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Published: December 16th 2013
The former capital of the Incas is definitely the most touristic spot in Peru (after only Machu Picchu, perhaps), and that is quite obvious, as every second person roaming the historic center seems to be a foreigner with their outdoor clothing and cameras, including us, naturally. In addition, you only have to look at the prices in cafés and restaurants to come to the same conclusion. We arrived in Cusco after a sleepless night in Colombian capital Bogotá, and having left for the airport at 3.30 in the morning, we were rather tired when we were picked up from the airport by Mauricio, our host. Cusco lies in the altitude of 3500m, which probably also contributed to the fact that we spent most of the day and evening in our (relatively) comfortable bed, only leaving it to have dinner consisting of overpriced and mediocre pasta next to the beautiful central square.
The next day after having spent again some 14 hours in bed, we felt like new persons and set out to see why Cusco is so famous. First we had an early lunch of quinoa soup and spaghetti Bolognese made of soya at a vegetarian restaurant; quinoa soup is
a local specialty we have eaten often since, as it’s usually very tasty, and healthy too. Another local, or actually regional, specialty is the coca leaf, which is popularly used as a stimulant, much like we use coffee. It can be simply chewed and placed under your lip for as long as it releases some flavor, and also mate de coca tea is very common. When we visited the Coca Museum of Cusco, we learned that it is actually possible to make almost anything with coca in it – the museum store had at least cosmetics, chocolate, pasta, cookies, candies and all kinds of drinks spiked with it for sale. We tested the coca pralines (not good) and bought a coca lip balm, so far it hasn’t proved to be that special either. Coca candies and tea on the other hand seem to work better than coffee as energizer for us. And to make it perfectly clear, besides coca being an ingredient for it, these coca products don’t have much to do with cocaine. Locals use coca for so many health issues that we should have asked at the museum if there is anything coca won’t heal…probably not, if you
In addition to coca museum, we visited the Cusco Cathedral, where we took an audio guided tour. Cannot say I found that immensely interesting, and same applies for the former Inca temple complex, on top of which the Spanish built a Catholic Church and a cloister. It does make you think about the Incas, though, and what a pity it is that their culture was pretty much destroyed, and what if that hadn’t happened - what would Peru and the neighboring countries look like today?
The next morning we walked to San Francisco square, where many food stalls are erected on Sundays. As in Ecuador, also in Peru cuy
(meaning, roasted guinea pig) is a common food, which we hadn’t tried yet, so when we saw it being served on one of the tiny restaurants, we decided to give it a try. It came with baked potato, filled pepper and pasta. The meat itself tasted quite neutral, pretty much like chicken. Strangely, guinea pigs are considered pets in our culture, yet it didn’t feel from that point of view nasty to eat it, anyway I can imagine, had it been cat or dog meat, it probably
would have felt repulsive. Anyway, it was enough to try it once, wasn't that delicious...
After our guinea pig lunch we left for a small excursion with Mauricio and two other people to see a Sunday market in the neighboring town of Pisac. We had a great time, not only was the sun shining and scenery gorgeous with green mountains, the market was also cool to see. It was full of indigenous people in traditional colorful clothes selling their crops, as well as artisan products. We both invested in warm scarfs made of alpaca wool, I guess those will be needed later on in Bolivia where we will most likely hang out in altitudes nearing 4000m.
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