After crossing the land border into Peru we changed buses and were now travelling with Peru Hop. Our first stop for the evening was Puno, about five hours after crossing the border. Here we were guided to a restaurant for a delicious meal of lomo alpaca (grilled alpaca steak) and for James quinoa chaufa – the Peruvian version of fried rice. Jumping back onto the bus it was sleep time, the rest of the adventure would be awaiting us at an ungodly hour the next morning in Cusco.
We arrived into Cusco rather early, somewhere close to 6am. One of the advantages of the bus company we chose, was that they’d drop us to the door of our hostel – though this was two blocks from where the bus had stopped, and we waited half an hour for a taxi as they refused to let us walk there. The hostel we stayed in was the accommodation recommended by Gecko (our travel group for the Inca Trail); thankfully when we’d arrived we were able to check in straight away and were immediately offered coca tea from the owner.
Once we’d settled into our room we headed out for breakfast. When James was in Cusco previously, there was a café run by an Aussie expat, who had things like vegemite toast on their menu. We were excited by the prospect of having some Aussie breakfast and a real flat white… unfortunately it appeared the owner had changed, or at least the menu, and we were greeted with a very busy, very American restaurant; there was a lot of disappointment. Instead we headed around the corner and found a small café with real coffee and a relatively cheap menu.
The rest of the morning was spent wandering around the main plaza in Cusco. Along with the Cathedral and the Basilica, the plaza is lined with restaurants and cafes, as well as a strip of tour companies and massage places. Walking around we had menus jammed in our faces, brochures from tour companies and ladies yelling at us for a massage; having little to no sleep from the bus it was quite overwhelming. We wandered through the alleyways around the two churches and checked out the intricate detail of the buildings.
Based at one end of the square is a giant cathedral, after having spent many years studying religion (not sure if this is a good thing or not), Dee has been somewhat confused about the cathedrals in the cities we’ve visited. Mainly because in Australia, the cathedral is the head of the church for that jurisdiction, but here, there are many cathedrals in the same town, all belonging to the same jurisdiction – not really sure what the go is. In saying that these buildings have been absolute masterpieces, the cathedral in Cusco is no different. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983, only a mere 329 years after it had finished being built.
After a few hours of wandering we started to get hungry and tired, deciding that it was time to see what crazy Peruvian food we could find. It is difficult to look at the menu outside a restaurant, because, before you’ve had a chance to even consider what you might want your having the whole menu either read to your, or your arm grabbed and dragged into the restaurant – the locals over here seem to have no awareness of personal space. Whilst trying to decide we were accosted and dragged into a restaurant that offered a menu del dia for 13soles ($5aud). The menu offered quinoa soup, lomo alpaca and ice cream for dessert, including a drink of chicha morada (purple corn juice). Chicha morada has a very interesting taste, being South America it most certainly had at least a cup of sugar in each glass so it was very sweet, and didn’t really taste like corn.
Deciding to see what other interesting things we could find outside of the main square we continued to wander. Along the way we though it may be wise to attempt some laundry, we found a place that would do it very cheap and have it back to us in the afternoon. We’ve considered doing our own washing in sinks at the hostels, many of them have big signs asking you not to, and although we were willing to ignore them, the water situation hasn’t always been fantastic. We have not been so lucky to get a happy combination of hot water, good water pressure and a shower that’s bigger than one of our feet. The bathroom sink is usually barely big enough to put one hand into and the water, if there is any, is a dribble at most. The joys of staying in hostels! You know you’ve hit the jackpot when there is hot water, a shower curtain, a toilet seat… and you’ve really nailed it when there is a shower mat! Hair washing has been a struggle.
Whilst we’ve been in South America, finding banks that don’t charge exorbitant fees has also been a little difficult. Like home, there are lot of different banks to choose from, however, most of them haven’t been fond of Australian bankcards. Much of the afternoon was spent trying to find an ATM that would let us withdraw money, we’d changed currencies, there weren’t the same banks as there were in Bolivia, and for Dee it was all a bit too confusing. This, my friends, is why James looks after the finances.
What seemed like three hours later we found a bank and headed back to the hostel to start getting a list together of things we needed to buy for the Inca trail. All of the companies give you a massive packing list but then tell you that you can have a tiny duffle bag that can weigh no more than 5kg including your 2kg sleeping bag. What’s a girl going to fit into 3kg??
While wandering around during the day, we stumbled across the Cusco Pisco Museum and decided this was a place that we definitely needed to return to. A little less museum-like and a lot more of a bar, we settled in for a few drinks and a little bit of food. The wall behind the bar had every type of pisco imaginable, as well as some house made flavoured pisco in large demijohns. The menu has a decent selection of cocktails to choose from, as well as the option to concoct your own drink. Needless to say, there were a few drinks there, including the Pisco version of an espresso martini… Dee was very happy sitting in her element. As well as the delicious pisco, there was a small food menu (probably just to make sure that people don’t get too drunk), we decided it might be a sensible idea to have a little bite to eat so we could stumble our way home. Settling on a mixture of tapas, we were very satisfied! Cheesey eggplant bites, bacon and prawn skewers, beef skewers, alpaca pancetta crustinis, delicious salsas, and of course, the obligatory potatoes – we were surprised not to find rice on the plate as well. Sufficiently full of alcohol and food, it was time to stumble back to our hostel and roll into bed.
Waking up in the morning wasn’t a joyful experience, although we weren’t too hung-over, our hostel was on a very busy road. In South America it is common to use the horn in your car CONSTANTLY, it’s not just a quick “toot, I’m here”, it’s “I like the sound of my car horn and I’m going to keep beeping it so that everyone knows I have a horn on my car”. Along with the horns, there are car alarms going off every few minutes – all of the cars have exactly the same alarm, regardless of the brand or which country we are in. Both of us have just about memorised the car alarm song.
We spent the morning back around the main square in Cusco looking for a new pair of hiking pants for Dee. The few weeks of drinks and delicious food had caught up, and the pants from home were becoming very snug. After wandering around for a few hours, and having people trying to sell every known knick-knack under the sun, we eventually found a second-hand store and the pants situation got sorted out. We checked out a few of the side streets and took a lot of photos of the old buildings around the town – the mixture of Inca and Spanish influence has resulted in some pretty impressive architecture. While wandering around we managed to get ourselves severely ripped off by ladies with baby llamas. We walked along the street and all of the sudden there was a llama jammed into Dee’s hands and we needed to take a photo – we paid one of the ladies, but were then told that it was the wrong lady and she wouldn’t give our money back, so we paid the other lady but it apparently wasn’t enough and she wasn’t going to leave us alone until we paid… the llama photo cost 20soles ($8aud), the ladies didn’t even smile.
It was time to escape the llama ladies and keep exploring the beauty that is Cusco. We’d heard about some markets close by and decided we would give them a try. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, the markets can always be a little hit and miss, and usually when locals talk to you about markets they expect that you don’t want fruit and veggies, but the artisanal knick-knacks, llama jumpers and souvenirs. Thankfully, this one had a combination of everything, mostly fruit, vegetables and meat. Overwhelmed with the amount of stuff for sale, food stalls and the variety of fruits, we decided to take a break and buy a smoothie from one of the juice ladies. We ordered a smoothie each for $1aud and were given three glasses of the most delicious fruit juice ever. South America has so much fruit that we don’t have at home, and the fruits that we do have in common are much larger and much, much, much more delicious. The avocados are the size of your hand, the strawberries are so juicy and sweet, the oranges have no bitterness in them at all and the bananas are full of flavour. Unlike the cold-store and gas-ripening that happens to a lot of our fruit and vegetables at home, the ladies here grow all of their own produce, pick it when it’s ripe, then bring it to the market for sale. One of the many fruits we tried was a Cherimoya, or what we call at home, a custard apple. Talk about delicious! The lady at the stall found a small one for us to share, cut it in half and then told us to eat. We had juice dripping down our chins and off our hands; the fruit was juicier than our mangos back home! Muy delicioso.
After the markets, we headed back to the Plaza de Armas for a coffee/beer. While sitting on the second floor of a cafe, we noticed a commotion starting in the plaza - there was some kind of parade starting. Peru love parades, especially in Cusco - they have several a week, for any reason at all. We think this one for was the 50th anniversary of a local school, and there were lots of people dancing along the street.
Arriving back to the hostel in the afternoon we were quickly alerted that we were supposed to meet our tour group for introductions and to make sure we had everything ready to go. This meeting was originally supposed to happen at 6pm, it was 2pm and we got into a little trouble because we hadn’t read the note that was apparently put into our room. Not given much information we left the hostel again and headed back into town to grab the last bits and pieces we needed, as well as the last minute packing before heading on our tour the following morning. During our packing we discovered that we had a few more items missing from our laundry. We probably have packed too many shirts and pants; however the underwear situation is looking pretty grim. Out of the last two lots of laundry we’ve lost five pairs of underwear between us… Free balling might not be a great idea in the cooler weather.
After finally getting our bags packed and ready for the morning we met up with Kristy and headed across the road for a cheap dinner – meat, chips and vegetables in quantities that were far too much for one person. The menu listed meats at less than $2, but didn’t have any suggestion that a side might accompany them, we decided to order a salad to make sure we got our veggie intake for the day (or potato and rice intake). Little did we know the side salad was almost the same size as the meal…and that the meal would come with chips and vegetables. We’d found a bargain.
After a couple of big days we were ready and probably a little over-excited for our tour. Four days of hiking, no showers and no barbecue… bring it on!
Go see all the photos from Cusco