Few tourists can say that they visited Peru and that they missed Cusco. With more tour agencies, Internet cafés, and falafel joints than anywhere else in the country — and with close proximity to the world-famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu — Cusco is the tourist Mecca of South America. I spent a few days here before my Salkantay hike, and I'm spending one month more here, to study some Spanish.
There are many things that I'll remember about Cusco, after I've left (which I will do, one day!). But if you were to ask me what Cusco sounds like, there's one noise that would always, inevitably, spring to mind before all others. And I'm afraid that it isn't anything terribly nice, like the twittering of the birds, or the wailing of the Huayno music, or even the honking of the taxi horns. It's those damn fruit peddlers, who ride around the streets all day in their over-sized tricycles-slash-mobile-shopfronts, and who advertise their wares using a fat, blaring loudspeaker. The horrible, loud monotone can be heard almost anywhere in Cusco, all day long: "papayas platanos chirimoyas, manzanas piñas limones zanahorias, muy fresco muy barato, papayas papayas naranjas, tenemos platanos dos soles por kilo, platanos platanos chirimoyas...". It's a sound that I'll always remember, and that I'll never cease to detest.
An abrazo is a hug. Hugs are very important the world over, but they're even more so over here in the Latin world. When you meet someone around here — whether they be a long-lost friend or a complete stranger — you give 'em an abrazo. A handshake simply will not do. A beso (kiss) is also required, when meeting with the ladies (any ladies). When you write someone a card in Spanish, it's common to end it with the salutation un abrazo, or simply abrazos (where we might write "best wishes"). The verb abrazar means "to hug": so when I meet someone in Peru, yo le abrazo (lit: "I hug them").
I already knew that Tipón was famous for its Incan ruins. But what I didn't know, before today, was that the town of Tipón is absolutely mad about cuy. If you're in Tipón at lunchtime, your choices of cuisine are many and varied. You can have cuy in the park. You can have cuy at a restaurant (every single restaurant is a cuyeria). Or you can have cuy wherever the hell else you want. Ohhh... what's that? You want... something... else? As in, something that's... not cuy? Cuy, cuy, cuy, cuy... Lovely cuy! Wonderful cuy!
After yesterday's visit to the ruins of Pisac and Ollantaytambo in the Valle Sagrado (north of Cusco), today Jesus and I continued this weekend's ruin-seeking crusade, by heading south of Cusco, to the town and the Incan ruins of Tipón. Although I was still recovering from yesterday's lethal buffet lunch, I was well enough today to make it to these ruins, and to appreciate the ingenious work that the Incas carried out here, hundreds of years ago.
Before leaving for Tipón, this morning I met Jesus at the Plaza de Armas, in the middle of Cusco. I didn't realise until now, but in my 6 weeks or so in Cusco so far, I've actually never been in the plaza on Sunday morning before (or anywhere else on Sunday morning, for that matter, apart from in bed). This explains how I managed to be here so long without realising that every Sunday morning, there's a big parade in the plaza. Anyway, this morning I finally saw the military parade, the student parade, and the massive cathedral service that graces central Cusco once every week.
The people of Peru are famous for many things, but a strong command of the English language is not one of them. While visiting the ruins of Ollantaytambo this afternoon, I discovered that Japan is not the only country where you can find Engrish: the badly-spelled-badly-meant movement is alive and strong here in Peru as well. Check out these hilarious little additions to the world's ever-growing Engrish collection.
After our tour of the Pisac ruins this morning, and my questionable-quality gourmet buffet lunch in Urubamba with Jesus, this afternoon I continued on to the last of the three main towns in the Valle Sagrado ("Sacred Valley"), Ollantaytambo. At Ollantaytambo, I climbed and explored the impressive Inca citadel / fortress that's built into the mountain there, right next to the town. In my opinion, the fortress of Ollantaytambo is the most impressive of all the ruins in the Valle Sagrado.
After our tour of the Pisac ruins this morning, Jesus and I went for a very expensive, very classy, and very big buffet lunch at a hotel / restaurant in Urubamba (next town along in the Valle Sagrado). It was quite an excellent meal — or so I thought at the time. Endless plates of pasta, chicken, bean stew, alpaca (first time for me!), and mouth-watering cake. It was all positively delicious. It all cost a whopping USD$15 per head (about s/50 — you can get a 3-course meal in Cusco for s/2). And about 5 hours later, it all rose right back up, and gave me a violent bout of food poisoning. Beware the top-dollar, top-brass buffets: because clearly they ain't always top-quality.
Last Sunday morning, Jesus and I went to Pisac and checked out the markets, but we didn't make it to the ruins. This morning, we returned to the Valle Sagrado ("Sacred Valley") and to Pisac; and this time, we overcame all hurdles, and made it up to the Inca ruins that overlook the town from high above. Temples, citadels, stepped hillsides... all I want to know is, what took us so long to get there?
Three weeks down at Amigos, one more to go. This week was very different for me: because I had one-on-one lessons instead of group lessons; because there was a sombre feeling with many people leaving, and with the school being very quiet; and because I'm starting to feel, for the first time, that my Spanish is reaching a semi-fluent level. The one-on-one lessons have been intense and draining (despite being 3 hours instead of 4 each morning), but they certainly have boosted my Español like never before.