Trip Start Apr 24, 2008
38Trip End May 29, 2008
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What salvaged the meal was that I got into a long conversation with two other guests staying here. They are young Peruvian men and will be here in Cajamarca for 6 months working and studying. It is a group of 14 interns in all, and these 2 happen to be studying engineering at the nearby Yanacocha gold mine (more on the mine below). They fired non-stop questions at me, starting with the 3 most common questions I get: What do you think of Perú? What will you tell people about Perú when you return to the United States? Do you prefer Hillary or Obama? Yesterday I was cursing this group as I lay in bed, feverish, trying to sleep and they laughed and yelled and sang "Happy Birthday" in the dining room below me. But today I really enjoyed talking to them, while they ate their eggs and I picked at my olives. Hmph. I told them I´m always amazed at how informed people in other countries are about our politics and current events. They told me it´s because it affects them too. They asked if U.S. students learn about South America in school. I told them sadly, no, we are too egocentric!
When their colleages starting stumbling in for breakfast, I excused myself to do my morning sightseeing. I headed to the Complejo Belén -- the Belén religious complex built by a Bethlemite religious order between 1627 and 1774. The compound is made of volcanic rock and consists of the Belén church, the old mens´ hospital and the old womens´ hospital. The church is not too remarkable but still lovely inside, featuring a cupola with 8 angels holding up the heavens with their fingertips! The pulpit is elaborately carved of real wood. But the best part of the church is the outside facade, very ornately sculpted stone. My guidebook says it is the most stunning baroque facade in all of Perú. I´ll take their word for it!
Across the courtyard is the old mens´ hospital which was actually in operation until 1965! A very depressing place, where the sick were laid out in beds in dark niches, watching Mass all the time so the devil would leave their bodies. Today it was being used for an art exhibit, most of which was by an artist named Andres Z-something? Actually his art reminded me a lot of Jaime´s! And there was one random poster (by someone else) with all images of superheroes. Naturally I took a picture of it for Peter!
Across the street is the old womens´ hospital. Inside is an unremarkable archaeology exhibit. Nothing too interesting there, but the outer facade features 2 women with 4 breasts each! That´s a lotta boobies.
After visiting the Belén Complex, I headed one block away to the Cuarto de Rescate. Some historians claim this is the room where Inca Atahualpa was held hostage for months while his subjects gathered the gold and silver that Pizarro demanded to free him (see blog from May 23, "Bathtime"). Others believe that this is the room that Atahualpa agreed to fill with treasures. There is a white line around the top of the walls indicating the level to which he had to fill the room with gold bars. Whatever the case, it is the very last vestige of any Inca architecture left in Cajamarca. Fantastic!
After visiting those places, my sightseeing in Cajamarca is offically done. I headed back to the hostal to repack my backpack and rest a while. The unfriendly lady at the front desk said check-out time is 1:00 pm, so I planned on using my room until 1 on the dot! I laid on my bed for an hour, then popped up and repacked in about 15 minutes. I took everything down to reception at 1 o´clock and left it there to pick up later this afternoon.
From the hostal I headed out to find some lunch. After all, a half-dozen olives can only take you so far, right? I aimed for one of the restaurants on my Cajamarca restaurant list, but yet another one seems to have bit the dust. It´s now a computer store. Feeling very lethargic and not in the mood to be more creative, I returned to the restaurant where I had lunch a few days ago: Restaurant Salas on the Plaza de Armas. It´s a bustling, noisy dining room full of Peruvian families and workers on their lunch break (although today, Sunday, mostly families). I opted for the inexpensive menú of the day, which was a hearty soup full of rice, potatoes, carrots and yuca; a porkchop with rice; mazzamora for desert; and a Coke for my stomach.
I took my time eating and reading the paper, especially the weekly insert Domingo. I read a long article about Victor Jara, the Chilean folk singer who was murdered along with thousands of others in Santiago´s stadium a few days after Pinochet´s US-backed military coup in 1973. The article talked about how last week the case searching for his assassins was closed, much to the dismay of Jara´s widow and daughter. However, the stadium has been renamed for him. I like Victor Jara, I have one of his albums at home! Also, I tried to understand an article talking about Fujimori´s new digs in prison...looking pretty comfy!
And now a word about the Yanacocha gold mine, as promised above. (This information is lifted from my guidebook!) The abundant gold in the hills around Cajamarca has been the cause of sackings by Pizarro, Simón Bolívar and Chile. Yanacocha is located about 25 miles outside of Cajamarca, covers 24,000 acres and is the world´s second largest gold mine. It produced 12 million ounces of gold in 2004! Very profitable for the Denver, Colorado corporation that holds the majority of shares. It has been both a blessing and a curse for Cajamarca. On the one hand, it has created 7,000 local jobs, pumped $70 million into the area´s economy and has invested in local education and environmental campaigns. On the other hand, it has clogged Cajamarca´s streets with traffic and exhaust, caused a dramatic rise in crime and prostitution (catering to mine workers), and even caused dangerous environmental conditions. Several years back a Yanacocha truck leaked mercury along a 30-mile stretch of country road outside Cajamarca. Thinking it was silver, villagers scooped it up with bowls, spoons and even their bare hands. Over 800 people were treated for mercury poisoning and some are permanently disabled. Something to think about next time you receive a beautiful gold necklace for Christmas or Valentine´s Day....
Well, I am heading off to the hostal to pick up my backpack and then to the Cruz del Sur terminal for my bus. It leaves Cajamarca at 5:00 pm and is scheduled to arrive in Lima at 8:00 am tomorrow morning. I will leave you with some lasting images from Cajamarca that will stay with me: the beautiful Plaza de Armas, which has more actual grass than any other Plaza I´ve seen in Perú; the green, pastoral hills surrounding the city on all sides; the narrow streets lined with stores selling rounds of cheese, yogurt and milk; the traditional women walking on the sidewalks wearing their wide-brimmed, straw hats; and the disproportionately high number of old VW bugs driving around! Not sure what that´s about.
More from Lima, tomorrow!