats, ceramics, paintings and even intriguing 'Inka wall' block puzzles (you have to fit the jagged pieces together to form a section of a wall.)

A small church at Plaza San Blas

Under the guidance of the cross

A sunny day at Plaza San Blas


He's not aware of the fate of Humpty Dumpty and the consequences of sitting on a wall

Getting a spot of sunshine for your stall is important - trinkets look better when sparkling in sunlight!

The nice thing about San Blas is its laid-back relak-jack character. Jewelery-twisting artisans lounging under the sun against the cool stone walls seem to find quiet enjoyment in creating a piece of handiwork, and not actively hawking their wares. Vendors subtly dangle the attractiveness of owning that soft alpaca-fleece poncho and invite you to try your hand at the Inka wall block puzzle, but don't push you to any further when you shake your head in an apologetic 'no'.

But the buck stops here. Once you start inching your way down Cuesta San Blas towards the Plaza de Armas, the offers of mochillas (bags), menus and masajes (massages) come fast and furious. We were on a shopping mission for a new pouch for Dan's camera because he had (AHEM!) dropped the one specially made out of his wife's old t-shirt while bouncing around in the Peruvian desert on a dune buggy ride... *stare daggers at a certain someone*

We had certain requirements for the pouch: it had to be of the correct size (of course) and be slightly padded (preferably) or at least lined with smooth fabric on the inside (so as not to scratch the LCD screen). The flap had to be secured with velcro (for quick and easy access to the camera) and not a zip. If the pouch were to come with a sling, it had to be a thick, hardy strap and not a flimsy string that would break at a tug.

We must have gone into every camera shop and handicraft stall en route to the main square. The proper camera pouches had mostly zip openings and were very expensive (and uh-ga-lee!) The embroidered pouches were designed for storing either sunnies or money, and thus either too narrow or too small. What we found most disappointing was that every single stall sold The Same Things, in The Same Designs, and of The Same Size. What initially looked like a great variety of products turned out to be a mindless lemming-like offering of what a typical tourist would want - hats (cos all tourists have cold heads, apparently), gloves (really?!), bags (we spotted alot of tourists with these), "Inca Kola" brand t-shirts (very very awfully lame, but Americans seem to like them) and ponchos (okay, I admit to getting one in Ecuador.) And so, the camera went pouchless throughout our stay in Cusco.

Pretty tourist traps

Colourful weaves... just for tourists!

The best place to hide from touts - in an open spot away from all the stalls

Things get a little more interesting as Cuesta San Blas leads into Hatunrumiyoc (and they say street names in Singapore are hard to remember...) The fortress-like walls close in on you, making you feel dwarfed by the large stones set in place years ago by the Incas themselves.

This walk is not for the claustrophobic

In this wall lies a 12-sided stone which used to be part of the palace of the sixth Inca ruler, Roca. We didn't join the line of tourists queuing up to snap a photo with the stone.

San Blas' charm inevitably finds its way into the many hotels, guesthouses and hostels snuggling in the depths of its winding street network. I didn't take a photo of our room in Samay Wasi (cos the red lampshade seriously got in the way of a nice non-brothel-like photo) but we had a mini Inca wall to ourselves on one side of the room, which I found rather nice (albeit cold to brush against.) Being starved of good company from home for so long, we insisted on trailing Elaine and Rhys all the way back to their hotel Rumi Punku just to say goodbye and snap a couple of pictures together. We also ogled at the Inca-constructed doorway of unknown origin, once the entrance to a very sacred place.

We thought this was goodbye, but bumped into them in Cusco and the Sacred Valley 3 times the next day!

San Blas makes for a good after-dark walk as the streets come aglow, turning the whole neighbourhood into a softly glowing lantern. It's safe to wander around at night - the place is patrolled by police at each junction. But we didn't linger around - cos it was incredibly cold!

The way back to our hostel


forex course said...

All shots are very nice by seeing these i can assume that I was there. Very well describe. thanks for this beautiful post.

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