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.
After the success of making lomo saltado in last Thursday's cooking class, I decided to come back for more this week. Tiradito de pescado is a delicious dish of raw fish, served cold with a chili and lemon paste sauce, and with sweet potato and corn. This week, not only did we have this gourmet cuisine to prepare; we also had a professional chef instructing us, a bigger kitchen to work with (Jesus's kitchen), and a bigger class. ¡Perfecto y muy Rico!
This afternoon, a class of us from Amigos were instructed by a professional chef in how to cook tiradito de pescado. Sumptuous gourmet dish of raw fish, delicate and decadent. Watch the video of the chef at work.
In Western countries, we're accustomed to Internet cafés being overpriced, limited to the city centre (and other commercial hubs), and really only used by tourists. This is because the majority of people that need it in these countries, have it installed in their homes, so there's simply no demand from the locals. But here in Peru, very few people can afford a PC or an Internet connection at home; and so cabinas (Internet cafés) have become a way of life here. They aren't around because of the tourists: they're around for everyone.
Cusco is the heartland of the ancient Incan Empire, and of the Quechuan race; and as such, the majority of people in the Cusco area still speak Quechua as their native tongue. When I got a taxi across town today, my driver decided to share a bit of basic Quechua with me. It's a bloody hard language, and I couldn't really remember any of the phrases he taught me. But at least he was trying to teach me, and I was trying to learn.
In Peru, primero de mayo (1st of May) is a feriado (public holiday): it's Dia del Trabajador (Labour Day). So today was very quiet in Cusco. For once, there were very few cars, very few street hagglers, and very few school kids out and about. And not much open. However, I still went to school today, although our classes got moved 2 hours ahead, to a 10am-2pm timeslot. Which was good, because most of us went out partying and drinking until quite late last night.
I didn't make it to Sacsayhuaman (a.k.a. "sexy woman") or to Qenko last weekend, when I got lost in the mountains; but I finally reached them this afternoon. Myself, Monika, and Juan Carlos wandered up from central Cusco to these nearby Incan ruins after lunch today, and we explored them at our leisure. As with Tambo Machay (the only ruin I did reach last weekend), they're nothing compared to Machu Picchu; but they're a convenient day trip, and they're beautiful and interesting nonetheless.
A new week, a new class, but the same teachers. Today was a bit of a rocky start to the week's lessons. In today's class, we had Chrystal, myself, and a new American couple, Debra and Ricky. However, we were also supposed to have two new French students, Justina and Dorien: but they didn't show up! Or, to be precise, they showed up 2 hours late, and then decided that they were too tired to stay, and went back home. And these are meant to be the new, advanced students for the week. Not too promising, if you ask me.
I spent this afternoon at Cusco's (only) private hospital with my family, paying a visit to my unwell host father, Mario. The rest of the family has been there every day, since he was admitted on Thursday — my host mother, Flora, has been virtually living there — but today was my first opportunity to go and spend some time there. Mario's in fairly good condition, and he's being well taken care of — both by the nurses, and by his family — but he's still going to need more time, before he's ready to return home.
There are many strange and intriguing stray people wandering around Cusco. But there are even more stray dogs. Here in Cusco, and in many other cities in Peru (and in Mexico), the "perros callejeros" (lit: "street dogs") are everywhere. It's not something that you see in Western cities, where we have dog-tag laws, council patrols, and "the pounds" (i.e. lost dog homes). But in Latin American cities, you can barely walk one block without passing a canine vagabond or two.
At this evening's celebratory drinks for Amigos' birthday, I decided to order a cocktail called a cholo lindo. I didn't know what it was, but it sounded local, and I was game for most anything. But not for this. It was full of anís — a really strong, particularly foul liquorice-like substance — and just the smell of it made me want to pass out. I got through about ¼ of it, and team Amigos helped me finish the rest. Cholo lindo: never again!