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.
For Latin Americans, it's deporte ("sport" — although not as important as fútbol, of course). For Israelis, it's chai ("life"). For Asians, it's special price today, too dollar for you. For everyone, it's regateo ("bargaining"). Australians like myself are generally not the world's most adept regateadores ("bargainers"), but most (including myself) improve rapidly after a visit to paises del regateo ("countries of bargaining"). After Mexico and Peru, I can definitely say that ahora regateo más duro que hice antes ("I bargain harder now than I did before"). If you're thinking of coming here, plan on improving your skills at regateo too.
A gourmet dish of spicy mashed potatoes and shredded chicken, garnished with egg and vegetables, causa rellena makes for a great meal or afternoon snack. This afternoon, for my third weekly cooking lesson at Amigos, the acclaimed chef Ricardo (of tiradito de pescado fame) showed a small group of us how to prepare causa rellena. He did most of the cooking, we did most of the eating. Here's how you do it.
Most tourists who come to Cusco do their shopping at only a few central places, such as Gato's Market, Mercado Central, Mercado San Pedro (for the slightly more adventurous), and the shops in or near the Plaza De Armas. But if you stay in Cusco for a while, the locals will soon inform you that the only real place to shop is at El Molino. It's not in Lonely Planet (not in mine, at least — ostensibly too far away and too dangerous). It's not near the city centre. But it has everything you could possibly need, from shoes to DVDs, and from seafood to sunglasses. And all at rock-bottom prices. El Molino is the black market of Cusco.
In relation to food — to meat in particular — graso means "fatty". Some meats, such as carne de vaca (beef) and pollo (chicken) are only pocito graso; others such as tocino (bacon) and cuy are muy graso. Graso is different to the word gordo, which is used to describe a person as fat or chubby. The noun grasa means "grease", "fat", or "lard" — so it's specific to animal products. Don't eat too much comida grasienta (fatty / greasy food), or you'll end up gordito y feo ("fat and ugly")!
Mareos literally means "dizziness". When you run around in circles, you might say afterwards: "tengo mareos" ("I feel dizzy"). But this word also has other interesting meanings. If someone's so drunk that they can't walk in a straight line, you could say: "es mareado" ("he's tipsy"). And here in the Andean highlands, mareos often has a special, specific meaning. It's very common for people to have altitude sickness in the mountains, and the common symptoms of dizziness and light-headedness are referred to as mareos.
Wil and Monica, two of the students that have been with me at Amigos these past two weeks, are leaving Cusco tomorrow. As such, tonight we held a little farewell get-together for them, over at Jesus's house. We had a good turnout for the farewell — of students, staff, and friends of the school — and it was a fun night of talking, reminiscing, and beveraging. Wil and Monica have both been great friends to me during their time here, and I know I'm not the only one that's going to miss them.
Buenas noticias (lit: "good news"), people: as of lunchtime today, Mario's back! Él Papá returned home at about 2:30pm this afternoon, in time for the all-important middle-of-the-day meal. He's still going to need at least another week of serious R&R at home; but he's looking happy and healthy, just like his old self. We welcomed him home with flowers, kisses, hugs, and plenty of good food (a welcome change from those hospital meals). He should be back at work within a week or so.
The literal translation of amaneciendo is "dawning" (of the day). However, en Español this word is a vivid and romantic thing to say. It alludes to the beauty of the gradual change in colour of the sky at dawn, from pitch black to dark greyish-blue, to a paler shade of misty blue, and finally to the beautiful golden orangey-blue that can be seen just before sunrise. Along with the sky, "está amaneciendo" (lit: "it's dawning") brings with it the chirping of the birds, the rustling of the leaves, and the serenity of the sea. It's a good thing to say to your girlfriend, next time you're on an ocean cruise watching the day be born.
Mario, my host father here in Cusco, has been in hospital with pneumonia for 1½ weeks now. I visited him last Sunday; and today, I paid him another visit. Man, what a change he's been through! He looks much, much better now. No more oxygen, no more IV — he's well on his way to recovery. And plenty of friends and family are visiting him regularly, lifting his spirits, and helping him get better. Fingers crossed, according to the doctors he should be coming home tomorrow.
I'd heard that you have to watch out for counterfeit money here in Peru, but I hadn't encountered any until today. I caught a taxi to the Plaza de Armas this evening; and when I handed over the two un nuevo sol coins to the cabbie as payment, he inspected them both, and handed one of them back to me. "Es un falso" (lit: "it's a fake"), he explained to me. I couldn't perceive any difference in the falso, until it was explicitly pointed out to me; but apparently, every man, woman, and child in Cusco can tell a falso a mile off. Can you?