18 January 2009

More Peru

Internet access here has been limited so I can't give my loyal readers the day-by-day rundown. But the action here has been fast and furious, so here's the latest:

On our second day we flew to the mountain city of Cusco. Lima is on the shores of the Pacific ocean and Cusco is 9000 feet in the Andes. I was really worried about getting altitude sickness but we all kept ourselves hydrated and experienced few side effects (climbing stairs, scaling ruins, etc. seem harder than they should but maybe that's because I'm out of shape to begin with). We just learned that we have to sit down and rest more often . . .
. . . which we can do at our leisure, because Doug "gave" Cali and me two of these nifty tripod chairs, and two more to Justin and Angelique, and told us that if we could sell them for 100 soles per chair then he would cover the cost of our food in Lima next week. If not, we'd get to cover the food for the group. Doug sells these chairs to whomever he can convince to buy them, after he buys them from a Peruvian man who makes them by hand. The man doesn't have any other work, so Doug's frequent chair purchases are feeding the man and his family. Here's Cali doing her best to sell a chair at the Lima airport:

We arrived in Cusco and checked into our hotel - the world famous El Puma Hotel. Don't be jealous just because we are chilling in a pad with 3 Stars and you are not.

After resting briefly at El Puma Hotel to acclimate to the altitude, we struck out on a tour of the greater Cusco area to view several excellent Incan ruins sites. Please enjoy these snapshots of the tour, including the bottom two which I took of the same (obviously European tourist) guy that I saw at two different sites. It took a few tries to get the second shot, and by that time I think he knew I was stalking him.

Recent archeological evidence now proves that the Incas were very much the ladies men that history has portrayed them to be. If you don't believe me, just check out the sign at the entrance of one of the sites. Sound it out . . . Wait for it . . . Yeah, that's right. I'm pretty sure this site was an ancient Incan gentlemen's club, but it may be years before we have enough additional archeological evidence to know for sure.

Finishing off the first day in Cusco, we ate in the city plaza at a restaurant called the Bagdad Cafe. Now, as a rule, I don't normally think of Iraqi food when I'm famished. Buzzards swarming the place typically don't add to the impression of high cuisine. But luckily this place served delicious local fare and as you can see from its sign below it was conveniently located very near to where we were standing. (According to some quick calculations on my iPhone, we were only 16.404199 feet away from our delicious meal).

A quick summary of the meal: Angelique had the lasagna. Several people ordered some variation of "lomo", which is sliced beef. Connie ordered a delightful pesto-basil ravioli dish (pictured below) and I, of course, ordered nachos. I took a great deal of criticism for that decision ("we are not in MEXICO! Order something Peruvian!"), but after sharing my nachos with the crowd it was agreed that my dish was the tastiest. The chips are actually large fried wontons and the guacamole was among the best I've ever had.

On our walk back to the hotel (the El Puma Hotel - 3 Stars, by the way), we did what any Peruvian would do: we stopped to sample some antecuchos from a street vendor. Doug ordered two skewers of the meat on a stick, topped with a potato, and I assumed that they were both the same. It turns out that the one I didn't try was regular beef, and the one I did try was beef heart. And guess what? Beef heart on a stick, from a street vendor, in a remote mountain town, in a third world country, is delicious! Really.

Day Three.

Having conquered Cusco, we made our way further into the Andean highlands for some more adventure. Along the way we stopped at a fantastic mountain overlook of the Sacred Valley, where I snapped these shots. The alpaca's name is Juan Carlos, I learned (at the cost of 1 Sol). Not a bad name for an alpaca.

We stopped at a local market where Doug bought this steamed corn, which featured huge kernels and tasted pretty good even without any seasoning. It reminded me of the hominy they use to make grits in the south.

We then arrived at a roadside depot of sorts featuring a walking tour to show us the art of creating woven goods from alpaca hair. We started with a brief history lesson about the alpaca species and their varieties found in Peru. We then toured various alpaca and llama pens where we got to feed these dromedaries by hand. Naturally daring, I decided to take it to the next level to see if I could feed them mouth to mouth. Was that a good idea, considering the many, many, many bacteriological consequences that could arise? No, as I would later discover. But it seemed like a good idea at the time.

After the alpacas are shorn, the skilled women of the Andes dye the wool and weave it into useful items of domesticity, all of which were for sale at astronomical prices in the gift shop at the end of the tour. I'm not sure how much this lady gets paid to weave for the tourists. Even the baby puts in an honest forty, but from the look on her face I don't think she's getting much of the rake.
We stopped in the small town of Pisac (pronounced "pee sack") to tour some excellent ruins and well-preserved terracing along the Incan trail. Way-stations like these were transfer points for cargo hauled between Incan cities, as well as handoff points for "chasqui" runners who transferred messages between government rulers. I joked that the current NBC lineup might be energized by a new cop drama starring an Incan character running messages between the bad guys and the cops. It could be called "Chasqui and Hutch". Nobody but me thought it was funny, but it didn't stop me from acting out the role by running the Incan trail myself - at 11,000 feet.

We made our way to Otallaytambo and checked in to a beautiful hotel that used to be a monastery. Unfortunately, at this point I suddenly got super sick - most likely a gift from the alpacas 6 hours earlier. I went from feeling fine to having a fever that had to have been over 100 degrees in about a half an hour. I didn't know if I'd be able to get out of bed the following morning to make the trip to Machu Picchu, but as you'll learn in my next post it takes a lot more than a severe, debilitating bacteria's assault on my whle body to keep me down.
More to come . . .


Supercords said...

Another great post with entertaining pictures. Cali looks like she's ready for her starring role on QVC.

mumovearls said...

Wow I so want to go This is all Amazing!
Ps. I'll buy 3 chairs from Cali if she is going to look that HOT!!

gramyflys said...

I am loving this and wishing Dad and I were with you. What a great trip for you...be safe and no more alpaca kissing.

angie said...

I am a little fascinated, and very disturbed by your feeding of the animal with your mouth. wow!

jared said...

I am anxiously awaiting your next installment...."the bacteria's assault."

Karen said...

Grits=crazy deliciousness.