Cusco and Puno

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January 19th 2020
Published: March 16th 2020
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Ceviche at the marketCeviche at the marketCeviche at the market

Our favourite, the lady was sweet and told us how she made the tiger milk, here , on the side you can see the shot glass for the tiger milk.
We landed in Cusco late at night and shared a taxi into the city centre with a Dutch couple who we’d already seen on our bus in Colca. In fact, this made me realise that of all the countries we’d been to so far, Peru was the most touristy as time and again we would bump into the same people either on a plane, bus, bus terminal or even airport. I suppose it makes sense since people from all the world flock to Machu Picchu to see one of the 7 wonders of the world. And it’s the popularity of Machu Picchu that makes the rest of the surrounding areas like Cusco, super touristy. It was a bit of a shock as we had been so lucky up until now to see very few tourists and really enjoyed sharing the tourist trail with local people. For example in Colombia all the tourism was local and this not only meant that we saw how they enjoyed their own country, but also allowed to meet them on a similar level where both were visiting, exploring and getting to know the beautiful landscapes. In Peru this doesn’t exist. Tourism is for tourists outside of
The hat.The hat.The hat.

I was wearing the hat just made by Julian, enjoying the soup, waiting for the ceviche. On the bar you can see a small plate of the traditional Peruvian puffed corn.
Peru and you have to pay the price and a high one at that! At first we didn’t mind having to pay for every part of nature that we wanted to see as we thought it was helping the local economy and people, but after digging a little bit deeper we learned that Cusco is actually Peru’s fourth poorest region and that it’s the Chilean mafia that manages all the tourist trails including Machu Picchu and that the locals don’t get to enjoy the richness that we, tourists, bring.

For this and for many other reasons we decided that we would not go to Machu Picchu. My dad had been in 1968 and having seen his photos, there is no way I would have enjoyed it in the same way. Nowadays you can expect trucks of tourists arriving to take the SAME picture for their Instagram and you can’t even walk freely along the trails; you have to follow one trail like ants around the site starting and ending the loop with the same people in front and behind. And all this privilege for something like $200 each. This trip has been eye opening on
Daria in CuscoDaria in CuscoDaria in Cusco

Three layers, Daria, the main square Cathedral, and the “Viva el Peru” writing on the mountain behind
many levels, and one of these has been that we like to see and be in nature but not necessarily where everyone else goes as often the experience ends up being disappointing. So no regrets re Machu Picchu and thumbs up for the beautiful landscapes we saw around the Colca Canyon which for me were a million Machu Picchus. Yes, we won’t have THE photo with us but I also prefer to have more original and unusual landscapes as my background. Marco also made a good point that the Inca structures date back some 500 years ago which is not actually that long if you think about the Roman edifices of some 2500 years ago...maybe a bit arrogant on one side but nonetheless true 😉

Anyway - back to Cusco. We totally loved it! Winding cobbled streets, cute artisan shops, lots of French bakeries and patisseries, super safe and beautiful little squares with churches and cathedrals and of course, a backdrop of mountain ranges as far as the eye can see. We first saw it at night where the temperatures were rather cool so it reminded me of being in a winter skiing village with twinkling lights
Cusco, the old townCusco, the old townCusco, the old town

The old town of Cusco it s all about small street and steps, still a lot of old feature that show us the classical Spanish style that is now barely lost in Spain.
and streets bustling with people enjoying the riches of the city in the form of food, drink, music, chatting to street vendors and generally indulging in being tourists.

We stayed in a totally gorgeous little house inside the main courtyard of a bigger house owned by a French / Peruvian man called Marco! The house was tiny but it was extra cosy and when I find a house with a good energy I don’t want to leave it. This one had views over the city and the main square - all terracota roofs reminiscent of Tuscany (though Marco disagreed). We spent 3 nights in Cusco and really enjoyed slowing down the pace and treating it more like a “holiday” than “travelling”.

Around the corner from Marco’s house was a little market, unknown to the hordes of tourists staying downtown where we ended up coming every day at least twice a day. Whether it was to get delicious passion fruit juice (maracuya) or to gorge on trout ceviche, we were there every day without fail. The ceviche stand was always bustling busy. At first I wasn’t sure about ceviche in the mountains thousands of kilometres from the ocean but when I realised that it was a trout ceviche from the nearby rivers you couldn’t stop me. For 15 Sols (something like £2) we had a mountain of ceviche, drenched in tiger milk, as well as a shot of tiger milk for starter with dried corn nibbles. The tiger milk shot was quite a discovery and made me think that it would sell very well in London if presented as a hangover cure shot! You’d just need to add some vodka and you basically had something as mouth watering as a Bloody Mary. It was really yum! The dish included sweet potato and Peruvian type of corn which is basically really fat kernels and white in colour (super tasty). It also included a fish broth and a pineapple juice (with way too much extra sugar and water to water it down). We were satisfied customers!

The market also hayd a tailor called Julian who used the colourful local fabrics to make trousers and shirts. Marco had a bright idea that he would like Julian to make him a tailor made hat using a thick material to keep warm during the cold evenings we were headed towards both in Peru but Bolivia as well. So that afternoon we headed to the massive sprawling central market where they sell all sorts of materials, from plastic to the best wools, alpacas and sheep skins. We spent hours looking around, asking around and it was surprisingly hard to find a piece of good quality wool to create the hat. We bought one design that in the end we decided we’d keep as a table runner (still very beautiful but not right for Marco’s bespoke wool cap hat). In the end the search was a bit too long for me so I went back home and to a yoga class while Marco continued looking for his perfect hat. Being with a perfectionist who has tons of patience I knew while it was a bit of a game, he also wanted to do it properly. After my yoga class we met up and he showed me not one, but two pieces he had purchased for the hat. One had shades of greens and purples while the other had an Aztec type design that would frame the cap (probably best to refer to the pictures to get a good view). We headed over to Julian who measured Marco’s head and Marco explained how he wanted the hat/cap to look. We were told to come back a few hours later...

In the meantime we went back to the artisan’s market as we wanted to find a quality piece of fabric representative of Peruvian colours to nail onto our bedroom wall which is how our host Marco’s house was decorated. It’s a lovely way to bring warmth and culture into your home and we thought this could be something we could transport. Let’s hope it looks as pretty back in London as it did when we chose it.

Back to the hat story - we went to meet Julian and see the was super cool and I immediately wanted one too! As there was enough material left we made a second one. I did look a bit like an Irish leprechaun and Marco like a proper Jamaican Rasta but the hats were cool and we liked the fact they were unique to us. That night we went to have a pisco sour and watch the sunset with our new hats. After a drink or two, Marco decided he wanted MORE hats but this time made out of a different fabric - a light canvas type that he could use as a summer cap for Argentina where the temperatures were going to be scorching hot. So the next day we continued our search for fabrics and presented Julian with a new project. He felt quite the hat pro by that stage that he didn’t ask any questions and just told us to come back the next day to pick them up. Marco was excited to have 4 Peruvian hats (I now understand why he has 12 bicycles, 40 pairs of shoes and 80 t-shirts...) but unfortunately Julian didn’t produce a very good result this time around. The circumference of the head was too small and the back of the hats too small so he had to add some “ears” which made the hat look more like that of a patissier pastry maker’s hat. Anyway, we didn’t have the heart to ask him to start again so we paid him and left with 4 hats. Let’s see where they end up in the future!

On our final night we asked our host Marco if
Lake Titicaca, Uros IslandsLake Titicaca, Uros IslandsLake Titicaca, Uros Islands

Uros Islands are floating island made of reeds, The Uros people were forced to live there when the Incas expanded into their land. For hundreds of years they had to constantly renew the reeds to keep the island floating, they still doin it, but just for touristic porpoise. On this pic the traditional Uros boat, also made just for turistic porpoises. as you can see the lady in Chola’s clothes use a normal motorised fishing boat to move around.
he could recommend somewhere good to eat to sample some Peruvian dishes and he sent us to el Jardin Organiko. This was a lovely little gourmet place where the owners grew all their own organic vegetables and herbs and were extremely proud of their cuisine. Being in the land of llamas and alpacas we decided to try alpaca meat as well as other typical dishes like stuffed spicy peppers. The quality of the food was really good and the presentation excellent. The alpaca steak was yummy and reminded us of venison or some other type of game. It was the only alpaca we had but we did subsequently try llama which was very tasty as well. The third animal from this family tree is called a vicuña and they are protected so you can’t hunt them and their wool is also protected.

That night we took the bus to Puno where the magical Lake Titicaca lies...the biggest navigable lake in South America and it did not disappoint. Lake Titicaca shares its border with both Peru and Bolivia, though the biggest part of the lake is on the Peruvian side. I found it really enchanting, mystical and beautiful. It’s always flat (hence making it so easy to navigate in) and super clean and clear. As it’s at over 3000 metres above sea level, not much grows inside, no algae and not even fish. In order to monetise the lake, trout farms have gradually been introduced in different parts of the lake so this is the only fish you can find in its deep and wide waters. We sampled a lot of trout on our travels and I must say that the “trucha” from the lake was particularly good; very much like salmon but perhaps less oily. The lake had lots of cute ducks swimming near the shores but for reasons unknown, they were not hunted for consumption. Lucky them!

We had arrived to a drizzly and very cold morning after a bad night’s sleep on the bus. No time to rest, by 7:15am we were already on our way to the main port to visit the Uros islands where the locals have turned the lakes’s natural reeves into man-made islands where they have set up their floating homes. I had booked the more comfortable boat that also has onboard heating as I knew it was
Taquile IslandTaquile IslandTaquile Island

The office.
going to be very cold on the lake. We were taken to what we thought was our boat - a very comfortable, clean, warm and spacious boat. Just as we got comfy the lady called mine and Marco’s names and told us we were on the wrong boat. We obediently got up and went to the next that was smaller, colder, smellier and older. We didn’t say anything and got comfortable until she called our names again and told us to move to yet another boat. This one was the worst of the three, super old, stinky, cold and extra slow. I don’t really understand what happened other than the fact she was somehow making money off the fact she was moving us to her friend’s boat thinking we wouldn’t complain. How wrong was she! I was so angry on the little sleep I had that I made it my mission to make sure we would get back to the good boat. Unfortunately that didn’t happen but we did get our money back and she personally apologised for the “mishap”...

Still, we were going to be on that damned boat all day so I had better
Taquile IslandTaquile IslandTaquile Island

A lady is walking up the stairs, she wears traditional ‘chola’ clothes. When a lady has a black skirt it means she’s married; light colour skirt means she’s not. Men distinguished their importance on the island by using different kinds of hats. The boss of the island uses an Andalucia type of hat but sometimes use a traditional wool hat underneath to show his roots.
get used to it. It took me a while but once I got over the rain that was coming in and the stink of petrol, I did manage to throw myself into the experience and enjoy the floating islands, the Japanese-sounding language that the Uros people spoke, and the fact that the island platforms were so thin - mainly only 1 metre thick - that the whole island moved under your feet and the freezing cold and deep waters were just a few hundred centimetres below us. Big respect to the people living there day in, day out.

Following on from the Uros we floated off to the Taquile island about 2.5 hours away on lake Titicaca. This one was much more sturdy and had a better infrastructure for living. It turns out that the island was initially used as a prison where politicians with too many opinions had been exiled. Nowadays, it’s an island where they grow potatoes and weave textiles for the tourists who come to visit. We took away a very special souvenir from there - the muña wild mint which grows in thick bushes and tastes divine. I got a while back of it to make a tasty digestive tea.

It was our last day in Peru and it was well spent. The next day we were headed to Bolivia!


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