Ever since I saw Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove, I’ve giggled at every line of Emperor Cusco’s sarcasm and repeated while clapping my hands together with enthusiasm, “Yay!!! I’m a llama again. Wait a second…” Seeing sweaters with llama designs in Cuenca, Ecuador only make me more excited at the possibility of discovering llamas while wandering through Cusco and Machu Picchu. My family and I are told groups of women and children who meander through the steep cobblestone streets of Cusco, offering tourists a small price for a picture with them as they cuddle a small baby llama. Steering our way through Cusco’s streets, my mom has adopted the mentality of the game “20 Questions,” confusing the women who approach us as my mom asks about the age of the baby llama and its size at birth. Quickly finishing their answers to my mom’s constant questions, each woman eagerly asks if we’d like a photo, but my mom’s interest has peaked and we set off to explore Cusco as we adjust to the incredibly high elevation. Being citizens of cities in the mountains you’d think we’d be well-adjusted, but turns out nothing prepares you for the unique synthesis of Incan and Spanish culture embedded in the veins of this city’s high elevation.
From our tour in Iglesia de Santo Domingo, my family and I learn about the Incan walls built on an incline to survive the impact of earthquakes and various features used to indicate the sunlight’s direction during the solstice. Every piece of stone and embellishment of silver and gold had a purpose for the Incan beliefs. It seems the Incans’ ingenuity and resourcefulness remains strong since the Incas’ buildings were the only ones that survived during the earthquake of 1950.
Although the Spanish removed the gold and silver décor dedicated to the sun and moon god, they couldn’t remove the roots of Incan religion. Instead, we find in the Templo de la Sagrada Familia or La Catedral the two have meshed together. Inside the cathedral our guide tells about the earthquakes in 1650. During this time statues of Catholic saints were paraded through town while women kneeled on the ground, asking Mother Earth how to stop the aftershocks. After numerous statues failed to work, they pulled out a statue of Christ on a crucifix, stored away for its lack of quality. After carrying the statue of dehydrated potatoes and corn around Cusco, the earthquakes stopped. Now the patron saint of Cusco, El Negrito or El Senor de los Temblores (Lord of the Earthquakes), this statue was lauded with gifts, including eight gold crowns and enough wrap around skirts to change every week during the year. This brings a new interpretation of the children’s story The Emperor’s New Clothes.
Not all cultural traditions have been lost, fortunately, as we walk into the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco, an organization focused on preserving traditional weaving techniques in the mountains of Cusco. As with most traditional arts, the process looks much easier than it is. Careful calculations about the process, color, and order of the yarns are taken to create specific design patterns. I peer over the artisans, impressed by how quickly they weave and slip the yarns through their fingers. Admiring this organization for its admirable efforts to provide the artisans with a better living and develop appreciation for their traditional arts, I can’t help but search eagerly for a purchase, like my mom searching for answers to her questions from the women in streets cuddling baby llamas. Finding a deep purple scarf, I am happy to report that staging the perfect picture with a llama is not my only goal here in Cusco. I am at ease knowing people still exist who strive to preserve these traditional handicrafts. My mom shares the same principles as she begins her “20 Questions” with the employee at the cash register, ensuring her purchase will provide quality of life for the artisans. Looking at the designs of royal purple and gold in my new scarf, I smile at the artisans’ spirits and appreciation that shines through. Purple and gold, colors fit for an emperor with a new groove of respect and gratitude.
This post is a part of Weekend Wanderlust hosted by A Brit and A Southerner, A Southern Gypsy, Casual Travelers, Justin Plus Lauren, and Outbound Adventurer and Monday Escapes hosted by Extraordinary Chaos, Mini Travellers, Tin Box Traveller, and Travel Loving Family.