Peru, part 5
Paul returns with a renewed supply of soles and I feel refreshed from the hot shower. We are to meet with our Choquequirao guide at eight tonight. We decide to begin the tedious process of packing our backpacks with what we will need for the five-day trek while awaiting our guide’s arrival. By the time we dig all the stuff we don’t need out of our backpacks and all the stuff we do need out of our suitcases our room looks like it was hit by a tornado. It is time to go down to the lobby so we leave the room with our junk strewn everywhere.
We walk down to the lobby and one of the friendly staff takes us to a small sitting room. Two women are waiting for us, Norma our guide and Debra, the owner of Absolute Latin America, which is the tour company we booked through. By the way, if anyone is planning to travel in Latin America we will give an exuberant two thumbs up to this company. We give Debra a short report on our trip so far and then we wait for the briefing on Choquequirao.
Debra and Norma glance at each other,then Debra informs us that the government has closed Choquequirao to tourists. We knew before we left home that a landslide had closed our original route by damming the river, which left the bridge underwater. Debra had changed our route so we would come in from the other direction. Now it seems that the only way across the river via this route is by an old cable strung above the water. Norma has just returned with a group from Choquequirao and describes how they had to stick one leg through a loop, hold on with both hands to the wire that attached to the cable while someone winches them across. The government deemed the cable was unstable but would allow a group to go if the guide and tour companies signed a paper accepting all responsibility if someone fell out of this contraption. Norma and Debra aren’t willing to sign the release but it doesn’t matter because we aren’t crazy enough to do that anyway.
I’ll come clean right now, my face lights up at this news, Paul’s face, in complete opposition to mine, crumples in disappointment. I had questions about this trek from the beginning but Paul convinced me we were up to the task. Most of our guides, upon hearing we were walking to Choquequirao, would shake their heads and tell us that this was a tough trek. One looked us right in the eyes and said “you won’t make it”. Naturally, this did nothing for my confidence.
Debra and Norma have come up with an alternate trek although there are no ruins on this route. Since seeing ruins was really our motivation for the hike in the first place, our interest is low. When Norm traces the route on her map and points out the 16,000-foot pass we will cross, Paul and I both say “forget it’. Norma insists that this trek, although much higher than Choquequirao, is easier. I reply that I would not be able to handle the altitude and they would be carrying me down the mountain at some point.
So, the problem we have to solve now is what to do for the next five days. Paul asks if we can do some day treks so the training we did at home won’t go to waste. Debra and Norma throw out suggestions and before long; we have several things to consider. I suggest that Paul and I have a free day in Cusco tomorrow. This will give Debra time to arrange day trips and let us have a leisurely day on our own. Paul will do some research on the tablet tonight to help Debra out with suggestions of places we would enjoy around Cusco.
We return to our room to face the unnecessary mess we created an hour ago. We try to put our things back in the same baggage it came out of so we will have some idea where to find them. Why is it that when you repack nothing fits as easily as it did the first time. When we finally finish packing the last item, I crawl into bed more than ready to call it a night. Not Paul, he is typing away on the tablet as he looks for sites to visit on our open four days.
I can’t believe it, we slept until seven a.m. and it was wonderful! After the continental breakfast, with the offering of several fruits, avocados, croissant(delicious), another great kind of bread, tea, coffee, yogurt, toast and eggs made to order, we are ready to explore Cusco. Our hotel is only one block away from the main square, Plaza de Armas. We have a jolt of memory when we begin to cross a street in this busy city. Here as in any Latin America country that we have ever been to, pedestrians are on their own. There are few cross-walks and stop lights so you must wait for a lull in the traffic and run or at least walk fast. It doesn’t take us long to learn it is best to cross a narrow one-way street and follow the natives when they make a break for it. Oh well, it keeps you on your toes.
Paul makes use of a city map and we meander through the narrow streets admiring the Inca stonework that still constitutes the base of most buildings in this historical part of the city. When the Spaniards conquered Peru, they tore down the Inca structures then built their churches and buildings on the Inca foundations. The Spanish at least had the sense to keep the superior structure of the Incan foundations as the Inca work was about the only thing that didn’t crumble after a devastating earthquake in 1650. Paul is absolutely mesmerized by the Inca stonework as we wander street after street examining and exclaiming over the incredible walls. The stones fit together like a giant jigsaw puzzle with every angle fitting perfectly. Remember that these walls have no mortar and were made by a culture using rock and bronze tools. How in the world???
We find our way to San Pedro, the central market for Cusco. This market is in a large building and once we are inside, we realize this sure isn’t our hometown supermarket! We walk down the aisles trying to keep from gaping but when you walk by whole hogs lying on counters it is hard not to.
In the meat section there are chickens including their feet for sale, slabs of hanging meat, hog heads, guinea pigs and a lot of other stuff we couldn’t identify. I might add nothing is refrigerated. The beautiful arrangement and eye-popping colors we find in the vegetable/grains/fruit aisles reminds us of India. Perhaps one of the most incredible things we find is a daring display of eggs, piled high and carefully by someone. The breads for sale not only look wonderful but also smell heavenly. In the dairy aisle, the towers of cheese are so high it is difficult to see the vendors behind the displays. Seeing someone dipping milk out of milk cans brings back childhood memories.Clothing, shoes, household wares and about anything else you need is for sale here. Probably a third of the place is set up with stalls that are preparing food for people. We both snap many photos of this fascinating place although a few folks sternly tell us “no photos”. When we exit the market, a woman is selling roasted guinea pig just outside the door. I ask if I can take a photo and the woman, laughing, grabs a guinea pig and holds it up to Paul’s mouth. Paul joins the game and pretends he is about to take a big bite out of the critter. This makes us all laugh plus I get a fun photo and I am happy to pay the requested one soles to the guinea pig vendor.
We opt to return to our hotel and rest a bit, after all Cusco is at an altitude of nearly 11,000 feet. Once we feel rested, we go in search of a place to eat lunch.
The Inka House looks interesting so we climb the stairs to the entrance. It is a good choice if only for the spectacular view of Inca walls and a courtyard complete with grazing alpaca and vicuña. Paul orders lasagna and I order ravioli from a wide variety of menu items. I know, not very Peruvian but sometimes you just want familiar food. The personable waiter brings us a small pisco sour on the house that is quite tasty. The waiter also brings us a free appetizer of maize, which tastes a bit like hominy and a plate of salty Peruvian cheese. The two compliment each other nicely.Our pasta is good but certainly prepared differently from the way we fix it in America.We share a Peruvian ice cream, made with special Peruvian fruit, to top the meal off. The ice cream was delicious.Guess what, my appetite seems to be back.
We explore more of the Cusco streets looking for and finding the famous 12-angled stone. There are also supposed to be serpent carvings on stones scattered about and it becomes a game to search for and find the snakes. We end our day by sitting in the main square to people watch. We are approached innumerable times by people selling paintings, sunglasses, pottery to which we always shake our heads no. The vendors here are not persistent and when you say no thanks, they take you at your word. I love these town squares with their fountains, benches, trees, flowers and amicable people. Paul and I return to our comfortable hotel for the evening and agree it was a relaxing and interesting day.
Paul checks our tablet and finds an email from Debra. We are visiting Moray and Moras tomorrow, which will be a private car tour. We have two days of trekking with Norma, our Choquequirao guide and one day of driving and exploring ruins with Norma. We must move to a different hotel tomorrow, as Maytaq is full. The new motel is only a few blocks away from Maytaq so we will still be close to the main square. We are impressed with how quickly Debra was able to put together these impromptu tours for us.