#VindiTravels: Cusco, Peru
This summer I traveled to Cusco after a year of visiting for the very first time. Being Peruvian and living abroad, I had often dreamt of being able to visit this beautiful city even just once. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to go twice in these past two years! Last year, I stayed in the Sacred Valley, in the small town of Calca and only visited the city a couple of times. This time around, I was doing research and was too busy to get away to do much sightseeing, but I got to know Cusco a lot better. Staying in the Barrio San Blas (San Blas neighborhood) for a little over a month, the city revealed itself to me as a place where rich history and living culture meet every day and in every way possible.
I was in Cusco while the city celebrated its anniversary, culminated by the famed celebration of Inti Raymi (“Sun Festival” in Quechua) on the 24th of June. While I didn’t get to attend, the city celebrated the entire month with different events, like the “Desfile de Alegorías” (“Parade of Allegories”) held by Diego Quispe Tito University of Fine Arts. Students filled the main square with enormous floats representing traditional and popular culture and even social and political commentary. They touched on all kinds of topics affecting the Peruvian public, like feminicide and corruption. Not all of them were so serious, however. One of my favorites was a retablo with the faces of the national soccer team and coach—a very representative float of the whole country, thrown into frenzy by the World Cup!
While I didn’t get to visit many restaurants and shops because of my work, there are a few places that I can recommend if you are ever in the San Blas area! If you’re on a budget and are looking for a good lunch (the biggest and most important meal of the day in Peru), head to the Mercado San Blas (San Blas Market). Here, you can get for incredibly fresh produce if you’re in the mood to cook or you can stop by any food stand to see what they are offering for lunch that day. The market even has some delicious vegan and vegetarian options.
For a good cup coffee to warm up with, head to Concepto Amazonia. While we often think of the Amazons and the Andes as two separate entities, these often intersect in Cusco. As part of the efforts of Xapiri, a fair-trade supporter of indigenous art and culture, this coffee shop also serves as a small art gallery. Gorgeous photography and handmade Shipibo art line the walls and the smell of coffee and pastries with ingredients from the rainforest fills the air.
If you’re ever up for a night out despite the incredibly cold temperatures, head to El Huarique. “Huarique” is a Peruvian word that refers to a small but amazing hole-in-the-wall establishments. Illuminated by candlelight and decorated with old magazine pages and popular imagery, El Huarique is indescribably cool. They also offer amazing cocktails with local ingredients and live music, both traditional and alternative. I recommend trying té piteado, an tea infusion of your choice spiked with pisco, perfect for the cold Cusco nights.
One place I could not leave Cusco without visiting for a second time was the Familia Gutierrez Arte Grafico shop. Walking the streets in this city, it’s impossible to not come across with breathtaking works of art, both indigenous and modern. It is also impossible to not feel as though you’ve seen the same souvenir a thousand times--there’s only so much you can do with llama and Machu Picchu iconography. Stepping into Familia Gutierrez was a breath of fresh air.
I was able to talk to the founders and owners of the store, a married couple originally from Lima. Juliana Cardoza and her illustrator husband, Samuel, moved to Cusco from the capital after having worked with the underground punk and hardcore scene there for many years. “Cusco is an open door to the world. We have always had a great desire to share art with everyone,” Cardoza said.
Familia Gutierrez has been open for almost a year and a half in the gastronomic and art space Rica Chicha, near the center of the city. For the first six months in Cusco, the couple tested the waters by leaving a few products in art shops across the city, many of which are now closed. Now, with their own store, they sell to foreign and domestic tourists alike. “In the off-peak season [January through March], we get a lot of Latin American tourists. Limeños and peruvians generally come all the time and Cusqueños or local people come mostly when we hold events in the store. During the peak season [May through August], a lot of people from the United States and Europe visit.”
When I asked if many tourists outside of Peruvians appreciated and understood the art, Cardoza was quick to assure me that many people identified with their content. The concept, Cardoza told me, was “basically ‘popular’ culture from Latin America.” They try to steer away from what is purely Peruvian and try to give a unified Latin American feeling. “Really, it’s a cultural vision. That’s why a lot of people recognize it,” said Cardoza.
The couple developed two different lines: “Nidea” (a play on the phrase “ni idea” or “no idea”) is their “popular” culture content while “Dado 7” (“dice 7”) focuses on tattoo culture, but these often overlap. They also have internationally recognizable pop culture imagery, like Stormtroopers and maneki-neko, always decorated in their own style. Their products range from t-shirts, tank tops, jackets and buttons to posters of all sizes, postcards, magnets, stickers and mugs. “There exists the opportunity to take something with you, a souvenir that is different from the conventional,” Cardoza said.
And really, their products are quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They take mundane, ubiquitous parts of Peruvian and Latin American life and make it their own. As a Latine growing up in the US, I am often surrounded with other immigrant Latine people, whose culture is as familiar and comforting as it is different and exciting. The pan-Latin American “vision” is something that I think any Latine immigrant person can relate to, and Familia Gutierrez makes it accessible to the world in a city visited by so many.
Cardoza emphasized their vision: “That was just our idea: to change the concept of art. Our idea is to share art with products, so that art doesn’t just remain as a painting in a gallery, costing a lot of money.”
Having spent time in Calca last year, I made sure to go back this time, too! After a trip of about an hour from Cusco to the Sacred Valley, I made a visit to some friends in the small town. With them, I got to know the Chacchapampa River which runs through the Calca province and into the Urubamba River. It was a freezing but worthwhile morning, wading in the river! In Cusco, untouched and beautiful places seem to be everywhere you look.
In a place like Peru, with its vibrant and diverse culture so present in every aspect of life, it’s easy to find places to visit and new things to experience without necessarily looking for them. Since I was in Cusco doing research, sightseeing wasn’t at the top of my to-do list. But I didn’t need to go far to get the chance to see some cool things and meet amazing people! I can’t wait for another chance to see the city and get to know it in a different way.