Cusco: Around and About

Trip Start Feb 13, 2012
Trip End Jul 31, 2012

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Sacsayhuaman or "Sexy Woman":

A common joke between volunteers and a mispronunciation by David in Spanish class, is one of the most popular Inca ruins near Cusco. The name Sacsayhuaman is pronounced “Sexy Woman” by tourists as well as locals speaking to tourists. The ruins sit atop a very steep hill not far from the also popular, Cristoblanco (or “white Christ” in Espańol).

Most weekends we had planned to go to visit the ruin, but we always found an excuse not to climb the huge slope. It was now our final week and we couldn't put it off any longer. We met up with Kelten, our favorite Cusco pal, and Kelly, a friend of Kelten’s, grabbed a fantastic smoothie, and started walking.

The walk went through the old part of town and then up an old but wide Inca road. At the top there were the usual vendors and free agent tour guides. We bypassed them and went straight for the huge complex of stone walls and grass before us. The ginormous (and abnormally smooth) stones looked humanly impossible to move with the technology the Incas had back in the day. It was also remarkable how they were placed together so accurately that you couldn’t even slide a piece of paper between them.

After wandering round the fascinating structure, or getting lost and walking into restricted areas, we kicked back in the fields around the ruins until it was time to head back. On the way back, we could not resist a few sexy antics. Proof is in the pics. Strangely a group of Peruvian people also wanted to get involved, so we had our picture taken with them too.

But the real fun started with the local animals. Exiting the ruins, we saw the usual people in traditional dress and one was carrying alpaca. Kelten’s eyes lit up. He immediately went over and asked if he could pick up the alpaca. A little confused, the girl handed over the animal and Kelten went for it. Hysterical. We moved on down the hill falling over ourselves in laughter.

Toward the bottom, we spotted a small donkey. We all looked at each other, then at the donkey. Kelten’s eyes lit up again. He walked over to the animal whispering, “Hey there little donkey.” He started stroking the donkey while sizing up the challenge. Getting closer, he looked over at Nicole with the camera. She was ready. With one big heave the donkey was in the air and the jubilation was easy to see on Kelten’s face. He carefully placed the squeamish donkey back on the ground and joined the rest of us pissing ourselves in laughter. We still can’t look at the pictures without totally losing it.

The conclusion of the day was clear…We’re sexy and we know it.

Visit to the Pisac Market:

At the weekend Pisac market is a popular destination in the Sacred Valley. Since we were/are tourists, we decided to hop on the wagon (or combi-van) and have a look for ourselves. Accompanying us were our fellow volunteering friends, Liz and Paul, a lovely Australian-Irish couple living down under. We met on an eerie corner not far from where we were staying. There were a few other people loitering around so we assumed this was the correct place. After an uncertain wait, a van pulled up that was a bit better than the usual combi-van we were used too. People began to pile on and shortly after we were headed to Pisac.

It was a stunning 45 minute ride that led us through the mountains and down into the valley where Pisac is situated. After we exited the combi-van we didn’t really know where we were going so we followed some people and found ourselves in the main market. With some influence from David, we stopped at a popular café to refuel before heading on.

It was still fairly early in the day, but we wanted to do a hike before seeing the full market. With Liz and Nicole feeling under the weather, we opted to take a taxi up to some of the local Inca ruins and return on foot. That’s right, we cabbed to the top to avoid the super long walk uphill. Don’t judge us.

Anyway, it didn’t take us long to find a taxi that was willing to take us to the top. In fact, one guy approached us with a laminated map showing us where he would take us and how much it cost. This driver had some experience. The price was right, so we piled in and started up a very curvy road toward the ruins. On the way up we made two stops. One stop was to purchase our Boleto Turistico, a 10-day pass giving us access to several local ruins and attractions in Cusco. A very useful ticket to have. The other stop was much more interesting though. There was a police checkpoint looking for taxis without the proper license to drive up to the ruins. Our driver tried to get by, however he only had a license for everyday but Sunday. Unfortunately, it was Sunday and the cop did not have his friendly face on. Apparently, this driver had been let through by this cop four times before. The cop was less than amused. It took some finagling by the driver, but somehow the cop let us through. Whew.

We spent the next 3 hours wandering through several groups of ruins A common feature of most Inca ruins is the method and structure they use to grow their crops. They make amazing use of the steep inclines by building terraces into the earth, making it easier to cultivate crops. They even had irrigation systems. Terracing is still a method used by traditional farmers today.

Eventually, we descended down toward the market. As you would expect, it was busy with vendors selling clothing, handicrafts, and textiles. After a good look around, we succumbed only to a pack of cards with images of Machu Picchu and the Peruvian wildlife.

Afterward, we lined up at the “bus terminal”, which looked like someone’s backyard. As we were waiting several random cars came up offering rides back to Cusco. Several locals who didn’t want to wait took the drivers up on their offers. Picture a small 4-door vehicle with 5 people in the backseat and at least 3 in the front. Some drivers denied the locals as they were just looking to make more off the grinos. We happily waited in line for our ride and headed back to the city.

Walking Tour/Cuy Mania:

With time running out we decided to do the most touristy thing you can do. Go on a free walking tour. It was a blisteringly hot day and when we walked to Plaza de San Francisco to start the tour. It took us a while to find the tour guide but we saw a group of gringos and a guy with an “official” guide t-shirt talking to them. It had to be them and it was. The guide was talking loud and energetically and his hair was equally energetic. When he saw us arrive he introduced himself and gave us a map. Very organized.

The tour took us around several of the areas in Cusco we had already been to, but the information he gave was priceless. Or would have been 3 weeks ago had we only taken the time. Throughout the tour, we popped in and out of cafes sampling things like musical instruments, Causa (a traditional Peruvian dish made from two layers of mashed potato separated by a layer of avocado and chicken or tuna), teriyaki sauce, and passion fruit cheesecake. The food was delicious and the cultural exposure was very informative. We also walked up behind the old part of town to San Blas which gave us a great view of the city. David’s favorite perk was an Indian restaurant, Korma Sutra, which was highly recommended by the guide. No question where we were going for dinner.

We actually visited the restaurant twice during our stay. Our mission was to try cuy, or guinea pig. Cuy is a specialty in Peru, but we had heard mixed reviews on how it tasted. Since it’s typically expensive we didn’t want to risk a bad experience, so we opted to try the Tandoori version from Korma Sutra. Unfortunately, they were out of cuy the evening after the walking tour, but we happily went back the following week to complete our mission. All in all, it was pretty good, but not sure we attempt it again without the delicious spices. The restaurant is definitely the best, if not the only, curry house in town!

Restaurants and Bars:

Carrying on with the theme of eating, we wanted to note some of the better restaurants and bars we visited during our month in Cusco. The Historical District in Cusco is very alive and full of great little eateries and bars. Below is a list of our favorites:

- Jack’s Café – Lovely café with traditional Aussie dishes. Known for their breakfasts and huge portions (even a salad filled David). Nicole was a fan of the brownie with ice cream.  Hugely touristy, so get there before the lines.

- El Molino – Located just off Plaza de Armas, this little Peruvian run restaurant served up some of the best brick-oven pizza we could find. They also have a great selection of pastas and mains. We’d recommend the trout in particular.

- Enchantaq – When you walk into this little café (just across from Jack’s), you feel like you are walking into a fantasy world. The magically decorated café serves the best chocolate cupcake Nicole could find (and she sampled many). David also gave two thumbs up to the pumpkin soup.

- Frog Restaurant and Bar – Aside from a good happy hour, this bar has some great games and bizarre evening entertainment that shouldn’t be missed.

- Sara’s Organic Cafe – This restaurant offers a sophisticated atmosphere and its menu follows suit. Their mint lemonade was the perfect complement to an excellent Menu of the Day. Wine list looked worthy as well.

So, if you’re in the area, be sure to pay a visit to any of these little gems. Remember, a happy tummy is a happy soul.
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