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This diary is an extension of 2 Weeks of Vacation - An Untold Number of Diaries to Come about our family vacation to Peru and Bolivia. Diaries are part travel, part photos, part politics and personal reflection. Links to more diaries in the series can be found in the original.

Welcome to Cusco, Peru!

2066 miles or 3325 km
Our vacation started as a pipe dream months before our actual trip. As avid readers of National Geographic (thanks, Grandpa!) and history buffs, we knew we wanted to see Machu Picchu. After all, we doubt we will ever live so close again. And Cusco is the gateway to Machu Picchu.

Cusco was the ancient seat of power for the Incan Empire and mythology says the first Incan leader, Manco Cápac, settled here after he was gifted a golden staff by the Sun God and commanded to build a temple at the place where it sank deeply into the ground. Today, the Quechua people still refer to that place as Qosco, instead of the Spanish Cuzco or the English Cusco.

Even though we flew, it took us two days of travel to reach this part of South America from Buenos Aires. There are no direct flights so we elected to stay the night in La Paz, Bolivia so that we could save money. Most people travel via Lima and can make the connections in a single day. By the time we arrived, we were ready to be finished with airport layovers. We had the initial scare of not finding our driver to take us to our hotel. This is no small thing in South America where you are literally bombarded by taxi drivers begging to take you to the hotel of their choice as soon as you walk out of customs. Luckily, after walking outside, we saw our name on a placard and were saved!

View of Cusco from nearby foothills

Iglesia de la Compañía with Viva El Peru hillside
As we drove into the city of Cusco, I realized we were not in Buenos Aires anymore... in many ways, we felt like we had arrived in the 'real' South America, where local faces are less European and our own pale skin and blue eyes were much less likely to blend in. Not that we exactly fit in Buenos Aires, mind you, but we don't stick out like sore thumbs either.

Almost immediately, we drove past the most wonderful farmer's market. Even though it was Sunday morning, people were shopping. That is pretty unusual in Buenos Aires where most markets are all closed from 1pm on Saturday until Monday morning. Though the people in their bright clothes were interesting, I was most struck by images of food. I saw chickens complete with heads, beaks, and claws, whole young suckling pigs, and slabs of whole dried fish. I saw corn on the cob with fat, plump kernels, pale yellow and freshly shucked, ripe pineapples, strawberries so under ripe that they were more green than red, piled high in baskets, peppers of every warm hue and all sizes, and the tiniest crab apples I have ever seen. I saw beef hanging from the butcher's stall, dark, red, and so fresh it was dripping with blood the color of beet juice. The strangest sight of all - fresh guinea pigs, skinned and whole, lined up on a table like surgeons scalpels. All of this I saw in the space of two, maybe three minutes, as our car drove by, not even time to take a picture.

A cobblestone street
Wooden doors of colonial building
The buildings soon changed from modern cinder block construction to Spanish colonial. Every corner we turned I saw a new facade: an old church, a plaza with a fountain, a second story balcony made of carved wood, heavy double doors. The streets were cobblestone, the alleys narrow, sometimes not wide enough for a car, clearly built for a time when vehicles were more mundane and pulled by horses or loads were carried by back alone. The historical district of Cusco reminded me of old villages in Spain or even Italy.

I was falling in love with Cusco and I hadn't stepped foot out of the vehicle.

Unfortunately, the altitude sickness struck my husband immediately and he had the headache from hell and the stomach to accompany it so our well laid plans were put aside and our formal sightseeing pushed off to the following day.

My boys and I left him tucked in bed and well-medicated with hopes that he would feel better by dinner and headed out to walk around the city. I really wanted to go back and see that gorgeous market but I knew my boys were less interested in food that needed to be cooked and more interested in eating a real lunch. We were here for culture but I knew my limits.

The Plaza de Armas was a short walk from the Hotel Anden Inca where we were staying. We were told that the best restaurants would be found there. What we weren't told is that we would be bombarded by hawkers from each and every restaurant as we walked around the Plaza.

"¡Senorita, por favor, mira la carta, senorita!, Please, look at the menu! ¡Comé aca, buena vista, buena comida! Eat here! Great view, good food!", they yelled as they held open menus with pictures that looked like typical tourist food. You could eat American and get hamburgers or pizza or European and eat soups and pastas. Almost all offered some Peruvian dishes but always as an after thought as if most tourists weren't really looking for anything local.

Plaza de Armas
After a block of this, we headed for the center of the Plaza, near the fountain, so that we could look at the variety of restaurants from afar. All restaurants were on the second floor and all had tables overlooking the Plaza with views of the historic buildings, and the mountains behind them. In the end, we figured they all had the same food and similar views and we chose a place because we liked its blue windows and its small size. As we headed that direction, the waiter out front saw us and immediately handed us an open menu, before we had even finished crossing the street. We smiled and nodded and said show us the way!

Soup with vegetables and quinoa
We climbed over a couple of children playing on the stairs in the hall and said a few words in Spanish as we went by. The children giggled and smiled. I felt good we had chosen this place. It felt family owned and family run. The owner took good care of us and we ate a decent if not memorable Peruvian meal - a quinoa soup for me and potato dishes for my boys. We were eating light to counter the affects of altitude. There is a definite recommended diet - soup on day one, light meal on day two, regular food by day three. Begin each day with coca tea and drink it liberally until mid-afternoon. The owner also sent us on our way with Dieta de Pollo for my husband, a soup of chicken, vegetables, and rice and a guaranteed cure for altitude sickness. I bet it would cure the common cold as well.

Steps near our hotel
My boys and I spent the afternoon trying to get lost. It's our favorite way of seeing a new place! Instead of following a map to where we are supposed to go, we follow the road or the path that looks most interesting. Our first hint that we went the right way was a tall, steep, set of stairs. I love steps, though in high altitude these were not pleasant to climb, because they take you to places where you can see vistas. And these did not disappoint.

As we saw more of Cusco, it was clear that the Spanish had built directly on top of an Incan city. We learned that many of the churches and the government buildings were built with stones taken from Incan sites or directly on top of sites that were dismantled and the stones recut and refit to build in the Spanish style. It is common to see a building with an Incan base and a Spanish top or with Incan columns and Spanish arches. Today, of course, the city takes great pride in both styles of building and is doing what it can to preserve them. Ironically, the older Incan walls are stronger and more earthquake resistant because of the methods used by the ancient builders. Stones were cut to fit tightly together and walls were not built straight up but slanted inward. Nor were stones all cut the same size or shape. Most walls were built with no mortar.

A reconstructed Incan Wall
Inca Roca, converted to Archbishop's Residence
We also discovered the Peruvian vendor. They are ubiquitous to Cusco and can spot a mark a mile a way. I was the mark. And my boys thought it was funny at first but then they quickly realized that if I didn't develop a method to escape the sales community of Cusco, that we would never get to see anything but souvenirs.

painting by Julio
After I had purchased three beautiful water color paintings from Julio and two hand carved gourds from the mother of a sweet three year old girl named Sophia, who was playing with her mother's hair as her mother tried to convince me to buy more, we decided that I could no longer be polite. I had to learn how to walk away. If I said No, gracias to those who asked me simply to look, it was seen as an invitation ask me for help because they are poor or to ask me to buy something so that they can buy food or to tell me that I am being rude because I refuse to look their way.

And it wasn't just souvenirs. We saw children, sometimes alone, sometimes with relatives, standing on street corners in traditional dress, usually with a small animal at hand, waiting for their picture to be taken for a small donation. Questions echoed in my head, Is it right to take their picture? Do we exploit them when we do so? Isn't this better than begging? My level of discomfort was a direct result of my lack of answers to these questions.

Use of a carrying cloth is very common

I was snapping pictures of locals in the street, partly to document the culture for my diaries and partly because I was amazed that in today's shrinking world that people could retain their culture at all. But should those people receive something in exchange? During a tour the next day, the irony of the situation became even more apparent when a man with an obviously non-functioning camera started snapping pictures of the tourists. How many people understood his theatrics as an attempt to get us to see ourselves, snapping pictures of locals? He was obviously unhappy with the status quo and he made me think of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

It brings into question How much tourism is a good thing for a community? The city of Cusco is a World Heritage site and attracts tourists from all over the world, the majority from Europe and North America. How can a community get maximum benefit from the tourism industry and still manage to retain true to itself and its people? I don't have any good answers yet but maybe I will find some as I write more diaries about this trip.

One of the reasons my family loves to travel is that we love to immerse ourselves in the culture of the regions we visit. Later that evening, we went to a restaurant that specialized in Peruvian food, located on a side street off the main plaza. Our waiter, Richard, was more than pleased to help teach us about local food and actually recommended a different restaurant for the following night, one which specialized in food from Cusco, Deva. We hadn't realized that there would be large regional differences, but we probably should have. Some of the typical food we had the pleasure to try were:

Chicha (almost empty), Chica Morada, and Cancha
Cancha - Toasted corn kernels that had been toasted to a perfect crunchy consistency, then salted. The flavor reminded me of corn chips like Fritos, but fresher. Imagine getting all the duds in the bottom of the popcorn bowl but the duds aren't rock hard, instead they have a hollow crunch when you bite them and they are full of flavor, not burnt. You can make your own with this recipe from whats4eats.

Chicha - corn beer that has been fermented for only a couple of days. It is not high in alcohol but the taste is present. The liquid is creamy yellow and a glass of it came with a head of white foam the consistency of softly beaten egg whites. The flavor reminded me of mead - must be the fermentation process; maybe the wild yeasts are similar.

Chicha Morada - this is also a drink made from corn, but blue, and it is not alcoholic. The color is deep purple, like the grape juice I grew up drinking as a child. The flavor is very, very sweet and fruity; a typical Chicha Morada uses pineapple, quince, apples, lime juice, cloves, and cinnamon. If you'd like to try some for yourself, The Splendid Table offers a recipe and a link to buy the blue corn.

Cuy or Guinea Pig
Cuy - This is the guinea pig you have heard me refer to. My husband bravely gave this one a try and determined that it tasted like... meat. When we asked him to clarify, he said rabbit. That makes sense since guinea pigs and rabbits are raised in very similar ways - hutches and vegetarian diets. Most Peruvians seem to like these guys whole and roasted though my husband tried a half one that had been pan fried and served with a sauce. It was the little bones that got to me... can't go there.

Alpaca - both of my boys and I tried Alpaca. Mine came in a stew and was served with Tarwi, which I will describe below. The boys went with steaks. Alpaca is a red meat and reminiscent of bison.

Alpaca with salad and potatoes
Quinoa - Quinoa is a very common grain in South America. It is becoming more common in the United States and can be found at health food markets and stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes. I bet even Safeway has it though the military commissary probably does not. We found this most often served in soups, like the one I had for lunch, but it is also served as a side dish, like rice. The grains are round in shape and the texture can be crunchy if lightly cooked and fluffy if cooked completely through.  

Tarwi - Although almost all menus in Cusco included English translations, this one was hard to figure out. They translated it as Lupin, the large blue, purple flower that grows on sunny mountainsides and I couldn't figure out why you would eat what I thought was a poisonous plant. I learned that I was misinformed and that lupin is edible and the people in the Andes have been eating it since ancient times. I had it served in a dish that was similar to Middle Eastern Hummus. The flavor was slightly bitter and bean-like and the consistency was creamy and smooth.

Our day had been long and tomorrow morning would come early, so we headed back to the hotel to get in a good night's sleep and prepare ourselves for a full day of sight seeing. It seems best to save that day for a different diary - otherwise I might lose readers to cultural overload!

Plaza de Armas with the Cathedral in the background

Originally posted to A Progressive Military Wife on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 05:26 AM PST.

Also republished by DKOMA, America Latina, and Global Expats.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Stunning (9+ / 0-)

    as usual, angelajean.  

    I am coming back later to look and read again.

    Thanks for sharing your vacation with us.

  •  Fabulous diary, AJ (8+ / 0-)

    I wish I could write as good a travel diary as you do. I'll be trying soon, leaving for Chile on Feb 29th, be there for a month.
    Te la vire en el camino

    Happy just to be alive

    by exlrrp on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 05:43:15 AM PST

    •  I have no doubts that you can... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      exlrrp, BOHICA, Aunt Pat

      What has helped tons this time is notes. While traveling, I jotted down notes. Not a full blown journal, but bits and pieces of things I wanted to remember.

      And take lots and lots of bad photos... because that means you'll probably take a few good ones too!

      •  I already do (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        angelajean, JupiterSurf, Aunt Pat

        Take lots of photos. The digital camera has liberated us from the tedious slavery of having to get our pictures developed. But is the word descriptions here that really make it fabulous, you have a real eye for detail as in below:

        I saw chickens complete with heads, beaks, and claws, whole young suckling pigs, and slabs of whole dried fish. I saw corn on the cob with fat, plump kernels, pale yellow and freshly shucked, ripe pineapples, strawberries so under ripe that they were more green than red, piled high in baskets, peppers of every warm hue and all sizes, and the tiniest crab apples I have ever seen. I saw beef hanging from the butcher's stall, dark, red, and so fresh it was dripping with blood the color of beet juice. The strangest sight of all - fresh guinea pigs, skinned and whole, lined up on a table like surgeons scalpels. All of this I saw in the space of two, maybe three minutes, as our car drove by, not even time to take a picture.

        if I was there it would have been about 2 short sentences: "Went to the market and had a funny looking taco. It was nice"

        Happy just to be alive

        by exlrrp on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 05:54:49 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Do they have empanadas where you are? (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          angelajean, Rileycat, Aunt Pat

          Chileans love them and so do I

          Happy just to be alive

          by exlrrp on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 05:55:47 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Tons... we eat empanadas almost every Fri. night. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Rileycat, Actbriniel, Aunt Pat

            By the end of the week, everyone in my house is beat so Friday night has become movie night. We bring  home cold empanadas earlier in the day and heat them up in our oven until crispy and bubbly, break open a good Malbec, and enjoy!

            The most normal ones here are:
            Carne suave
            Cebolla y queso
            Jamon y queso
            Humita (a kind filled with corn, often called Choclo)

            And we can sometimes find:
            Carne picante
            Caprese (italian - mozarella, tomato, and basil, yum!)

            We have tamales in some places too.

            •  My Chilean family (5+ / 0-)

              As you may or may not know, my son lives in Santiago where he now owns two restaurants and has a family with my 2 granddaughters, a toddler and an infant.
              He went there originally as an exchange student in 2000 and stayed with a Chilean family who have become a 2d family to him. NOw theyre a 2d family to me. These are REALLY terific folks and its a real joy to have such a great  "in" to another society. They live about 3 blocks away from where he does.
              Long story short: Lots of days end up in the kitchen of la mamacita while she makes the bestest empanadas ever.All kinds. I have really developed a taste for them, look forward to more.
              Whats intersting is that my son sells "CA food" burritos, wraps, tacos, salads, etc and Chileans look at this fodd as intersting foreign food.
              Who'da thunk you could make a fortune selling tacos and burritos to Chileans? Its a global worldd nowadays, for sure

              Happy just to be alive

              by exlrrp on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 06:13:49 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  We have made a similar observation here about (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                exlrrp, Actbriniel, Aunt Pat

                'foreign' food. There are a couple of Mexican restaurants and even a California Burrito Kitchen and they make a ton of money and we know that we could do a much better job making the same food. It really doesn't come close to how wonderful Tex-Mex can be.

                I bet your son makes great food... if we ever manage Chile, I would love to check out his restaurant. Santiago is on a list of Embassy assignments but I don't know the odds of us getting it. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

                •  Hope you meet him some day (4+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  angelajean, lilsky, Rileycat, Aunt Pat

                  His first restaurant California Cantina(californiacantinadotnet)is fast becoming real popular. He's started a 2d one, an"Asian Fusion" restaurant right next door.
                  I'm really proud of him for setting up the menu. This is tons of work---not only do you have to creat the dish, but you have to teach the chef to make it and then put  a price on it that you will make money on but not to much to drive people away. It an extensive menu and he put it all together.  I'm blown away by how good it is.
                  Its is JUST FREAKING GREAT to eat great food at a classy restaurant and just sign the bill and  tip the waiter. Fatherhood finally pays off att last

                  Happy just to be alive

                  by exlrrp on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 06:39:53 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I just looked at their website. Not only ... (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    angelajean, Aunt Pat

                    is it a nice looking place, but it's only about 7 blocks from where we lived back in the early 80s (on Luis Thayer Ojedas, and just the other side of Providencia). They didn't have restaurants like this in those days, although they had a lot of very, very good food.

                    I really must find a good sig line!

                    by Rileycat on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 09:41:36 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

        •  Honestly, that was the notes. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BOHICA, Rileycat, exlrrp, Aunt Pat

          It was a striking image but I jotted down the images when we got to the hotel that night. If I would have had to remember without notes, I would have gotten the beef and guinea pigs and probably the corn and the apples. But everything? Maybe, but I don't think so.

    •  Write about Chile ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      angelajean, exlrrp, Aunt Pat

      We spent 1981 and a bit of 1982 there and fell in love. We would be very interested in more recent impressions.

      BTW - where are you going in Chile?

      I really must find a good sig line!

      by Rileycat on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 06:12:39 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sorry I didn't see this earlier (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Rileycat, angelajean, Aunt Pat

        My son lives in Santiago, right out by Las Dominicas, a couple blocks from the subway station. I mae this my bas while I'm there. Las Dominicas is a huge park that has a very large artists colony--2 or 3 acres worth. Its in an old monastery, Las Dominicas. There's also a farmers and fishermans market on weekends. I like to walk up there pushing my granddaughter in a stroller (now I have another one, born June6, Ive only sen her on Skype)
        I like to bicycle around Santiago, its mostly flat. I bought a bicycle last time. Its like LA, valley surrounded by hills very smoggy. Couple of nice hills in the middle to get some great views. My son knows people who own a our guide company and he got me 3 complimentary bicycle trips so far. Santiago also has a great subwayy and bus system you can take your bike on.

        So far In 3 visits, the  first time I went down south, flew to Puerto Montt, rented a car and toured Chiloe, and island that really reminded me of New England---little fishing villages with old brown shingle churches. Sa penguins I got the worst food poisoning here of my life, watched Obama get inaugurated while I was sitting on a toilet throwing it out both ends, no fooling.
        Next time I went was also down south to the lake district. My DIL's family is in Victoria and we went east of there to Villa Rica and CalafQuen.
        This last time we----a buddy and I--went north to La Serena where our Chilean family has a house (small, beachy)  I liked this a lot and almost bought a condo there.
        This time I'm going south again to the lake district. We hhave a friend that lives in Villarica and then east to Lican Ray andCalafquen again. This is a lake the size of Tahoe right next to a slumbering volcano where there's killer views and some super hot springs.

        I'll be diarying some or all of this but  AJ is really setting the bar high for travel diaries

        Happy just to be alive

        by exlrrp on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 08:10:17 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Also been to Valparaiso/Vina Del MAr (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          angelajean, Aunt Pat

          Definitely worth seeing, esp Valpo. Ive driven up and down thhe coast from there.
          Chile is a safe country to drive in, about like California

          Happy just to be alive

          by exlrrp on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 08:15:08 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  We found Chile/Chileans to be marvelous. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          When we eventually had to leave, we didn't want to. From what you say, it sounds like the "mood" is similar then to now, even though the politics is much different. We lived up in Providencia and I took the Metro into work, not that far from where you base, although I forget the exact address. My wife found a job as the only English speaker in the Chilean HQ of a North American company and learned a lot of Spanish real quick.

          We also went south to Puerto Montt, but we took the overnight train; at the time, a 1936 vintage German sleeper car. From Puerto Montt, we took a small ship cruise down to San Rafael to see the glaciers and sea ice. Great trip. Looking at Google Maps, it seems Puerto Montt has grown a lot. On the way back we were able to tourist a little with some friends in the Lake District around Osorno.

          Also took a couple of day trips to Valdivia/VDM, which we enjoyed very much. All those beaches and all that very cold water. I remember lunch in a restaurant overlooking the harbor in Valdivia and being warned not to take pictures of the naval vessels docked there - destroyers or destroyer escorts or frigates. Can't imagine what problem such a picture might have caused to anyone, but we obeyed.

          We never really got up north to the Atacama, but once took a bus to Los Andes, a couple of hours in that direction, and got a little flavor of what the desert might be like. No where near the real thing, but interesting. Saw a rodeo there.

          My but you've brought up some great memories. BTW, the only good thing about having to leave after only 13 months was being able to route the return trip through Easter Island, Tahiti, and Hawaii!

          I really must find a good sig line!

          by Rileycat on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 09:56:18 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  So much here (7+ / 0-)

    to absorb I'll have to try and then make a more substantive comment but for now just let me say...

    Wow and thank you. is possible in America to govern entirely on the appearance of principle--while changing absolutely nothing~Matt Taibbi

    by LaEscapee on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 05:45:55 AM PST

  •  thanks for posting this... (6+ / 0-)

    i'm really looking forward to the next installment.

    i'm part of the 99% - america's largest minority

    by joe shikspack on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 05:58:35 AM PST

  •  Lived in Lima in the 1960's (5+ / 0-)

    Peru is an amazing place.  I'm glad you had a good time.

  •  This armchair traveler says thanks! A couple more (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angelajean, Actbriniel, exlrrp, Aunt Pat

    years of college payments and then I might just be able to go see everything for myself, in the mean time I get to see great diaries like this to help me add places to my growing bucket list.

    Never kick a fresh turd on a hot day. Harry Truman

    by temptxan on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 06:08:48 AM PST

  •  Cusco! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angelajean, Actbriniel, exlrrp, Aunt Pat

    That'd be a great name for a band!
    ....hey....wait a minute.......

    Taken :)

    "That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the State ..."- Vermont Constitution Chapter 1, Article 16

    by kestrel9000 on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 06:14:44 AM PST

  •  Love Cuzco and awed by Macchu Picchu. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angelajean, exlrrp, pollwatcher, Aunt Pat

    We went with a small group tour, arriving through Lima, and spent time first in the Peruvian Amazon, then the Sacred Valley via Cuzco, before Macchu Picchu. Our guide was (is) native to the Sacred Valley and remains our candidate for 'best guide evah'. At one point he took us up winding valley-side roads in his old village, ending up in front of a walled house. We piled into a small courtyard where the owner lady met us, sat us down on benches, and started plying us with Chicha - in only moderately sanitary conditions. And all to the vast amusement of her neighbor and some locals, who kept dropping in to buy her Chicha. We learned that a cloth, I think red, on a stick in front of a house meant fresh, home-brewed chicha was available for sale. Then she took us through her kitchen, dodging the Cuy underfoot. We couldn't ignore that the little guys were dinner. We also were 'privileged' to try them later at a restaurant - the whole roasted kind. Not my cuppa, particularly the little bones. The group banded together and insisted in honoring our guide with the best part - the head. He complied.

    I really must find a good sig line!

    by Rileycat on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 06:24:25 AM PST

  •  Thanks so much. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angelajean, exlrrp, Aunt Pat

    You have a gift for bringing the reader along with you. I feel like I've really gotten a small but authentic taste of your day in Cusco.

    There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

    by slksfca on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 06:36:35 AM PST

  •  Peru is great, but a word of caution (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    exlrrp, Rileycat, Aunt Pat

    My wife is from Lima and we occasionally get a chance to go visit.  Peru is great, but it's desperately poor, and pickpockets, camera snatchers, purse snatchers, and worse, are very abundant.  I wouldn't recommend you "get lost" without someone who knows the place very well.

    I was in Cusco during the height of the Sendero Luminoso uprising in the 80's.  A couple of people tried to pick my pocket in broad daylight on a busy street.  A soldier with a machine gun immediately came over and the thieves ran off.

    Peru has progressed tremendously in the last couple of decades and is a fantastic place.  The people are so polite, I still can't figure out the difference between being angry and being happy.

    If you get to the north, I would recommend Huahuras.  You can take a tour up to the cordillera blanca and get right up to the base of 22,000' mountains.  Also the ruins of Chavin are interesting.  And don't pass up Amazonia.  I saw more species of birds and trees in my first hour on the Amazon river than I've seen in my entire life in the U.S.

    •  We live in Buenos Aires, home of the casual pick- (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Aunt Pat, pollwatcher

      pocket, so I know where you are coming from when you speak of Lima. Like all big cities, it's important to keep your head about you.

      When I say get lost, I don't mean be stupid, but I get what you mean. With two young teens, I don't head to the parts of town where we might expect trouble. The good news about Cusco is that there is very little trouble with crime.

      Unfortunately, our travel in Peru is finished and we won't be going back unless the Air Force gives us a second South America assignment. The cost of flights is too much for a family of 4. We are still hoping to take in some of Argentine Patagonia before we leave but can't schedule anything until we know where and when we're going!

  •  I really enjoy and look forward to the (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slksfca, exlrrp, angelajean, Aunt Pat

    diaries of your fabulous trips. Props to your photographer he does have a good eye.

  •  Looking forward to more... I love Cusco and the (5+ / 0-)

    whole area up there.  It's been almost 13 years since I visited, but it's still fresh in memory.  It was a beautiful city, something interesting to see on every street, it seems.

    I was there with a group from California Academy of Science, mostly a wildlife trip but some cultural history when we got to the Andes.  We had a wonderful local guide, Marcos Aragon, who thought the US was wonderful because they made it possible for him to be the first member of his family to complete school.  Back in the 60s, we had sponsored food programs in the Andean highlands, where kids could get breakfast and lunch for attending school.  His family decided it made more economic sense to have him in school getting food than to have him working in the fields and having to feed him themselves.  That small outlay of cash from our government created a lifelong friend for our country... wish we could get back to that.

    But I digress.  Marcos strongly discouraged us from paying to take photos of the children.  He said that their parents would keep them out posing for as long as they were cute - usually til they were six or seven years old - and not send them to school.  Once they were past the adorable age (i.e., people less interested in paying for pictures), it was rare for them to go to school because they would be a few years behind.  At that point, they had no choice but to begin working.  He felt that we should not support that system.  OTOH, every day he bought a few bags of rolls and while we were out and about, he'd hand them out to kids that he saw working in the fields.  He knew that they had tough lives (he grew up in the same circumstances) and knew that every scrap of food helped.  It was sobering.

    •  Thank you for telling me your experience with (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lineatus, Aunt Pat, matching mole

      the young kids... I had wondered. Unfortunately, we did pay a few kids for pictures but not in the city. It was later in our travels, up in the high mountains. You'll see them later if you read the series.

      I wish I would have had a guide like Marcos to talk to! We did have a couple of great guides on different parts of our trips but none of them spoke about the kids, or the adults, waiting to have their pictures taken. One highly encouraged us not to buy from the vendors on the street but at the end of the day he took us to the store where he wanted us to buy all our things - he was getting a cut. It soured my opinion of him. I don't mind that he wanted to make a profit, but I don't like how he went about it. Wish he would have just been honest up front and told us he was taking us to a place where he knew the owners.

      Your trip sounds wonderful. I love the CA Academy of Science and I can imagine that a trip conducted through them would be marvelous!

  •  Missed the first one - so off to start at the (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    exlrrp, Rileycat, angelajean, Aunt Pat

    beginning.  I love vicarious travel - it so much cheaper :)

    Occupy is not fighting for the rights of a few to sleep outdoors, but for the right of millions to sleep indoors. (VanJones - I think from a tweet).

    by Actbriniel on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 07:03:17 AM PST

  •  Great diary, again. Thanks (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rileycat, angelajean, Aunt Pat

    About the "begging".. I came to a good solution in Ireland when a couple of Gypsy girls approached me for a hand-out. I asked them could they sing me a song? They conferred with each other for a couple of seconds, then straightened up and belted out an amazing little piece. Music of the Angel Spheres. I gave them some money, and everybody went away enriched!

    Isn't it amazing how difficult it is to get real food when they know you're American. "Ham and Cheese Sandwich?" was the opening offer at every Spanish restaurant at lunch time. Thank Spaghetti Monster for the dining section of phrase books!

    thanks again for a morning trip to Cuzco. I'll have the Alpaca steak, gracias!

    •  Yeah, I could kick the tourists that decided they (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Aunt Pat, emmasnacker

      couldn't manage without their cereal and eggs for breakfast or their pizza for dinner. Luckily, we did fine but the cities like Cusco are the hardest. So many tourists from so many different countries and everyone is after their business. I was glad to find a restaurant like Deva that made no pretense at trying to attract people with tourist food. We were actually the only tourists from a foreign country in the restaurant. Everyone else was from Peru, though some from as far as Lima.

  •  thanks for the virtual trip (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angelajean, Aunt Pat

    it is interesting to compare what you saw to Quito which I have visited quite a bit.  Old town Quito was also built on top of an Incan city but it that case the Incan buildings are completely gone.

    It also isn't that easy to get indigenous food in Quito, a least not in any place that would be easy for a tourist to reach.  I've tried to get Cuy but the restaurant was sold out.

    The people look similar but Andean Ecuadoreans are more reserved (not unfriendly) - rarely have I had someone try and lure me off the street into a restaurant.

    My wife really wants to go to Peru so I'll be watching your diaries with interest.

    "We are normal and we want our freedom" - Bonzos

    by matching mole on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 09:48:13 AM PST

    •  We have new found friends from Quito and they (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Aunt Pat, matching mole

      want us to visit. And after visiting the rest of Incan territory (we have been to Salta and Jujuy in Northwest Argentina as well as Peru and Bolivia) I think Ecuador will have to get included at some point in time.

      It's funny that you couldn't find good indigenous food... the people we met from Ecuador rave about their food and they missed it very much while living in Buenos Aires.

      •  Well it is probably partly due (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        to mostly staying in the New Town which has a wide range of restaurants catering largely to tourists and young urban Ecuadoreans - so not a lot of traditional food (I have had more outside of town).  The Old Town (which is a cool place to visit) may have more traditional food but I have not tended to stay there as it is a long, long way from the airport especially at rush hour.  We primarily use Quito as a stopover going to field locations and therefore don't want to spend more time in cabs than necessary.

        "We are normal and we want our freedom" - Bonzos

        by matching mole on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 12:12:13 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Ah one of my favorite places in (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the entire world!  So Happy to see it here!! Thanks!!!

    My favorite walk in Cusco is down the mountain from Saksaywaman to Plaza de Armas. Just a great foot travel though a very, very old city.

    Please read and enjoy my second novella, Tulum, available in soft cover and eBook formats.

    by davidseth on Tue Jan 24, 2012 at 11:42:45 AM PST

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