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In Puno, Puru but still talking about Cusco

So I have about 10 pages of outline notes about everything that has been going on but I thought, maybe, no one really wants to read about my trip in outline format so I will attempt to fill you in – as briefly as I can – about the last few weeks.

But first...

Two sets of new photos posted (Inca Trail photos coming soon)
New Google Earth kmz file of my current route (opens in Google Earth)
New Download fileGoogle Earth kmz file of the Inca Trail Extravaganza (opens in Google Earth)
New Google Earth kmz fileof the boat trip on Lake Titicaca (opens in Google Earth)

Also, if you haven’t already, please visit my Heifer International gift registry and help bring chimneys to Peru!! Thank you!!

Last I posted was the week before David arrived (July 22nd). The Monday before he arrived I went out to a little town called Andhuyaylillas in my first combi ride (a crowded little bus) to look at the Sistine Chapel of the Andes. It was ok – the entire inside was painted with frescos. I have to admit that I didn’t look too closely as there were two French cyclists in front and I was rather more interested in talking with them then visiting the church but since Alessandro was so kind to invite me to go with him (and this was the Monday after the Paucartambo weekend which you still haven’t heard about) I went in and took a look around. Somebody had obviously done a thesis on the place as there were brochures in English, Spanish, and French. That just doesn’t happen a lot in Peru. This was the occasion where I lost my beloved hat. The hat which David, wonderful David, replaced when he came down to visit.

The next big thing before David’s arrival was the visit to the Salinares (salt ponds) and Moray. This was an adventure of the grand sort as Sam(antha) knew some of the detail and I knew others. Wednesday morning at 8am we headed to a bus station to get the combi to Ollentaytambo. The deal was that we were to get off at the turn off to Maras – a little town who’s sole claim to fame is the salt ponds and the Moray ruins. So we did –we got off. Next we had to hire a taxi without getting ripped off too much. Of course, we did everything backwards – got in the taxi before negotiating a fare, pissing off the woman who was going to take the taxi to Maras by telling the driver we wanted to go to the salt flats first. Finally, we set off, Sam, the driver (Eustuquio) and me to the salt flats. Our guide/taxi driver was very accommodating and part of the deal with the fare (which I actually managed to negotiate down!) was that he would wait for us at each place. On the way to the salt ponds Sam kept yelling “aqui, aqui” which means “here, here” when she wanted to take a pictures. It’s not so funny here, but it brought tears to our eyes as we retold the story of our adventure over beers a few days later. Sam wanted to take pictures of every local person and ever farm animal we saw. She also kept offering the driver some onion snacks as he was going around blind curves with dust obscuring what ever vision he really had.

The salt ponds were neat and have been in existence for hundreds if not thousands of years. We got to taste the salt on the corn/bean snacks that the women give you as teasers to get you to buy a pack. It was salty.

The drive to Moray was much like the drive to the Salinares. Sam shouting “aqui, aqui” and saying that she wanted to make a picture and the driver obligingly stopping or trying to stop, often in the middle of a flock of animals that some poor girl was trying to get across the street without being squashed. We paid our 5 sole entrance fee and got out of the taxi. Moray is pretty amazing even only from an aesthetic viewpoint (which is most of what the Incan stuff has to be taken as since no one knows exactly what the majority of it is or what it represents – this ranges from pottery to ruins). It was thought to be an experimental agriculture center. It consists of concentric terracing built in 4 natural depressions in the terrain. There are floating stairs connecting each set of terracing – floating stairs are stones sticking out perpendicular from the walls with flat faces to step on – they are pretty cool. Sam – who is afraid of heights – would not go down into the terracing with me preferring to smoke her 18th cigarette of the day (bad Sam) but she did oblige me by taking a picture of me going down the steps. There was a group of Japanese tourists taking pictures of each other on each level of the terracing in the main circle – it was kind of amusing to watch for awhile and then I hoofed it back to the top where Eustuquio was waiting impatiently for Sam and I – we had gone over our 30 minute limit. On the way back through Maras to the bus stop Eustuquio asked if we minded picking up some of the locals along the way. Of course not, we said and picked up a local Indain lady. Then there was another one – an old woman with a big load who fitted very nicely into the. When we dropped them off in Maras, we picked up another four who crammed two to the front and two to the hatchback. Because we had paid such a high price for the service, Eustuquio didn’t let any of them into the seat section where we were. That was a little weird as there we were with all the space and everyone else was crammed on top of each other. The wait for the bus was quiet, cool, and quite windy. An empty gringo tourist bus went by with a vague guesture that apparently meant that he would have stopped for us, but as I didn’t comprehend this until he was long past and only with the help of an Indian lady also waiting for the bus, we missed the chance. Our combi ride was more fun however as there was a score of school children with us and we exchanged “tarejas” – homeworks. I did theirs and they looked at but didn’t do mine. Then we were back in Cusco each running for our respective commitments – me to get an empanada and to school to learn more past tenses and Sam to the orphanage to work with the kids.

The rest of the week flew by with various social meetings and goings about. I did some socializing, writing in the journal, and actually some GIS for a woman I met at the South American Explorers club. That was sort of fun to be helping out with the stuff I like to do most. Met Joe – a geologist – who had some interesting experiences on his rock collecting journey with horses and cooks who weren’t cooks, Vivvi and Megan two students doing a little travel before returning to Buenos Aries to back their stuff and return home after a semester abroad, and said farewell to Sam who was heading off to see other parts of Peru after a few weeks in Cusco.

And then David arrived.

He arrived on Saturday July 22nd, to a bright, cool Cusco morning with a million suitcases thanks to all of my crap that he brought. We ran all around Cusco on his very first day in town completely ignoring the “take it easy” advice everyone gives you upon arriving to Cusco or La Paz. We checked into the trek place (Peru Treks), meet my fellow students in the Plaza de Armas, went to lunch at El Encuentro, (the wonderful, cheap vegetarian joint, and went to the Dominican Monastery/Quoricancha which I may have already written about). I treat the streets of Cusco much like the streets of New York and there is no need to take a cab if you can walk. Of course a cab in Cusco costs $0.66 and a cab in New York is never less than $5. I didn’t think of that then.

That evening we met my friend Joe (the geologist) for dinner and I, attempting to find a restaurant that had Andean food decided up the Alpaca Steak House. Let’s just say that the best part about the meal were the Pisco Sours and that it was filling. The appetizers were just weird. I got a stuffed avocado which had I known that the filling of something green and chicken would be held together with a ton of mayo I would have ordered something else. David’s Papa Huancaino, which is supposed to be a great traditional Peruvian dish, was excessively dry and not even the cheese sauce could help that. The alpaca was not the vision of deliciousness that I had had a few nights previously at the Inka Grill. It was rather thin and over cooked, but I suppose that I should have expected that with a set menu. We didn’t get our tea and the postre, chocolate cake, which I had to ask for, was super dry and almost inedible. However, the Pisco Sours were quite delicious and a reasonable price, the owner was nice, and the restaurant gave a 40% discount to the locals.

We took Sunday a little easier and apart from realizing that we needed a porter to carry our sleeping bags and mats and trying to take care of that we just hung about Cusco. To take care of the porter problem I called the contacts numbers listed on the trek paper and guy who answered said “don’t worry, talk to your guide” which really just meant, get the frantic gringa off the phone as it turns out later. We ran into Anton the eighteen year old on the street and chatted for a very short while – he promised to bring by my back up bungee cords while we were one the Inca trail. He decided that bike touring was not for him and had ridden just a little more and then taxied to Cusco and was going to stay there to study drawing for a few weeks before heading back to the US and then to Paris where he managed to get into on of the high end universities. We (David and I) then had coffee and tea at Norton Rat’s and watched one of the endless parades complete with bands, singing, virgins (real and statuesque) go around and around the Plaza de Armas while singing along to some Spanish version of a Beetle’s song. We then had a good two sole lunch – I was glad we got to go to a typical place for dinner so that he could experience the meal that I usually got on the road. That evening was the cuy event for David – the consensus was that there just wasn’t much meat on a cuy, the skin was just too tough to eat delicacy or not, and it was just weird to be eating a pet. My dinner was not very good again and Joe’s was actually ok.

A little about the restaurant complaining... As you know there are good restaurants, bad restaurants and locations that are just places to eat. In Peru there are mostly just places to eat. These are establishments that have set menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and are frequented by locals or Peruvian travelers. A rule here is the more people the better and you need to ask around sometimes to find out which one the locals prefer. The “cena” (and often the “desayuno” and “almuerzo”) consists of a soup, a segundo, and a cup of tea. Some places in the cities give you a desert which is usually this awful gooey gelatin type concoction. The country places don’t bother with the desert which is just fine with me. However, in tourist places like Cusco you have better restaurants and a lot of very, very bad tourist restaurants touting local cusine – much like many of the theater district Italian restaurants in New York City. I was hoping that some of the recommended tourist restaurants lived up to their guide book recommendations because they were more expensive then the vegetarian place (which I was actually tired of eating at), and they claimed to have local food (not spaghetti or hamburgers). Unfortunately, they did not. I don’t think that alpaca is something that the locals actually eat a lot of and the cuyrias that the locals go to are located a short bus ride away from town. The high end restaurants however really did live up to their claims of good food. Inka Grill was some of the best food I’ve had in ages and is set up like a Western restaurant with silverware, linen napkins, and crystal. The food is great, the service is ok and they will converse in Spanish if you try.

That is it for this post and the next one will be the Inca Trail – I promise!! And the ride from Cusco to Puno which has been both beautiful and interesting.

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