The Ancient, Magical Highlands of Cuzco

When we get off our plane in Cuzco, we are greeted by a large basket of coca leaves. We grab a few and put them into our mouths. Thyme makes the mistake of going full-ham on chewing the leaves, and she immediately spits it out. The taste is disgusting, bitter and acidic all at once. I bit into mine a bit just to open up the leaves and then put them between my inner-lip and my gum. It begins to go numb and I start to feel like I had a cup of coffee. We’ll need the coca leaves, the elevation in Cuzco is 11,000 feet and I’m feeling light-headed already.

We take a cab to our guesthouse, which are abundant, cheap, and cosy in Cuzco and wait for our room to be ready. In our room, we rest for a while before exploring this ancient city.

Cuzco, it seems is a pretty walk-able place. We take a short walk to Plaza de Armas, a very historic square. On the way we see cute babies on short mothers’ backs, their cheeks red from the sun.

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Fountain in the Plaza de Armas

In the main square, Spanish colonial architecture mixes with indigenous culture and modernity. There is the Cathedral, but there is also a KFC. It’s an incongruous mix that is an embodiment of modern Peru.

The country is Catholic due to the Spanish conquest, but it seems to wear the indigenous roots as much as they do their post-Spanish reality. They left an indelible mark on the country, one that they have turned into pride.

Still Peruvians worship at a nearby church between Plaza de Armas and San Pedro Market. We sit in on the beginning of service, where the passion is strong.

Saving the market for later, we walk to a restaurant to try some cuy, or guinea pig, the region’s specialty.

The alley to the restaurant is narrow, and on it we see many things. We pass by a tourist being rude to a solicitor offering shoe shining, we see baby alpacas that melt our hearts, and go into ChocoMuseo, which is not a museum at all. It is a store selling local chocolates. Cacao, of course, comes from Peru among other places. We learn that they call all kinds of stores museos and we find that pretty funny.

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Chica.

After buying some dark chocolate, we get to the restaurant, where a man plays a traditional Peruvian harp, or arpa. It is gorgeous, and we remain transfixed for the entire time he plays. We order dos chichas, a fermented corn brew that is kind of like beer, a whole cuy with ricotta peppers stuffed with ground meat, vegetables, and topped with cheese, a potato casserole, and some Peruvian pasta, which is like Chinese spaghetti with Latin flavors and peppers, onions, and chicken.

We have two cocktails, some awesome bread, the pasta, and the cuy arrives. It is quite the presentation. We both are underwhelmed by its taste, like very dark, stringy and gamey chicken meat around tiny bones, but the stuffed peppers, potatoes, and pasta are great and the experience is more than enough. We leave buzzing, so much so that we buy some art from an artist at the entrance.

We walk back towards San Pedro Market. I am in need of a bag to ditch my broken suitcase. Arriving at the market, we’re full but I hear the juice here is great. There are multiple stands, I definitely recommend trying one with some caldo de gallina, a hen soup with noodles that I eat later in the trip.

The market’s aisles are filled with all kinds of items, including clothing and imperatives. We buy a bag, a belt, and a coffee mug, all are under ten dollars. We walk to the hotel and go to bed early, another fantastic day in Cuzco awaits.

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Cuy and peppers. 
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