Our bus quickly gave a makeshift tour of the slummy suburbs of Cuzco. Notably we gazed up at a famous stone statue of an Incan god atop a huge cliff. We also rolled around a cylindrical tower with a beautiful gold statue of a famous Incan king outstretching his arms, welcoming all into the city. Our bus stopped outside of a dentist office. We have come to love the use of American celebrity head shots for use of business advertisements. This particular dentist has a Pretty Woman shot of Julia Roberts. We were very impressed that Julia Roberts has her teeth taken care of here. Lindsey Lohan can be seen holding a telephone in short skimpy cut of jeans all over Peru as a phone company uses her image to sell, sell, sell! We argued with a taxi driver for several minutes (while sitting in his car) as he initially charged us a ridiculous amount to drive us to our new home, Loki Hostel. We soon found out that our hostel was located on an incredibly steep cliff overlooking the city. The streets are so steep here that they have made them all one way access as most of the broken down cars here can not actually make it up the hill.
We spent the next several days staying in Cuzco’s most beloved party hostel. It is located in a beautiful, palatial 450 year old renovated national monument. Walking around it seems like we are living in a medieval building, with big wooden doors and iron locks to boot. The square at the entrance to the hostel has a lovely sunny grass square and the backyard also features incredibly comfortable hammocks for an afternoon lounge and read. We were ushered into our ten person dorm and I immediately gawked at the view from our balcony. The sun was setting and the main plaza with its two towering cathedrals could be seen flickering in the early night. We plopped ourselves on our bed, thrilled to wrap ourselves in a real duvet for the first time in three months. We enjoyed our piping hot showers (which were not electrical in nature and thus did not shock us). This hostel is the most popular place in the country I believe. They have waiting lists that go on for pages and people wait around outside until 1pm (time of checkout) in hopes of getting a bed. We felt incredibly safe here as they have security guards on the street in front of the hostel 24 hours a day (they carry guns and bullets, real ones!).
We chatted with a few of the guys in our room. We soon found out our entire room was British! It soon became apparent that Cuzco is a huge party town. Most people wake up around here after 2pm. We were told the best place to enjoy the nightlife is at the main square as each bar offers you one free drink when you enter. Most people just bar hop and never end up spending a dime all night. We soon found out that tonight we would not be sleeping. Loki is notorious for its extravagantly themed parties. One girl from London said she had been to the Loki in La Paz and Lima and had missed their monthly parties each time she had stayed there. Everyone in the hostel seemed to be buzzing around and sorting out their costume for the evening. Some of these crazys´s actually spent the whole day shopping for their outfits! Tonight’s theme was a Playboy Mansion Party. We randomly ran into three of our good friends that we stayed with at Chillhouse in Buenos Aries. We grabbed a taxi into town to the Gringo favorite, Jacks Cafe. We zoomed down the winding city cobble stone streets and I squinted out the window at a huge candle lit vigil on the steps of the cities cathedral.
Arriving at Jacks Cafe we soon realized how popular this joint was. The place was packed and had a line outside the door that seemed to coil around for several miles. We decided to come back on another occasion and walked down the street to find a restaurant that caught my eye on the drive through the city. We spent the next two hours revitalizing our drabbed out taste buds. We had not eaten at a haute cuisine restaurant in weeks it seemed. We walked into this posh joint to be greeted by a fleet of Australian waitresses. Perfect English, thank goodness ordering food wouldn’t be a chore tonight!
This fabulous spot is called Baco Wine Bar and Restaurant. We were seated at a few plush leather couches as we waited for a table to free up. The ambiance was ideal, huge buckets of colourful roses and oil abstract portraits of local Peruvian models. Bouquets of purple dried lavender hung around the ceiling. I ordered us a bottle of Chardonnay from Argentina which tasted like sweet honey. We had a fancy wine chiller placed by our feet and I instantly smiled. I think extravagant dining is what really cranks my chain. Throughout this trip Sarah has mentioned numerous times that my mood instantly changes based on the quality of food I am consuming. I stared down at the menu and noticed an incredible array of interesting items. Guinea Pig Calzone stuck out as an interesting offering (the Guinea Pig is the countries national dish. They deep fry them and peg them to wooden boards and you pick away at their flesh. They look terrifying with there little rodent faces glaring at you). As I glanced up and down the menu (trying desperately to figure out what I was going to order) I realized how much Cuzco reminded me of Buenos Aires. In the next few days I soon found out that the city is full of posh restaurants. In the middle of what many feel is a 3rd world nation, there is a city with restaurants on par with the fancy eateries in Toronto, New York and Florence. The city seems to be teaming with high end Peruvian fair as well as a nice mix of high end fusion. I love the food tangents, back to the meal at present…
I settled on BBQ pink lamb with onions, grilled zucchini, fried garlic, Caesar dressing, shavings of Parmesan and fresh arugula pizza. Followed by a towering plate of caramelized pork ribs marinated in spicy rum and honey salsa and served with piping hot yellow potato chips. As we waited for our meal to arrive we snacked on a basket of garlic chili bread dipped in garlic mayonnaise (this lovely dip is everywhere in Peru and my new favorite). I called the hostess over and told her I studied food management. I was really interested in how they procure all of these food items. We were twelve hours drive from Lima in a third world country…how on earth were they able to serve perfection on a plate with such items as duck, octopus and French cheeses? The only place in South America we had been able to indulge in these sorts of foreign products was Buenos Aires. She told me that Lima has become the “other gastronomic capital” after Buenos Aires in South America. She has lived here for five years and said when she first moved here it was impossible to get your hands on European cheeses and balsamic vinegar. Now she said restaurants in Peru can pretty much procure anything they want! You don´t understand how excited this made me. Bolivia ruined my lust for fine food. The flame had now been lit once again.
We both sat in our chairs incredibly gitty. We had huge smiles as we stared at the perfectly presented dishes that passed by. Just before my first dish arrived I found myself swishing my cold and crisp glass of wine. I stared into the glass as my eyes blurred with happiness. Sarah’s quote of the evening, “It’s nice to actually see food I want to eat for a change. I’m excited to get my food and I am not at all apprehensive about what it will look like or if it will make me sick.” Food paranoia at restaurants in Bolivia makes eating out so exhausting. We were served a complimentary plate of grilled cheese, potato with mango sauce and salsa on crustini. As we spent the next hour eating our appetizers and entrees we could barely talk let alone shudder. The only words that came out of our mouth were “oh my god,” or “this is the best food I have ever tasted.”
I walked to the washroom officially tipsy from the glorious wine in my bloodstream. I walked down a long dimly lit hall flanked on both sides with beautiful potted orchids. The bathroom had a toilet seat (a luxury), I was ecstatic! The sink consisted of a waterfall flowing into an antique urn. I ran back to the table to tell Sarah she must purge herself to go to the washroom as it was so fantastic. I will probably laugh back at that moment as I was probably as excited to use a modern bathroom as I would be if I had bumped into Brad Pitt. As we nibbled the last bits of food on our plates Sarah exclaimed that she was drunk. She chirped “apparently you get drunk faster because of the altitude.” I responded “thank goodness.” We waddled to the door, waved goodbye, and rested our hands on our stomachs as if we were pregnant as we drove back to our hostel. We arrived at Loki to a rather rambunctious Playboy Party. All of the men were dressed in silk bathrobes. An attempt to look like Hugh Hefner. Several outrageous men were in drag. The girls were dressed in high heels, black tights and little bunny outfits. We mingled for a few minutes with our friends from Buenos Aires before heading to bed for a much deserved sleep.
In the morning we went straight to the RailPeru train station. I had asked an employee at the hostel where we could get the cheapest tickets for the train to Machu Pichu and directly from the source is the best idea. There are loads of companies in downtown Cuzco that sell tickets but they tack on almost a hundred dollars for their “services.” Arriving at the train station we waited in line and then stood dumbfounded for at least 30 minutes as we confused ourselves over the vast assortment of train prices and options. We stared at a time table which dictates various departures and returns to machu pichu from various cities. After biting our nails and looking rather idiotic in front of the RailPeru lady we found the best price and time. A grand total of forty seven dollars for a return train journey. The cheapest trains leave at awkward times. We would be leaving at 8pm at night from Ollyantambo, a small town in the sacred valley two hours from Cuzco. We would be returning to Ollyantambo from Machu Pichu at 5am in the morning the following day.
Satisfied that we had booked our train we hopped in a cab to Jack´s Cafe. The cabby was hilarious. It seems as though everyone in Cuzco works directly or indirectly for the tourism industry. He grabbed a few flyers from under his seat and tried to sell me tickets for various excursions around the city. I couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. Everyone is always trying to sell you something here. We were fortunate enough to get a seat at Jack´s Cafe this time around. I gobbled up a plate of chicken and beef satay with cucumber, tomato, mint salad with rice. I sucked on a thick banana, strawberry smoothie and finished off a moist chocolate cake slice with fresh strawberries and cream. After lunch we walked down the San Blas historical district where the famous twelve sided stone rests in the streets cobblestone walls. In a short few minutes we ran into over five different people that we had met somewhere in South America in the last three months. Everyone seems to be in Cuzco. We popped into a few jewelry shops and tried on a few ridiculous alpaca hats before arriving to the cities main Plaza de Armas. The center of the square features a beautiful water fountain with two flags blowing in the wind in front of the cities cathedral: a Peruvian flag and the cities indigenous Incan rainbow flag. Along the main tourist street in San Blas hundreds of local girls chirp the words “massage, massage, facial, wax, massage for you.”
In the evening we stopped by the Internet cafe across the street from Loki. Typing away with my head in the clouds suddenly a bomb went off outside and in a few seconds a ridiculous parade clamored down the steep streets. The maniac parade members were dressed in coulourful outfits and monkey masks. Banging on drums, cymbals and lighting loud fire crackers…at 11pm at night. It seems as though there is always a reason to celebrate in Cuzco.
The morning was perfectly sunny. A sunrise that reminded me of a juicy blood orange sliced across the sky. We walked to the tourist office to buy the Tourist Ticket which everyone must purchase to enter any of the cities attractions (as well as the ruins in the Sacred Valley). We walked along the store fronts in the main plaza and I realized how exhausting the locals can be. Every two seconds someone comes up to you to sell you something you don´t need. I got rather sick of constantly saying “no gracias,” to everyone that charged at us for a sale. Little children swarm and try and sell small dolls and finger puppets, young boys insist you need a shoe shine or one of their beautiful post cards. Mothers dress their daughters in traditional folk dress and sort of pimp them out on the streets with goats in their arms. They ask you if you want a picture with their goat and try and look as adorable as possible. I laughed out loud when I passed by an alpaca wool knit store and saw a huge poster of Carmen Electra in an Alpaca sweater. We bumped into an interesting religious procession: ten or so strong men were carrying an ornate five foot tall statue of the Virgin. Apparently the Virgin festival is taking place for the next five days. Throughout the day we heard the crack of fire crackers, the drum and whistles of the marching band…always aware that a statue of the virgin swayed to and fro throughout the streets of Cuzco.
We walked down the plazas´s side streets in order to find a nice place to eat lunch. We stopped at the gorgeous Incanto Ristorante fine dinning Italian establishment. The restaurant perfects the open concept floor plan with white walls, white marble floors and beautiful mahogany table tops. The space was designed with light in mind. The walls and ceiling are covered in windows allowing the mid day sun to streak through the central restaurant space. Green vines splash over the ceiling, an excellent contrast to the plush white leather chairs organized like flower petals across the floor. I sat staring at the luxurious menu (and rather steep prices) as I took in the aroma of the fresh cut orange and purple flowers on our table. The restaurant really took me aback as I was not prepared for Cuzco to have such modern restaurants (Bolivia really never satisfied). Throughout lunch I continued to look around and devour my food, always thinking that the restaurants here in Cuzco are just as impressive as the fancy eateries in Toronto and Vancouver. Our waiter attempted to push me to buy a bottle of Peruvian wine (is everyone else as shocked as I am that Peru makes wine? Expensive wine even?). I settled on a glass of Italian Bianco di Mistosanti Verduzzo del Veneto I.G.T. We were served a basket of whole wheat and caraway buns with balsamic and olive oil. I ordered a simple plate of beef medallions with fresh potato gnocchi in Marsala. The steak made my bones quiver with excitement. Perfectly cooked, melt in your mouth, brilliant. The best steaks I have ever eaten in my life have been on this South American adventure.
After lunch we marched over to the cities impressive Basilica Cathedral. We walked straight into the Sagrada Familla Chapel. After walking around this dark space I realized my eyes felt a bit blinded from the excessive use of gold leaf. Following the South American Catholic tradition the cathedral was full of ornately decorated mannequins of Christ and the Virgin. We then walked into the huge Basilica which is decorated with paintings from ceiling to floor. On the wall to the right of the altar sits a sprawling oil on canvas which every tourist has to get a picture of. The painting represents the last night Christ spent with the apostles before his crucifixion, referred to as the Last Super. This painting somewhat resembles Da Vinci´s famous fresco of the same title but the figures are organized in a more circular fashion. The painting stands out to tourists as an interesting piece as the famous Peruvian artist painted a fried guinea pig on a huge platter in the center of the table. I always find it interesting to see how Christians from around the world try and bring Christ a little closer to home. For some reason I don´t think Christ ate guinea pig that night. Perhaps he did and the Catholic Church has covered up the guinea pig part of the story as communion would become to difficult. Imagine sipping on wine, eating a wafer and then having to dispense several plates of fried rodent to the masses! As we walked away from the painting I felt a bit of terror as I noticed the darkly coloured portrait of Judas clutching his money bag. He seemed as though he might pounce on me at any moment. At the far end of the cathedral people gather to sit and pray before the famous Black Jesus. He is made entirely of charred wood. The chapel is somewhat fanciful as people throw thousands of colourful bouquets at the feet of the crucified Christ.
We left the cathedral and spent the next few hours wandering up and down the cities market streets. A teenage girl followed us up the street for about twenty minutes trying to sell us a full body Incan massage. I have no clue what an Incan massage is but I´m sure it is very Incan. Every business in Cuzco (let alone Peru) tries to make money off the countries Incan heritage. Along the Plaza de Armaz there is an Incan Cafe, Incan Restaurant, Incan Bar and Incan Pub. Inca, Inca, Inca! Sarah and I both realized we have a love for collecting art. One of the streets in the market area of town is full of galleries selling famous South American oils on canvas (and a few water colours). I had a huge smile on my face as I plopped myself on the floor and flipped through each painting, frame after frame. I fell in love with one oil which stands just under my chin. I believe it is approximately five feet tall. It was love at first sight. The artist painted two similar paintings. The other sold in New York for around 900 dollars. I had to have this painting, I decided to sleep on it as splurging can be reckless (and somewhat impractical). We strode through a few artisan markets which features several erotic Incan sculpture replicas. I can´t imagine what tourists do with two foot high sculptures of Incan gods holding their huge erect phallus. I´m sure they must serve some purpose. After a long day of gallery gallivanting we hailed a rather hilarious cab which was outfitted in pimp style pink puffy cushions. Just as we were walking into the hostel I spotted the parade of men huffing and puffing up the steep city streets with their Virgin parade clamoring behind.
In the evening we took a taxi to the Centro Qosqode Arte Nativo. After about thirty minutes of waiting around we discovered we were dropped off at the wrong museum! We finally found the little hole in the wall entrance and slipped downstairs into a packed theater. We sat on a bench at the back of the theater for a one hour performance. The museum is dedicated to the celebration of Peruvian folk music, dance and costume. Sarah and I really got a kick out of the colourful costumes and chirpy flute and drum beats (the music reminded me of an anthem one might play when skipping down the street). Each dance was introduced with an extensive history. All dances typically involved a catholic holiday, celebration of harvest or some sort of animal interaction (my favorite dance involved men dressed like Rastafarian Rabbis who were apparently supposed to look like birds). We left just as the dances started to get a bit odd…men dancing with skulls in their hands and woman bobbing up and down with strings of colourful feathers like peacocks.
We spent the later hours of the evening at the uber trendy Los Perros Couch Bar. Owned and operated by an Australian couple. This is the place to be for a snack and drink. Opening the door you walk right into a full service stool lined bar. The rest of the restaurant is full of low lying black tables surrounded by comfy couches. People schmooze with their cocktails and cross their legs while nibbling. We ordered a plate of wontons filled with 1) fresh vegetables marinated in soya, ginger and honey, 2) spicy tomato and cheese, 3) cream cheese and herb served with a selection of dips: avocado lemon and red onion dip, sweet chili mayo and soya ginger with thick honey. We ordered another plate of long crispy golden chili rolls stuffed with chicken, shallots, mint, coriander, carrots, red chilies and fresh ginger served with vinegary sesame lime honey sauce and sweet soya. I splashed a huge glass of Argentine Trilogie Chardonnay Semillon while tapping my feet to “play that funky music white boy,” as it blared over the speakers.
The following morning I woke up earlier than Sarah so I sat on the terrace reading my book. She finally made her way downstairs and pulled me to the wall with a crazed look in her eyes. I knew it had to be a bit of juicy gossip. She started the story off with the words “you won´t believe what happened last night.” Sometimes I hate that I sleep through any nocturnal disruption. The British guy on the bottom bunk across from us woke up at 4am for the Inca trail. Apparently the commotion woke up most of the room (not me). Approximately 30 minutes after he leaves the Irish bloke above him pulls down his shorts, leans his arm on the wall and starts peeing onto the floor bellow! Sarah looks up and can´t believe her eyes. A girl and her boyfriend on the beds bellow started freaking out saying ¨oh my lord he´s peeing onto the floor.¨ One should never drink to the point that they pee off the top bunk of a bed in a communal dorm room. So foul. It is times like this where I miss my comfy bed. I was in a bit of shock at the story to be honest and ended up whacking my head directly into a wooden sign that hung over a doorway in the middle of the sidewalk. I was whisked off my feet and sat on the street with my head in my hands trying not to burst into tears. I regained consciousness and we soon found ourselves in the middle of a wild dog attack. Packs of wild dogs run around the city together here. It’s actually interesting to watch as there are usually two or three alpha males who are always fighting while the rest just follow with tales between their legs. We sat at the tables of Jack´s Cafe once again. I enjoyed a glass of cafe mocha with marshmallows, orange juice, cinnamon French toast with syrup, fresh bananas, strawberries and cream. We both shared a huge bowl of French fries which we dipped in sweet chili sauce and garlic mayo.
We spent several hours in the morning and early afternoon thriving off the excitement of art gallery bartering. We spent an hour in one shop and I walked out the successful owner of a small colorful oil on canvas depicting several local woman sitting on a stoop. I bargained her down to $31 USD. Less than half of what she originally quoted me, success! I slowly walked up the steps to the next gallery, where the huge five foot painting I instantly fell in love with the day previous lay propped against the back wall. After much haggling she settled on $100 USD. I have no where to put this glorious piece of art. Perhaps I will hang it in my parent’s house or in my bedroom downstairs. It features a wild assortment of brilliantly coloured Amazonian birds including Tucans and Parrots. The jungle and accompanying wildlife are all found clinging to the frame. In the center of the painting the artist tries to create an illusion that you are looking through the forest into an open space overlooking the foggy ruins of Machu Pichu. The painting sort of takes your breath away. We had to rip the canvas from its wooden backing and then roll it in a large plastic tube for safe carry. Sarah couldn’t stop laughing at me as I purchased perhaps the largest most cumbersome painting in all of Cuzco.
After such an exciting morning I had to treat myself to a little pampering. I walked into New Sunrise Body Perfection for a 70 minute full body massage. I was ushered into a small jail cell like room made of mud bricks. The walls featured a few Incan masks and a small electric heater hummed on the floor as I undressed and plopped myself on the rather short bed. I´ve realized ten dollar massages don’t really satisfy as much as the sixty dollar variety at the spa back home. I could hear the traffic buzzing outside (although she did put on a cassette tape of corny jungle music). She lathered my body with lemon scented baby oil and jumped up on the table. She straddled by butt and started poking and prodding my back. The table creaked as she continued to tell me to ¨relax and enjoy¨. At one point she tried to pull my underwear off and I screamed ¨no no no!¨ She stopped and asked me if it was possible to remove them. I didn´t budge. She ended up simply massaging my butt cheeks, a ridiculous situation I was in. I was pleading inside my head that she would soon stop as 60 minutes passed by. I felt like a peace of well greased and tenderized turkey. I slipped into my sandals and walked out onto the main street. Oil dripped from my chin (did I mention she massaged my eye balls?) and I actually slipped in my sandals as the bottom of my feet were entirely covered in grease. My sandals made little squirting and farting noises as I hiked up the hill back to the hostel to immediately shower and rid myself of my butterball skin.
In the evening we walked towards the center of town and heard our names being screamed from the bus beside us. Low and behold we bumped into our friends from the States again! We told them to meet us at 8:30pm in front of the Cathedral, t’was a date. We walked to an ATM and to my dismay my bank card wasn´t working. I had a wee tantrum and then we both walked down the thin little gringo restaurant street for the first time. I have never been so hassled in my life by restaurateurs. The streets were lined with people screaming out onto the streets for us to eat their food. We were told we could come and sit down for a free glass of wine or pisco sour and leave if we didn’t like the food! What an odd way to market yourself. It gets somewhat exhausting having to be polite to all of these people who ram menus in your face. We chatted to one lady for a moment and then got out of the awkward situation by telling her we only use VISA. She then rushed us to a restaurant down the street called Chez Maggy. We sat down in the restaurant and stared at her as she got in a rather scandalous and heated argument with the restaurant owner. The lady was catty, she gave a few death stares and hissed. We presume she wanted commission for sending us to the restaurant, no dice dear. We ordered the oddest pizza of our lives: ham, sausage, banana and fried egg. The inside was decorated with antiques, military gear, Clogs from Holland and Japanese samurai swords. A tad eclectic. The most embarrassing moment of the day would have to be when I gave Sarah a high five at dinner and she didn’t notice. The waiter saw me apparently and thought I was waiving him down. We spent the next minute explaining that we never called him over. I love awkward moments such as this.
We finished dinner early so we sat on a bench overlooking the cathedral. Loads of children walk around the streets at night trying to sell things to tourists as they walk home from dinner. A very creepy little girl came up to us with a vicious little grin. Her body was all out of proportion. She had the head of a 60 year old and a body of an 8 year old. We laughed until our tummies hurt as we saw the Chinese Safari girl walking by. She seems to pop up everywhere on our trip (she was on our Inca Express tour from Puno). She dresses entirely in Khakis with a huge Australian Outback hat and large Nikon wrapped around her neck.
We talked to a hilarious girl, around 15 years old, who tried to sell us several dolls and finger puppets. She could easily have been a stand up comedian. She told us she makes all of the dolls and puppets in town. She also told a rather detailed account of her business. She told us business is bad, no tourists are buying from her. I thought I´d give her a few tips on the commerce trade. I pointed out first that she should not be so quick to slice her prices in half. Its just not good for business. I thought it would be nice to help her get some business so I pointed at and called over several gringos as they passed by and tried to help her sell her products to them. It was all very hilarious. The street selling kids here put on a great act. She tried to look incredibly exhausted, like she hadn´t eaten or slept in days. In Peru all of the kids here work for proper craft companies so we know it’s all an act to increase sales. She told us we needed to buy her an ice cream for her eyes. I don’t really know how ice cream helps your eyes exactly. I pointed at a business man walking across the street wearing a fanny pack and told her to run after him. She stood their pouting ¨no he´s Peruvian,¨ in a long drawn out groan. The girl makes me laugh. She forced a doll into my hand and expected me to buy it. I asked her what the dolls name was and she said with a big grin across her face, ¨Monica Lewinsky.¨ A striking resemblance.
We met our two American friends at the Cathedral and walked to a joint called Top Coffee. It looked like a Starbucks from the outside and the perfect place for a quiet chat before bed. How wrong were we. We walk into the place and realize it is a stripper themed coffee shop! Who comes up with these ridiculous restaurant themes I do not know. This place makes Hooters look tame. The center of there restaurant features a bar which looks a lot like a stripper cat walk, featuring lovely brass poles. All of the waitresses are dressed in skimpy shorts and high heels. The walls are covered in huge posters of seductive strippers. Three ladies and I sat huddled in a corner sipping on juice and tea wondering why on earth this place even existed.
Our last morning in Cuzco was spent at La Petite France Restaurant. I enjoyed the quote on the front of the menu which read ¨our staff is here to attend to your needs with courtesy, efficiency and grace.¨ I love when it is all spelled out for you. We slurped glasses of fresh orange juice and nibbled on chocolate croissants as we waited for our Raclette. It was by no means the most amazing Raclette of my life but it was fun to eat something a bit different. We sizzled strips of bacon and jamon serrano. Smashed a few boiled potatoes and covered them with thick slices of cheese. Five minutes later we had brown crispy bubbles of goodness. We rushed to the bus station as we would be spending the next three days in Peru´s magical Sacred Valley.