Crazy Cosmopolitan Cusco

NOTE: sorry I haven’t been able to publish these next few blogs – I’ve been in Australia constantly travelling… publishing timely blogs will resume =)

My first impressions of Cusco were WOW! I really didn’t think it was that big of a city – how wrong I was… As we were given an orientation walk of the city, I immediately realised that Lima was officially the capital, but Cusco was the Cosmopolitan Capital! Grecia, our guide took us to the main square, which was huge, and there was a large cathedral, the architecture was simply beautiful! We were quite hungry, so we made our way over to a café – Grecia ensured that this was a very good place. We ended up at Jack’s Café – I was extremely thrilled that there were pancakes on the menu!!! You see, every single breakfast that I had until now consisted of balls of butter and strawberry jam with hollow circular breads – not nice at all! And so pancakes it was! Oh my word – they were delicious!!! I also ordered a mango con leche, which is basically a mango smoothie and this was THE BEST mango con leche I had in Peru! Jack’s was definitely a winner! A group of us kept going back to Jack’s as it clearly was amazing!!!

We made our way to another square, where we joined a free walking tour (well tips were given at the end). There were a lot of people on the tour so it was slightly difficult to hear the tour guide. In any case, he took us to the local markets, showed us a few more “squares” of Cusco, we then ended up in a bar (mind you if was about midday, so naturally the bar was empty). The barmen then demonstrated how to make a pisco sour and when he was finished he invited everyone to take a free sample and showed how to salute (something along the lines of: to mother nature, to inca and so on…).

One of my most favourite things about Cusco was the Chocolate Museum – it was FREE and FANTASTIC! As you enter the museum, a guide tells you about the chocolate industry in Peru. You are then taken to the next room where you can watch the Chocolatier’s working. The chocolatier that we were watching was very friendly, she told us about the different flavours – even gave us free samples to try! One of the peculiar (well I found it strange) was the cocoa leaf flavour – it seems as though it’s everywhere… We were also given a small glass of chocolate tea to try – which was delicious. You then have the option to buy chocolate and related products OR you can even have a sit down treat at the cafe, which has a nice view out to the square.

On our last day in Cusco, we all went into town to buy some bits and bobs before we moved onto the next stage of the journey. Once we arrived at the main square, we were all gobsmacked – there were hundreds of people there, ALL in festive outfits. We didn’t really understand what was going on, but we gathered that it was some sort of school festivity as there were loads of school aged children. It was amazing site to see, all those bright colours were AMAZING!

Cusco is a definite must – ok there are loads of tourists here but all the same, it really was an amazing place!

Ccaccolla, Peru: Living like a local

We arrived in Ccaccolla after a short drive from Ollantaytambo. Our driver parked in the “main square” of the town and we all filed out of the vehicle and were greeted by middle-aged Peruvian women dressed in traditional clothes, each holding a lovely colourful bunch of flowers. Our guide Grecia, translated that they had all welcomed us to their village. Then one by one each described the guests or said the names of the guests who would be staying with them. I heard one of them say “vegeteriano” and I thought, “yep that’s who I’m going with” (mind you I am not an actual vegetarian, I’m just picky with my meat, so this works better…).

Dani (the other vego in the group) and myself were handed flowers from this lady and we were told to follow her. We didn’t walk too far as she her house was in prime location – right on the main square! She showed us to the room that we’d be staying in, so we left our luggage and then followed her to the kitchen. She made us lunch – which consisted of a soup followed by rice and boiled vegies. She kept us company and we tried to have a conversation (neither Dani nor myself speak Spanish…) and I think we actually  did quite well! I asked her about her family and children etc and she replied using hand gestures and spoke half in Spanish and Quechua (native language before the Spanish invasion).

After lunch, she walked us to our room and dressed us in traditional clothes – which were very colourful! She then told us to go down to the main square where we would meet the rest of our group. A few minutes after we arrived, 2 other girls dressed similarly joined us. Slowly, the group had all arrived and were all dressed up. We went for a short walk with all of our mama’s (our hosts) and they explained how the weaving industry in this town came about and how the proceeds allow their children to get an education. After this informative walk, we went down to the football arena and played football in our outfits with the local kids. Some of us, mainly us Aussie’s, did seem to take it seriously – being very verbal (and occasionally screaming out Müllerrr to a German girl!). It was a lot of fun. We all went back to our mama’s houses and had dinner over conversations with the family members (well attempted to anyway…).

The next morning a few of us hiked up a small mountain and watched the sunrise – it was a nice sight! After breakfast, we all were taken to the hall where all the looms were located and were informed about the various patterns of weaving. We were also told that a woman should weave in order to be chosen for a good wife. We all then had a go at weaving using the looms – even a guy from the group had a go and all the mama’s laughed at him!!! We all then went to an area where they showed us the natural products for colouring the wool and how the whole process took place. Stalls enclosed the area and we were able to purchase scarves, gloves hats etc – which were all made from alpaca wool.

All in all, it was a nice experience to see how the locals lived and how they earned a living…

Colca Canyon, Peru: an animal expedition

We were woken up very early in order to get to the Colca Canyon and to get a good spot at the Condor crossing before the waves of tourists arrived. En route to the canyon, we had a little break at a truck stop where our guide recommended for us to buy cocoa tea – which basically was cocoa leaves in hot water. Surprisingly it was nice, but I think by this stage I had gown accustomed to the “cocoa” flavour. After about a 2.5hr drive, we arrived at the canyon.

Our initial impressions were not that positive. We could see maybe, 2 condors in the distance and we were not very impressed. However, we were told to be patient and to get a good “seat” along the cliff and simply wait. And so wait we did… it actually paid off!! Our guide had told us that the condors fly according to the thermals and this is EXACTLY what these huge beasts did. They were about 3-4m wide, clearly very large birds. Our guide also explained the features of males compared to females and juveniles vs adults. We sat there on the edge of the cliff for about 2 hours – I was in awe of these amazing creatures. They actually came very close to us – yes, I did get a little scared at some point when they were directly above us! A group of 5 condors were flying in a mesmerising pattern and they kept a whole bunch of us entertained.

Our guide took us on a little walk – I was actually quite breathless as we were at around 5600m above sea level! The canyon was absolutely beautiful, and I think the nice weather played a huge role in this great experience…

On the way to Chivay (small town semi-close to the canyon), we drove past a field of wild vicunas, alpacas and lamas. Our guide explained that vicuna wool was the best quality followed by alpaca then lama. It was such an amazing sight – it looked like something out of National Geographic! We actually pulled over and were busy taking photos and absorbing these gorgeous animals! Apparently vicunas are nationally protected animals, because the wool is so valuable, the animals have become very sought after. So the Peruvian government is slightly worried that these animals in the future may become extinct…

We stopped at another “truck stop” and we were told that they make fresh pisco sour here. If you EVER go to Peru, you will hear pisco sour everywhere! It’s basically an alcoholic shot with egg white and limejuice. BUT at this truck stop they made it with a local fruit (the name escapes me…). There was also non-alcoholic ones available – I ofcourse opted for this option. It was nice – it was basically fruit juice. Once we got to Chivay, our guide took us for a walk, up a look out. There were so many stray dogs in this town – one even befriended a friend on the tour and actually did the mini hike with us!

The Colca Canyon was definitely worth waking up über early for! The animals that we saw were unique to Peru – which made the experience all the more interesting!!