High and Mighty Cusco

Erik and I arrived in Cusco just the day before my mother was due to arrive, but even with little initial exploring we could tell that Cusco was an incredibly photogenic city.

DSC00583WSet in a valley, the center of town is surrounded by beautiful mountains on all sides, and the sky always seems to be a beautiful mix of white and blue.

The highlight of the day was when Erik saw his first llama!

DSC03666WOnce my mother arrived we set to exploring in earnest and making preparations for our trek. In one adventure to the local grocery store, we decided that bread and avocados would be the most economical choice for lunch. While still struggling a little bit with my Spanish I tried to order 3 pieces of bread and ended up with 3 Soles worth of bread which was about 15 pieces!

DSC00562WI was very impressed at how quickly my mother adjusted to our simple fare as lunch often consisted of peanuts, cheap bread and some strange and cheap sandwich filling like avocado or yams. She never complained, just maybe rolled her eyes when we would tell her that $5 for dinner was too expensive.

DSC00621WIt was really interesting to hear my mother’s impressions of how much the city has changed in the last 35 years. For example the hills surrounding the city are now covered with buildings and homes where as before they were bare. She was also surprised at the number of cars zooming around and going down streets that are so narrow, you have to see it to believe it.

DSC00619WWe spent a lot of time exploring the San Blas neighborhood which lies above the main center. It has cheaper prices, and is filled with winding narrow streets and a very bohemian flavor.

DSC03683WMost nights we ventured there for a cheaper dinner and found a great vegetarian place that we returned to often that offers a three course meal for $2!

DSC03743WAnother night we found a delicious restaurant that served nothing but hearty stews in clay pots.

DSC04163WThe San Blas area also offers wonderful views of the city in both daytime,

DSC03711aW and at night.

DSC03684WThe hills in the area allowed for great training for our trek, and we often found ourselves quite out of breath due to the altitude, as Cusco lies at 10,912 ft (3326 m). We all adjusted really well, especially my mother who flew in, but lots of tourists have problems as evidenced by the oxygen bottles on sale at every corner. Erik and I have learned that nothing beats drinking three times more water than you think you need.

DSC03713WPCusco is a pretty touristy city and the locals have figured out that if they dress traditionally they can sell more wares or charge you for a picture. We did manage to grab a few photos before they noticed though.

We also really enjoyed the local market which was filled with colorful Peruvian textiles, fruit, and most notably, the meat aisle. We thought that we’d seen some pretty gruesome stuff in Thailand, but I think this aisle takes the cake. Heads and stomachs and brains, oh my!

We also found our favorite cheap lunch spot here and even returned for more of our favorite rice bowl with French fries, mixed vegetables, avocado and a fried egg.

Our hotel in Cusco ended up being the perfect place to base all of our adventures. We had a beautiful triple room that had hot water, most of the time. It was also peaceful and gave us a wonderful breakfast each morning, including eggs. The internet was slow, but we managed to complete most of our research, which is always important.

One afternoon we decided to go on, our favorite, a free walking tour! Although it was slightly geared towards a younger crowd, we were able to try some various local specialties like alpaca meat and Chicha Morada, a sweet purple drink made from corn.

We also learned a lot about the Inca and Quechua cultures along the way. Our guide explained that many houses have an ornament on the roof composed of: cattle (advancement from Europe), a ladder (for progress), one jug for water and one for chicha (alcoholic drink made from corn), horseshoe (for luck), the Peruvian flag, the national flower, and the cross.

DSC03716WWe also learned about a famous local artist, Mendivil, whose signature style is to paint people with the neck of a llama, especially religious paintings.

DSC03708WHe painted the last supper in Cusco’s main cathedral, but he added one thing; on the plate in front of Jesus is a cooked guinea pig staring up at him, which is a local specialty, but the price to get into the church was pretty ridiculous.



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