Making guinea pigs of ourselves. Cusco, Peru

September 8, 2010 at 8:45 pm 2 comments

It’s lunchtime on a Saturday afternoon and Cusco’s main square is black with tourists. Most of them are standing in front of huge, imposing cathedral watching a line of people in colourful costumes and homemade masks parade past. A handful of the younger ones are lounging on park benches around the fountain in the main square in twos and threes cosied up next to lovers and friends and trying to ignore the persistent tauts that want them to buy paintings, sunglasses and bootleg cigarettes. On the other side a group has gathered around a traditionally dressed little girl who, to a chorus of oohs and aahs, is holding a newborn lamb on the end of string. The lamb is wearing a green hat and is blinded by a dozen flashing cameras.

As big as the space is it is starting to look a little crowded as more and more people stream in every minute from the narrow winding streets that stretch uphill in every direction. Sometimes it feels like everywhere you go in Cusco is uphill. Like that familiar old boast, “When I was your age I had to walk six miles to school. Barefoot. And uphill. Both ways.” Climbing hills at 3,400m above sea level is no fun but Cusco, with its warren of cobbled streets, artesan markets, Incan ruins, bustling squares, lively cafes and thumping nightlife is worth every painful step and every laboured breath. Cusco (and of course the famed Machu Picchu nearby) has been the beating heart of Peru for centuries.

Adding to Cusco’s appeal (for us anyway) was the arrival of two of our friends from home – the dashing Mark Grennan and the sparkling Katie O’Connor. Mark and Katie had also brought along two friends of theirs, Roisin and Deborah so it was party time. Cue yet another stint in one of Loki’s hostels, counting the minutes until the bar’s 1pm opening and eating our weight in delicious western food. It really is hard to beat a good Loki. After a few days of hardly leaving the sunny courtyard, Gary Mark and I reckoned we weren’t really giving Cusco a fair hearing so we grabbed our sunglasses and set off for Saqsaywamán, one of the city’s many many Incan sites which was – surprise surprise – a long, sweaty uphill climb away.

Half an hour and many complaints later we were staring at an absolute marvel. Row upon row of gigantic rocks cut to fit perfectly together raised all sorts of questions – where did the stones come from? How did the Incas cut and finish the rocks so smoothly? How did they get them up the hill without trucks? Why did they bother? It was incredible but, since we could see it without going in, not worth the ridiculous €20 entrance fee. Instead we climbed up the hill right beside the site where we found Jesus and a Peruvian man playing the guitar.

Inspired by our day of exploration, we went back to Loki, dragged the girls out of the bar and headed off in search of another cultural experience – cuy. Cuy is what you call guinea pig when you skin it and roast or fry it, usually serving it up whole complete with beady little eyes, menacing claws and protruding front teeth. Sometimes it even comes wearing a hat. In Peru cuy is a pretty common delicacy that is eaten by families on special occasions such as birthdays or when there is an important visitor. Guinea pigs are generally allowed to run free around the house or shed and then when the day comes, are just picked up off the floor, killed, boiled to take the fur off and then roasted. They taste like a cross between rabbit and duck but a little greasier – the skin is the best part, like crispy roast chicken skin. Mmmmm.

Cusco was also where we were to meet Mark’s friends Darragh and Elaine who we would go to Ecuador with but that’s a story for another day. Before any of that we had to tackle the Lares Trek and explore one of the wonders of the world – the one, the only “lost” Incan city of Machu Picchu. Life is so hard sometimes…

There are more pictures from Cusco available in the gallery


Entry filed under: Travel. Tags: , , , , , .

Yes we canyon! Colca Canyon, Peru The road to ruins. Lares to Machu Picchu, Peru

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. slouchingsomewhere  |  September 14, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Just discovered your blog yesterday and I love reading it 🙂 Especially looking forward to your adventures in Peru.

    So would you eat cuy again? Saw a travel docu wherein they were preparing cuy and while I’m an adventurous eater (I’ve eaten crickets, frogs and raw chicken sashimi) it does look menacing. I’ll probably eat it without looking at its face. hehe.

  • 2. Mel  |  September 20, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    I see you made it through Cusco! This has got to be one of my favorite cities in the world. I LOVE the people. They are so friendly!!! Looks like you guys had a great time here. I’m excited to hear more about your adventures.


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