my happy face

I only have 10 days left in Cusco. Then I will be home. The thought makes me positively giddy!

This is what my face does involuntarily when I think about being home.


Sacsaywaman and other nearby ruins

I took a tour of four ruins – Sacsaywaman, Q’enqo, Pukapukara, and Tambomachay – right outside of Cusco on Tuesday. I did not really want to take the tour, though I did want to see the ruins.

For weeks I had been hoping to find some fellow Spanish school student with whom I could visit the ruins according to the plan set out in my guidebook. According to the guidebook, the best way to see these particular ruins, which are located all in a row on a road outside of Cusco, is to take a bus to the farthest one and then walk the eight kilometers back to Cusco, stopping at each ruin and exploring at will along the way. Tragically enough, I could not find anyone to accompany me. All of the students who have been here for a while, like myself, had either already visited some or all of the particular ruins, had no interest, or could or would not make time on a Saturday morning to go along. The newer students either had made plans to tour the ruins as part of some grand tour of Cusco or had no intention of seeing them. So, I was stuck, since I figured it would be both unwise and rather lonely for me to walk from one ruin to another by myself.

Finally, last weekend I determined I either had to sign myself up for a tour or I would never go to the ruins, in which case I would be shirking my duty as a good tourist. On Monday after a considerable argument with myself, I managed to tear myself away from happily reading The Count of Monte Cristo while flopped across my bed basking in the afternoon sun to go book the tour. I headed to a certain, narrow street off the Plaza de Armas, where Lonely Planet told me was located a reputable tour agency. I could not find it. While I paused for a moment to stare at and ponder entering a random tour agency on the same street, a lady from said agency noticed me and beckoned me to please come in, as I was obviously looking for a Machu Picchu tour. Whereas I would normally have immediately rejected her proposal and walked away from her off-putting, annoyingly presumptuous salesmanship, I apathetically accepted her invitation and entered the office. Twenty or so minutes later I had surrendered S/40 in exchange for a “City Tour” for Tuesday afternoon, which had nothing to do with the city and everything to do with the ruins outside it, and a trip to Maras, Moray, and Salinas on Saturday. Admittedly, I felt slightly guilty for not comparing prices with other agencies, but I had feared that if I left the tour agency to check elsewhere, I might lose the thin shreds of motivation I had and not end up with a tour at all.

As it turned out, my tour of the ruins just outside of Cusco was just to my liking. It lasted from 2:00 until 6:00 on Tuesday afternoon. There were no more than 15 of us on the tour. We spent 45 minutes at the most and 20 minutes at the least at each of the ruins and our very nice guide gave all the explanations in Spanish. In fact, I was the only Westerner on the whole tour. Everyone else was a Latin American tourist, and I liked it that way. On the last tour I took – on my trip to Lake Titicaca – the guide tediously explained everything in both Spanish and English since some people on the tour only spoke English and others only spoke Spanish. It quickly became frustratingly boring for me because I could perfectly understand everything he said in Spanish but then was forced to listen to it again in his painful, nearly incomprehensible, accented English. Sufficed to say, I was relieved that there was only one language used on my tour of the ruins outside of Cusco. Furthermore, the amount of time we spent at each location was both perfectly adequate and perfectly brief, as I have never been one to spend massive quantities of time at historical sites of any kind (ask my mother about civil war battlefields sometime; or, better yet, don’t). ‘Twas a good tour. I am looking forward to Saturday’s.

From Claire's Peru Panoramas

on my further consumption of various types of animal flesh in Cusco

Three types, to be exact: alpaca, chicharrón (pork), and ceviche (fish), in that order. Though they were each rather scrumptious in their own way, I state with undeniable certainty that alpaca was by far my favorite.

I ate alpaca for supper two weekends ago. It had been my plan to do so for some time, and I was admittedly rather excited at the prospect. I made myself wait until 6:30 before setting out, to augment my hunger as much as possible. The place that Google had recommended to me was supposedly located just off the Plaza de Armas, but despite striding up and down both sides of the street, scanning the restaurant names, I could not find it. Happily, I had prepared for such a contingency. I strode (I say “strode” because that is how I usually walk around Cusco at night) my way to Macondo, a restaurant to which I had previously gone with a group of students to hear one of our classmates play mandolin. While I was there before I had caught a glimpse of the menu and some of the dishes, which were well-presented, smelled wonderful, and included alpaca. By 7:00 I had seated myself at a table in the dimly-lit, whimsically decorated restaurant and had ordered my “alpaca mignon,” which I selected because I wanted to know how alpaca meat itself tasted, not how some dish with bits of alpaca tasted. I LOVED it! It tasted like steak, but somehow a bit different. Perhaps it had a slightly metallic tang, though that could have been due to how rarely it was prepared. (Sorry, the slight taste difference between it and steak is very hard to describe, especially at a distance of a week and a half.) It was definitely much more tender than any steak I have ever eaten. Just in case you are wondering, it cost me S/25, plus a tip of S/2.50.

This past weekend I consumed the quite traditional chicharrón – chunks of deep fried pork. I had a similar problem with finding a restaurant as with the alpaca. My host mother suggested I eat chicharrón on Sunday when I told her my intention to do so over the weekend. Accordingly, I made myself wait (again) until 1:30 on Sunday before heading straight up the street to a chicharrón place I pass on the way to and from school and that always smells delicious. It was closed. So, I walked down and over a few streets to another one I knew of. It, too, was closed. Good grief! I think this past Sunday must have been some sort of holiday or something because many more shops and restaurants were closed than usual. According to my Lonely Planet Peru book, Sunday is supposed to be the traditional day to eat out. Hmph. Anyways, after my second disappointment, I determined to head to the “chicharrón street,” as some of us Spanish school students refer to it, where there are three or four chicharrón restaurants in a row. Fifteen minutes of walking and numerous protestations of my hungry stomach later, I turned the corner onto the street. Only one chicharrón restaurant was open! I seated myself, the lone patron, at a table in the sun and was soon served my chunks chicharrón plus the requisite sides on an insufficiently large plate. Really, the chicharrón tasted like fried pork. They were not incredibly spectacular, just tasty. However, when combined in one bite with the corn, potato, onion, and mint that came alongside them, their taste – or the combined taste of everything in the forkful, rather – was quite unique and enjoyable. Total cost: S/10.

I ate ceviche – raw fish “cooked” in citrus juice – yesterday more or less on a whim. During mid-morning break at Spanish school I was invited by the gregarious and fun Dutch Charlotte to join her and some other people to eat ceviche at the same restaurant where she had eaten and loved ceviche last week. At first I intimated that I probably should not and could not go, as my host mother expected me home for lunch, as always. But, after arguing with myself in class for a few minutes, I decided there was no reason for me to not text Adela and ask permission to eat out just this once. Plus, if I did not eat ceviche with the group, I would probably never eat it. Adela responded to my text by calling and giving her enthusiastic consent. Therefore, after a 45-minute, time-killing stint at the internet cafe across from school, I walked down to the meeting place with another girl who was going. There were eight of us, all girls. I think we must have made quite a sight walking to the restaurant in one abnormally tall by Pervian standards, white, English-speaking group. The restaurant was sunny and filled with Peruvians. We ordered four plates of ceviche, three plates of fried fish, and one plate of rice with mussels and the like. Everything was delicious, espcially the fried fish. The ceviche itself was somewhat citrusy, a bit spicy, and rather alarmingly white and floppy. I decided that I prefer raw fish I eat to be pink rather than white; the pale, creamy color of the fish was a bit unappetizing. However, the flavor certainly was not bad. For me, though, I think it is one of those dishes that I never will feel the need to eat again. It was good once. And that is sufficient. S/20. (Good food is cheap here, people!)


the day I ate guinea pig

Yesterday I finally ate guinea pig.

Around here we call it cuy, so I think that is how I will refer to it from now on in this post. It sounds more correct and less pet-like.

I have wanted and intended to eat guinea pig ever since I stepped off the plane in Lima. However, since my host mother provides me with a large lunch every day, and, therefore, I am usually not starving at supper time, I have had little reason, opportunity, or spare stomach space to eat cuy. So, on Saturday I decided to make it happen. I informed my host mother that I was planning to eat cuy either Saturday or Sunday and inquired which would be a better day for me to eat out. She responded that either worked for her. Saturday, then. She asked if I knew where I would eat it. I replied that I had a few different Cusqueñan restaurants in mind but was also considering taking the 45-minute bus to the town of Tipón, where the cuy is supposedly the best. Adela agreed that it was best to eat cuy in Tipón, but also that cuy was “more fresh” on Sundays. I settled on Sunday, then.

After breakfast I ventured forth to attempt to find a gym and explore the city. On my way to the Avenida de la Cultura, where I had heard a gym was located, I stumbled upon a plaza overflowing with a fair with stalls selling everything from furniture to plants to books to cakes to pets.

I wandered happily through it and even doubled back as I was about to leave to purchase the single longest, largest banana I have ever seen in my life.

The banana and I at home later on.

Beyond the everything fair I found another normal market and next to that, lo and behold, a market sort of place will semi-permanent stalls selling all sorts of traditional Peruvian food, including plies (literally) of cuy!
The place was packed with Peruvians consuming various delicious-smelling dishes.

During the rest of my exploring I did end up finding a gym (but who am I kidding; there’s no way I’m going to go there) and, more importantly to this cuy story, a church. The church’s name was Iglesia de Cristo, and as I was staring at its exterior wondering what denomination it would consider itself, a nice young lady came out and handed me some pamphlets. We talked for a few minutes, during which time I found out the church had one service on Sundays, at 11:00, and that they were showing the movie “Luther” at 5:00 that evening free to the public. I immediately determined to go to the movie to check out the church.

I went to the movie. The church seemed nice. There were four Americans! I spoke English to them! It was quite pleasant. I returned home (after eating some pastries at a pastry place I had also found, of course) planning to attend the 11:00 service the next day. Assuming the service ended at 1:00 and recalling that the bus to Tipón could take up to 45-minutes, I freely relinquished my plan to eat cuy in Tipón (I had never been thrilled at the idea of bothering to drive 45 minutes to eat cuy in the first place) and made up my mind to eat cuy in the market-like place I had discovered.

After church yesterday I walked home and waited around for about 30 minutes to make sure I was quite hungry. At 1:45 I set out. Arriving at the bustling food area, I was somewhat dismayed to discover that the piles of cuy were missing. In fact, after inquring around I found out that only a few restaurants had cuy. Perhaps it had all been eaten on Saturday. Who knows. Regardless, I found one of the stalls that had it and sat down at the communal table. I was served a plate with the back and head of a cuy, some noodles, two very dry potatoes, and a rocoto relleno (dough around a pepper stuffed with beef, onions, peas, and carrots).
I dug in. It was delicious! I liked the skin of the cuy, which was somewhat greasy and a little chewy, the best. I ate what was left of the ears. I took the head apart and found the meat around the jaw bone. It was fun! The meat itself was like dark chicken meat, only a bit more greasy and tastier. It did have a somewhat distinct taste, but I cannot describe it, unfortunately. Everything else except the dry potatoes was quite tasty, especially the rocoto relleno
And it only cost me S/13! I was rather pleased with myself for eating it in such an “authentic” location, too; I was the only white person in the whole place! I am so glad I have now eaten guinea pig. Next on the list: alpaca!

my weekends in Cusco

My weekends are never the same here. The easiest way for me to show you what I’ve done so far is to provide you with this gallery of pictures in chronological order. I think it encompasses four weekends. Yea. That sounds right. I did not, as you may observe, delineate between weekends in my captions. I have no excuse for that other than laziness. I could go back and do it now but I would rather just get this post posted, as I have been trying to do just that for three our four days now. So, you will just have to guess how much I did what weekend.

And now that you have seen that, let me inform you what I am doing this weekend: I have no idea. Okay, so that is not quite true. Tonight at 9 I am getting on a bus. I will be on that bus until 5am tomorrow morning. I will hopefully sleep on that bus, but I seriously doubt that will happen. At 5am I will stumble off said bus in a sleep-deprivation-induced stupor into the town of Puno, located on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world (or so “they” say). The host mom of my two traveling companions, American Joe and German Anna, is organizing/has organized the trip for us. Consequently, or perhaps rather irrelevantly, I have no idea what we are going to be doing and seeing in Puno. Hopefully we will visit some of the floating reed islands on which people have traditionally lived. Who knows. Regardless, we will spend Saturday night somewhere in Puno, continue doing whatever there is to do on Sunday, and return on another redeye bus on Sunday night, arriving back in Cusco around 5am Monday morning. Thankfully, Monday is a holiday for us Spanish school students(not because of Halloween, but because Day of the Dead is Tuesday, and it makes more sense to have a long weekend than to have a single day off in the middle of the week) , so I can catch up on all the sleep I will have lost on the trip. So, there you have it: a preview of my weekend. Hope you enjoy yours!

breakfast, lunch, and dinner

I will just say it straight away: I like the food here. In fact, I like it quite a lot. I have not eaten anything truly disgusting yet and cannot think of a single meal or food I did not enjoy at least a bit.

Breakfast: Gone are the days of peanut butter and jelly on the ubiquitous round rolls; now I eat jelly or nutella on the ubiquitous round rolls! Ha! We were running out of peanut butter and in my desperation to find an alternative to just margarine or jelly, I purchased some nutella. The next day I found two stores that sold peanut butter. Arg. Nevertheless, nutella makes the somewhat monotonous breakfasts very tolerable. I love nutella. But I love peanut butter more. In addition to my two bread rounds, I imbibe some hot beverage every morning; usually it is the oatmeal drink I described previously, but on occasion it is tea. Once this week I had hot chocolate!

Lunch, the main meal of the day (I suppose I should call it dinner, but as I never have called lunch “dinner,” no matter how large, I have no intention of doing so now), is predictably, wonderfully delicious. And I have not eaten a repeat meal yet. A sampling of some lunch menus:
– Boiled maize (corn with huge kernels) with a chunk of cheese, pumpkin soup, and pasta with alfredo sauce and pieces of hot dog.
– Three mini quesadilla rolls, spinach soup with a hint of mint, and rice with potatoes, lima beans, and carrots in an orange-colored sauce of milk, eggs, and other unknown ingredients.
– Anchovy, tomato, and onion salad, two boiled potatoes, and spaghetti with a sauce of spices and beef bits and peas.
– Noodle soup with carrots, chicken, and potatoes, followed by pan fried potato halves and similarly cooked chicken with onion, tomato, and parsley salad on the side.
– Quinoa soup with beef, carrots, and potatoes with avocado on the side, followed by a potato and half a boiled egg cradled in a lettuce leaf and covered in a slightly spicy peanut sauce.
– Boiled corn kernels and cheese, a creamy oat or corn meal soup with carrots and mini French fries for garnish, and ají de gallina, shredded chicken and potato chunks in a creamy, yellow sauce.

Supper really depends on the day. As of late, I have been doing various things in the late afternoons and evenings with a consistent group of people. Sometimes we play soccer versus some Peruvians. Regardless of what we do beforehand, we usually end up eating out somewhere in the city, frequently at a chifa place, and playing the card game Capitalist. Sometimes I will tell Adela I am going to eat “en un restaurante con mis amigos,” so she will not leave me some leftover lunch to eat for supper. Other times I will sit, talk, and play cards with everyone but wait to eat the food Adela left me when I return home. Occasionally, if I do not feel like eating chifa, I will buy myself a pastry of some sort on the way home and eat that. It really does depend upon the day.

Unfortunately, I do not have pictures of most of the food I have eaten, mainly because I almost always eat breakfast and lunch with Adela and do not take pictures of her food around her. That would be rather odd, I think. ‘Hey, Adela, don’t mind me, I’m just taking close-up pictures of absolutely everything you make. Just keep eating your food there. I’ll just be a moment.’ Ya. No. Therefore, the pictures that I do have are of foods I have purchased or of the few times I have eaten in the house without Adela.

hiking to Cristo Blanco

This past Monday I joined some of my fellow Spanish school students for a hike to Cristo Blanco. Cristo Blanco, as the name implies, is a white Jesus statue that stands atop a large hill above and behind Cusco, in the style of the Brazilian Christ the Redeemer statue, only much smaller and less imposing. Monday’s weather, at least during our hike up, was sunny and pleasant (Cusco is always pleasant when it’s sunny) – perfect for a hike. We started from Cusco’s main plaza, the Plaza de Armas, and walked up hill from larger street to smaller street to steep stairs to dirt paths. It did not take us more than an hour. After we photographed the statue and the view, good resident tourists that we were, we found a relatively flat plot of grass down a hill behind the statue and juggled a soccer ball for a good hour or two. We descended via a cobblestone road just as dusk began to fall and the sky to drizzle. We found one of the hundreds of chifa (Peruvian Chinese food: much less gloopy than American Chinese food) restaurants where some people ate supper while we all played a game of Scum (or Capitalist, as everyone here calls it; it’s a good more-than-four-person card game), the card game of choice played incessantly by us Spanish school students. I returned home to my supper of delectable lunch leftovers around 9. ‘Twas an exceedingly enjoyable day.

From Claire's Peru Panoramas