Cusco is rich in culture and ancient sites all woven together by stone alleyways along rolling hills.
But before we continue to Blog about our experience and impressions we need to vent some frustration: Cusco is a tourist trap with hundreds of establishments and street vendors that have only one purpose: to extract as much cash out of your wallet as possible. There is a feeling that a hand is constantly reaching into your pockets and it's not just the hand of the pick-pockets that one needs to be leery of.
|Plaza de Armas: the tourist arena|
Exactly, this is simply a total rip off! Such artificially inflated prices just to see a bunch of stone walls in an abandoned mountain village?! More about that part in a future blog...
Everybody wants a chunk of the tourist dineros... Yes it is this bad, worse than any other place we've been to in the world. Seriously!
|The "Llama photo Lady"|
is heading home from work
In the center, around Plaza de Armas, you mainly see Gringos and policemen. But just walk 500 meters away from the center toward San Blas area and you can find nice restaurants and guesthouses that are still a bit expensive but not in the ridiculous price range of Plaza de Armas.
How do we quantify expensive? Paying over $3 for an Espresso in a country where the average worker makes less than $10 a day, that's expensive! Now imagine how locals might think about a tourist that spends $599 for a train ride? Yes, they might be justified in perceiving Western tourists as walking ATM machines with unlimited funds. Of course not everyone spends this kind of money, but you can't blame the locals for generalizing (especially if you sip your caffeine booster in one of the expensive cafes near the plaza – every sip equaling the value of a full local meal).
Perfectly fitted stone Inca walls are still
used as foundations for new buildings
Not that this is necessarily good but it certainly authentic. In this part of town you also find comedors that offer course menus including drinks for 2.50 Soles – that means that an Espresso at the Plaza is 4 times the cost of a full meal here.
|Good thing that cameras |
don't have a "scent mode"
We notice that many men don't see anything wrong with urinating in the middle of the crowds... Inka men must be having a strong spiritual bond to the animal world that is marking their territory with their bodily fluids.
We wish that they would use just a tiny fraction of all the tourist money that they extract here to build public toilets and equip the many street sweepers with high pressure water cleaners... The stench is so prevalent and that we dub it the "scent of Peru".
|"To talk to God you don't need|
a Cell Phone" ....
|Christ is just above you|
We arrived in Cusco after more than 5 years living and traveling at sea level, our lungs were not used to functioning at this altitude of 3400m (11154ft), and neither were our bodies used to the freezing temperature. The Salkantay trek would even go as high as 4670 meters above sea level (15322 ft), so we needed some time to acclimatize and before we mange to walk the 15min to our favorite restaurant without huffing and puffing we would definitely no be able to handle a 5day high altitude trek.
|The delicate "Butcher's Guild" |
ladies in full swing
|Daily parade at Plaza de Armas|
Julane loved the festival scenery so much that she took over 600 pictures and 11 gigabytes of movies – living up to her memory hog nickname. It will take Patrick many hours to get them properly edited, tagged and backed up... That's the tough side to traveling.
here some of Julane's best shots...
|Whirling dervishes in Cusco|
|"Those we don't speak of" |
(from the movie "The Village")
|"Look at all the people |
|"Which way to the Ranch,|
|Skippity doo dah|
|Cute as a porcelain doll.|
|Inca war call?|
|Peek a boo|
|Do these guys resemble|
the Spaniards? ...
|The young virgins dance|
in front of the old hag.
|or a white faced |
|Applying makeup is an art.|
|"Hmm... what do we do now?"|
Besides visiting the daily parades in the Plaza, we loved going to the Cusco market and watching the people and flurry of activity while sipping on a cup of cafe con leche (milk coffee)...
|At the market: |
too many potato choices
We think it's used for cow nose soup
|Look what we found on |
Talking about food, we also had to try the local Cusco speciality called Cuy al horno.
Warning! the following sentences are rated "R", some people might find this offensive.
Cuy (or Guinea Pig) is a specialty in the Andes, but unlike your little pet Ginger they don't land in a big cage with straw but in a frying pan with herbs. Actually here in Cusco they are placed on a baking pan, all four legs spread out, and then backed for a couple hours.
We ate the meat but left the skin and decided that Cuy al horno is not our thing, but we got to try the deep fried version once we are in Bolivia... sorry kids Ginger's brother Calypso will also end up in our stomachs.
|Corn and beans, the Inca staples |
at the central market.
|Responsible parent |
training starts early in Peru
Since we had our mind set on the X-treme tour agency we kept frequently checking back with them in hope that someone else shows up to get to the 4 people minimum for the Salkantay trek, but no luck :-(
We didn't want to wait any longer to do the "Salkantay" trek and eventually signed up with another Agency called "Mely Tours." We got their name from our hotel and within hours we were signed up for the 5 day trek leaving on June 20th. Mely tours advertised the exact same route as X-treme (our preferred agency) and Julane was very happy that she could after all be on the Trek during her Birthday and the winter solstice.
|"Salkantay" peeking out to tease|
us for our upcoming trek
|Mely Tours Peru:|
So now we are stuck in Cusco again without a tour booked, in the meantime the tourist floodgates have been opened and the Gringo to local ratio in the center was well above three to one...
We headed with our refund money straight to X-treme and signed up for their "Salkantay" trek on June 23 – something that we were contemplating with ever since we arrived in Cusco. We made X-treme confirm several times that we would trek via Llactapata before we paid and then left Cusco again for a side trip to the Sacred Valley, this time for two nights in Ollantayatambo (see next Blog post).
Cusco had turned over the course of two weeks from a touristy yet beautiful mountain city with many layers, into a Disneyland park for tour groups. Especially when we returned from Ollantayatambo, we could hardly believe the transformation... It was two days before the Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun) on June 24th, THE number one event in Cusco, featuring a re-enactment of Saqsaywaman's Inca winter solstice. Cusco was packed from head to toe with tourists. Ironically, people come from all over Peru and the world for this, and all we wanted to do was NOT be there. Crowds are not our thing!
|Our last night dinner in Cusco|
typical... just not from Peru
By the way, guess what type of food we had on our last night in Cusco... very authentic, just not from this area. Here a small hint: Hummus and Falafel. Right we had to take advantage of the many Israeli restaurants and enjoy something different for once. Yummy!
We highly recommend not visiting Cusco from mid June to the end of July. It's much better to avoid the peak mass tourism time!