It's as if Cusco was built for the travelling artist. A group of sunlit squares lined with whitewashed and red brick porticos and connected with cobbled streets. Home to an abundance of churches, some of them modest places of worship tucked away in quiet plazas, others looming basilicas which could rival any in Europe. Each corner turned reveals another colonial doorway or fountain begging to be painted and usually surrounded by locals dressed in their bright, traditional clothing. Nestled in the Andes, the city is surrounded by breathtaking scenery filled with ancient ruins and my favourite terraced farming. And on my first day alone I stumbled upon no less than three art supplies shops. Is this real or have I died and gone to painting heaven? To keep me occupied between paintings there are a number of beautiful curated museums and galleries and lots of shopping. The place is also rife with rugged handsome travellers who I could easily fall madly in love with over a shared passion for travel and all things exotic discovered over too many Pisco Sours one evening in a hostel. Which is exactly why I have booked myself into a quiet hotel away from any such distractions. I have work to do.
At 3500m high it took a day or two to acclimatise to the altitude, I felt really quite unwell at the beginning and had to drink masses of tea made from Coca leaves, which either works medically or just gets you a bit high so you don't notice. I've also spent some days carefully acclimatising to the Peruvian diet, an unexpected pleasure, and hugely underrated worldwide. They put quinoa in everything which essentially makes whatever you are eating a superfood, a work of marketing genius. The speciality is Guinea Pig but having been the proud though admittedly neglectful (sorry Mum) owner of twelve Guinea Pigs at one point I don't think I will ever be able to try it.
Over the last three days I have eaten some of the best meals on my trip so far. Or perhaps it was just a welcome change from never ending rice dishes in Asia which made me both look and feel 6 months pregnant. We'll hold out for the rugged traveller to take over from the rice on that front.
I've been staying in a charming hotel called Ninos which donates most of its profits to educating local underprivileged children. My room was exceptionally cheap because I have to walk across the courtyard to the bathroom. Fine on a warm afternoon, not so fine when you wake up dying for a pee at 4am and it's raining.
I've been so happy here In Cusco I've decided to stay for the rest of my time in Peru after my trek to Machu Picchu. It's been a while since I have felt so at home somewhere and seen so many potential paintings just waiting for me. Endlessly packing my bags and moving from place to place has become rather exhausting. I'm settling in for the long haul.
I've so far managed to realise three of the ideas for pictures I had after chancing upon perfect spots and in perfect light. The first was an old peeling rickety door in a previously grand colonial town house. I adored painting this as everyone who lived in the houses in my picture kept coming out and laughing and patting me on the back congratulating me in Spanish. It was really sweet and so welcoming. I tried to paint the Jesuit church that afternoon and although I finished it, it clouded over and the painting is nothing special. The other ones I've done are looking down Cuesta de San Blas, a view I discovered from wandering into an artist's studio and asking him where he painted the marvellous roofscape that was hanging outside. He was sweet and showed me exactly where to go. The last was a doorway of a magnificent building in the main square but no Peruvian or guidebook can tell me what it's called. It abuts the Jesuit church and just caught the afternoon light and was great fun to paint although I had to be very quick. I also wished I hadn't worn all my new Alpaca Knitwear for the occasion as it was hot work. After I'd finished I found an email from a German couple I'd met earlier that day who'd spotted me from a cafe and taken a funny photo of me painting.
Next I'm off for a four day trek to Macchu Picchu. We have very tight weight restrictions for our luggage so I can't take my easel however I think I've come up with something...