Thursday, 6th November
We had a train booked back to Cusco today at 4:37pm so we had most of the day to laze around although we had to check out of our hotel at 10am. After checking out our first stop was to a cafe which styled itself as a french bakery. We had a couple of hot drinks and a ham and cheese croissant. It was actually very good. We made good use of the wifi there and spent around an hour or so on the faux leather couches researching what we might do for our onward travel. We are thinking to go to Bolivia but then due to the altitude may head to other places. After we had exhausted our welcome at this cafe we went for a walk around the town, looking at the trains ‘parked’ on the tracks in middle of the town and bought some postcards and a souvenir sticker for my laptop. It started to rain so we then found another cafe for a drink and a bowl of nachos. We stayed here a little while then walked up the main drag to another place for lunch. We had a rather nice lunch today. Kirsty had a steak with ‘native’ potatoes and I had a ‘loom saltado’ sandwich. Lomo saltado is a traditional dish, originating when the Chinese emigrated to Peru in the 19th century. This fusion dish of Peruvian and Chinese cuinese consists of stir-fried beef with chilli, tomato and onion and a splash of pisco. It is very nice. We opted for a place with a view, of sorts. We sat looking out of the window upon some nearby mountains but to get to the view you had to look over some rather grotty rooftops. We then made our second stop of the day of the french bakery cafe, having a cuppa and a slice of cake whilst we counted down the minutes to our train. We were only a short walk over the bridge, crossing a river, to the railway station so when the time came, we walked over the bridge and made our way onto the train back to Cusco.
The train back to Cusco was one of the ‘Expedition’ series of trains which doesn’t have quite as many windows as the ‘Vistadome’ we took on the way here but it’s still comfortable. We had the first two hours or so in daylight so we could see the view but then when he sun went down we couldn’t see anything for the next two and a half hours or so. Apparently there’s not much to look at however. We arrived into Poroy station at 8:20pm after a rocking journey and caught a taxi to Cusco. Poroy is around 20 minutes from Cusco, not sure why the railway stops here and doesn’t go onto Cusco. Maybe a way to supplement the cab drivers income. We had booked ourselves into the same hostel we stayed at whilst in Cusco before so we went back to the Mama Simona hostel and went to bed, a bit exhausted but the journey and day before at Machu Picchu.
Friday, 7th November
We got up and straight away I requested to change rooms for our next night as our room was very noisy last night, being off the common area and people coming and going all night. I had a cooking course booked today, Kirsty was going to come but wasn’t feeling too good from the altitude so opted to rest at the hostel whilst I learnt how to cook a couple of Peruvian dishes. I was picked up at 10:00am from the hostel and we walked to the ‘Cusco Culinary’ building where we started the short course with an introduction to traditional Peruvian drinks, customs and ingredients. The three of us in the group learnt how ‘Chicha’ is made, a typical Peruvian alcoholic drink made from corn, and had a full rundown of all the main ingredients used in Peruvian cuisine. This was all done in a couple of rooms made out to look like typical Peruvian abodes.
We then got on with the cooking. We started with a Pisco Sour. Pisco is a grape brandy (Chile and Peru battle of ownership) and the story goes that an American hotel owner was asked for a Whisky Sour in Lima but he had run out of Whisky so used Pisco instead. The drinker was so pleased by the results that the drink stood. We were shown how to mix the drink by our chef then did so ourselves, giving us a beverage to sip on for the rest of the course. We then made our first dish, Ceviche. I chose this course because it included this iconic Peruvian dish. Many cooking courses don’t do this dish which I find strange. Again, we were shown the way by the chef then tackled it oursveles. Ceviche is a raw fish dish in which the fish is ‘cooked’ by the citric acid of limes. Once we made the dish we sat down to eat it. It was delicious and I would go as far to say the best ceviche I have had in my narrow experience of the dish. We then prepped the ingredients for our main course, Lomo Saltado. This we did then moved into the cooking area where they have a range set up with six burners. We watched the demonstration, with lots of fire, then cooked the dish ourselves. It’s a fun dish to cook with lots of flames from the oil catching fire, then a splash of Pisco adding some more fire. It’s also quick and easy, being essentially a stir-fry. We plated this up with some Quinotto (Pervian risotto made with quiona in place of rice) and then sat down to feast on what we had cooked. It was delicious also and for afters we had ‘cheese ice-cream’. This was made by the chef, not us, and is not at all cheese flavoured but so-named due to the shape of the finished product, looking more like sliced cheese than ice-cream. The ‘queso helado’ was like a shaved ice desert and is made from sweet milk with a touch of coconut or cinnamon for flavour. We finished up the course with a cup of digestive tea (I didn’t catch the name). It was an excellent course and well worth the money. This was a mid-priced course but I thought worth the money due to the dishes we cooked and the setting in which we did it, all very modern but with a touch of Peruvian decoration.
I then walked back to the hostel in the heat of the day and met up with Kirsty. We didn’t do anything for the rest of the day, both happy to laze around and make use of our new room in the hostel being nice and quiet away from the common area. We didn’t even make it out for dinner, instead snacking on the bed. Somehing we haven’t down in a whilte but I think we are both getting travel fatigue and that mixed in with the altitude makes for a lazy mix.
Saturday, 8th November
Today we had to change hostels as we wanted to stay on in Cusco for a bit but alas, ‘Mama Simona’ had no beds for tonight. I booked another hostel around the corner, making sure it wasn’t too far away, called the ‘Green Shelter’. After checking out I left Kirsty to take it easy in the lobby of Mama Simona, with the altitude still taking it’s toll, and made a trip to the Green Shelter where I left my bag and was told to return at 12:30pm with the room not ready yet. I returned to Mama Simona where we hung around for a bit until it was time to make the second trip to the Green Shelter. This time the room was ready and we checked in and dropped our bags. I was in dire need of a haircut so my next job was to go out and find a barbers to have more than a trim. I walked around the centre of Cusco and stumbled upon the road where all the barbers and hairdressers are located and found a suitable looking place. I had enough Spanish to request what I was after and was pleased with the results. A better job than my attempt in Nicaragua. I walked out freshly shawn and on my way back to the hostel picked up some food from a Peruvian/Chinese place (Wei Nin). Peruvian/Chinese food may sound like an odd fusion but it really is very tasty, the dish I made at the cooking course yesterday, lomo saltado, being a popular example. I picked up some fried rice and we ate this sitting on the bed in our hostel watching cable TV. This may not sound like the usual travelling experience but you do miss these things and it’s nice to do this every now and again when you get the chance.
After lunch I went out for a wander, walking up to the San Blas area of Cusco. This is a nice area for wandering, with steep, narrow, cobbled streets lined with old houses built by the Spanish over Inca foundations. It has an attractive square and the oldest parish church in Cusco, built in 1563. This is a popular area with tourists with the associated shops, cafes and markets selling artisan wares. I walked around and found the lookout where you could see over the whole city. It was quite a climb and left me feeling very puffed out. The walk down was easier and I meandered my way back to the area with our hostel, Santa Ana.
I picked up some more Peruvian/Chinese food for dinner, this time the lomo saltado dish, and took it back to the hostel to eat. We didn’t do anything tonight, happy to laze around. We may stay here another night as Kirsty gets a bit better before we move on. Our next stop will be Arequipa which is an overnight bus journey away so we want to make sure that we are feeling good before we get on that bus.
Sunday, 9th November
We woke up and as soon as I thought it wasn’t too early I hunted down the hostel owner to see if we could stay an extra night. Despite it being low season all the hostels seem very busy so I wasn’t sure we would get our request but after she disappeared for a while she came back and said we could stay. Our new hostel has a lovely view over Cusco, being a bit higher up then the last place, and the breakfast room is on the top floor so I ate my bread roll sand drank my coffee admiring the view. You can even see snow-capped mountain in the distance, beyond all the hills around the city.
In the morning I went for another wander up to the San Blas neighbourhood, liking what I found yesterday. It was much quieter today, being a sunday, but there were still people around. Less people selling home-made jewellery, the hippies day off maybe. As I walked up towards San Blas I noticed a parade in the main square. It seemed as though everyone in Cusco was marching in some group or other. There was a platform set up with dignitaries sitting, observing the passing marchers. The groups included school children, government workers, mechanics, builders etc. Those were the ones I could make out. The best group were the traditionally dressed mob who danced their way through the parade. I tried to find out what the event was in aid of but failed. The marchers and those watching, dressed in suits, were a shoe-shiners dream, with a lot of polishing going on. I have been asked numerous times in Cusco to have my trainers shined. They must look very grotty as I am constantly being asked. I politely decline though not sure what they could do to them to improve them. We had a cheap lunch back at the hostel then I went out for another wander in the afternoon, feeling a bit restless. It’s a nice town for wandering and I feel I know my way around the centre pretty well by now. After a brief walk abut town I went back to the hostel and Kirsty and I went for a walk in the main square when the sun went down. It’s a lovely place at night, with lots of people out and about enjoying the mild evening and street maps lighting up the area. We had a look at some alpaca clothing and found a shop where a scarf can set you back around US$2,500. They make theirs from an endangered breed of farmed alpaca, vicuña, which is only sold in two shops in the world. Bizarre. For dinner I went to ‘Mr. Soup’, a place we went to last time we were in Cusco, where they do large hearty soups for a good price. We would be checking out tomorrow and having a final day in Cusco before heading to Arequipa in the evening, leaving on an overnight bus at 8:30pm.
Monday, 10th November
I had breakfast and after packing we checked out. We left our bags at the hostel and went for a wander to the centre of town, to the Plaza de Armes and had another breakfast in a cafe by another nice town square. Here we sat for an hour or so, with no real pans for the day. Afterward we went walking and checked out a few alpaca shops. They are everywhere here. There is one shop, ‘Sol Alpaca’, that has at least ten stores in the centre of town. Alpaca clothing is the number one purchase for a souvenir I reckon and you can see why, it is just so soft. We have bought dome ourselves. Some of the prices are crazy though, US$100 for a scarf (and that’s a cheap one). We would do most of our shopping at the less mainstream, designer shops and more souvenior-type shops. After checking out the alpaca, we caught a taxi up the San Blas neighbourhood and found a cafe overlooking the rooftops of Cusco for a coffee and a slice of quinoa cake. We sat here for a good while, counting down the time to our evening bus to Arequipa then moved on to another cafe when we felt we had stayed too long in the first. We stayed here for another good while, and missed a downpour of rain. In the end we opted to leave in drizzle but on the way to getting a cab, found a store selling all kinds of woollen goods, with a loom out the back. We bought some more wares and then caught a taxi back to the centre of town. It’s only a short walk but it was starting to rain heavier and it was only a US1.50 cab fare. We got dropped off by the Plaza de Armes in heavy rain so had to shelter for around 15 minutes before it eased enough for us to make it to the next shop we would check out. Here I bought a jumper I had looked at before (the last piece of alpaca, I promise). We wanted an early dinner so before getting back to the hostel we went to ‘Wei Nin’, the Chinese/Peruvian restaurant. This is one of my favourite eateries so far on this trip. I ordered the loom salt ado dish again and Kirsty ordered a fried rice dish. We shared an Inca Kola (cream soda-type Peruvian soft drink). It was then time to go back to the hostel, get changed for the bus, order a cab and make our way to the bus terminal.
This was the busiest terminal yet, with buses to everywhere it seemed. You can go as far afield as Brazil from here, something like a 50 hour bus ride though. We were only going to south Peru, around 10 hours away, on an overnight bus to Arequipa. We went with Tepsa this time, not wanting the glare of the TV screens from every seat as with Cruz del Sur. We started our ride with dinner (chicken and rice) then they put on ‘Expendables 3’, at an excessive volume, for us to watch. I ended up falling asleep before the film ended but think I guess how it ended anyway. Lots of explosions, that kind of thing.