Sunday, July 03, 2011

Journey to Peru - First edition

I guess blogs are so last decade But then so are DSLRs and posting food recipes and I'm not yet beyond them.

In Feb this year, as we battled the crazy winter, we decided to pursue our dream of going to South America. Within a couple of weeks, tickets were booked, the planning excel sheet made and captions thought of for the Machu Picchu Wall photos on Facebook.

We flew into Lima, the capital city of Peru. Contrary to popular belief, we were not welcomed by a garland of Lima beans. In fact, we were welcomed by an absent hostel pick-up and we had to reach him by walking up to another hostel representative and asking in my excellent Spanish if he knew Diego. Luckily he did. But I wouldn't try that again.

Lima reminded me of an Indian metropolis. Bustling with activity even at midnight while smiling hopeful election candidates grinned at you from every angle. There were a few casinos with gaudy lights. Most homes resembled an Osama hideout (or a US consulate depending on where you live) with high walls, tall metal grills and the unmistakable web of an electric fence. Every single house. We spent the night in a small but clean hostel with an attached bathroom.

Our flight to Cuzco next morning was short but delightful. Considering we usually get little more than water on our domestic jaunts here, a short flight with a packed snack box was enough to make me giddy with excitement. Of course, having been warned that Cuzco was synonymous with altitude sickness, the husband thought he was truly giddy when we disembarked. Had to break it to him that it was all in his pretty head because nothing sets in for at least 12 hours.

Our master plan was to get out of Cuzco before that happened. So we got our driver to do a quick tour of the city. Cuzco is an ancient city that flourished under the Incan ruler Pachacutec. We stopped for the beautiful Qorikancha which is an Inca temple that was rebuilt on by the Spanish.They conquered the Incan empire and made Cuzco their capital in the 16th century. That is why it is almost commonplace to see Incan ruins transposed with Spanish Baroque architecture. Makes you hate the Spanish a wee bit. The main square or the Plaza de Armas (it's called the same in most Latin American cities) is also beautiful and I wished we had a little more time to spend time and money at the little shops there. Really.

It was a Saturday and the day of the Cuzco Market. You should know that anything that ends with 'market' is a must-do on my list. This one reminded me of the farmers markets in India. We were treated to indoor stalls of nuts, meat, breads, wounded vegetables, handicrafts and other interesting things. The market place ended in a bunch of food stalls. Even though we didn't want to possibly sabotage the rest of our trip by eating there, we were very tempted. After all, this part of the market was featured in Anthony Bourdain's Peru edition 'No Reservations' which we religiously saw and took notes on before we left. Yeah, we are very sophisticated foodies that way.

Next stop was Barrio de San Blas. It is a neighbourhood of extremely small roads (even by Indian standards) that culminate in a small plaza. That day there was a little market there (happy dance) and native women weaving. I'm not naive enough to think this was all genuine and so not for tourist consumption. Still, it was a pretty sight. They also had a small stage with four dummies sitting on a stage as if waiting for a modest felicitation function to start. My extensive Spanish did not allow me to inquire about this strange sight.

By now our driver was a bit restless and we agreed to be taken away to Ollantaytambo, our next stop. This ride, I must say, was one of the most scenic ones in my entire life. Maybe because it was so unexpected. Rolling virgin green meadows, shiny lakes and the absence of humans. Of course that didn't stop us from dozing off (all future episodes of unintentional sleep will be attributed to jet lag or too much food).
We were woken up by our polite driver at a restaurant mid-way. Even though we expected as much quality as other guide-endorsed eateries, this place blew our minds. The bread was the best on the trip and the other two dishes were pretty good too. Though I must say my husband's tres leche would trump theirs any day (I was secretly disappointed that not one tres leche we had on the trip was better than his).

Ollanta is at a lower altitude and the center of the Sacred valley - so named because of the high fertility levels. You would take about 10 min to walk from one end of the town to other. It was probably the same size when the Incans used it as their capital centuries earlier. People come here to look at Ollanta's own ruins and to start the Inca trail. We, of course, were far too lazy to do the trail. I mean, why do the trail when you have a perfectly fine and scenic train route?

Our hostel here was fantastic.
They upgraded us to a room with three beds (I like options). This is also where we saw and fell in love with a world map shower curtain. You can now find the same one in our bathroom (no, we didn't steal it).

Food was excellent everywhere we went. The trout is the area is delicious and easy to spot on most menus. I am always such a happy camper in countries with good gastronomic value.

Our guide Percy was on the clock to pick us up the next morning. Now, we are usually the kind of people who stay a safe distance from paid guides but Percy was one of the most useful people on our trip. The narrations make the ruins so much more enigmatic than they seem and you can appear more knowledgeable on your return.

We started our day at the Ollantaytambo ruins where the terraced fortress is almost as pretty as Machu Picchu. Besides being a good starter hike, there were several fountains and chambers which, according to Percy could have been anything from the Princess chambers and bathrooms to temples. So much for the guide. Also popular is the cliff that is said to resemble an Inca chief's face. It does. I'm sure if you look hard enough it will also resemble Tiger Woods.

From there we drove to the Pisac Sunday Market. I actually engineered our trip so that we land here on a Sunday. The market was pretty good, lot of pretty jewelry, stoles, handicrafts and masks. The Mr was mildly cold and treated himself to a sweater of baby sheep wool (or Maybe sheep wool, like Percy says). I bought some earrings and a mask after indulging myself in some Spanish bargaining (Muy caro!). The main square in Pisac has a carnival going on. Native women dancing with their heavy skirts was a highlight. We stopped for lunch at Percy's favorite lunch place. Delicious quinoa soup and trout were had along with mazamorra morada (purple corn jelly). YummO!

We then took the road to see the terraces at Pisac. While the ride here almost made us wish we had eaten our Dramamines, we survived and the view was more than worth it. It was almost like being in front of a panoramic Chinese painting. Percy showed us the little holes in the mountains where mummies were thought to be buried with treasures. Of course, the Spanish plundered them only to be deeply disappointed at finding nothing more than good bones for their chihuahuas (or whatever fashionable canines they had back then).

We rushed back to Ollanta to catch our train to Aguas Calientes. As we passed by little boys throwing water on cars and pedestrians, we were a little disappointed at not being able to walk into the specially marked homes for some chicha. This was probably a good thing. As we learnt, some chicha is fermented by human saliva. Yeah, you read right.

On that lovely note, we shall end this edition. Coming up next- Machu Picchu, Puno and more Lima


Menon said...

Welcome back to blogging !!

Meera said...

Anthony Bourdain - Double plus
World map shower curtain - Ditto
K's Tres leche - Need to taste now

Waiting for edition 2 :D

Ms.N said...

nice one!!! i wish u'd put larger size fotos... (as in adjst the size on the blog page..). waiting for more.

and am back to some more blog reading after a long time.

Anonymous said...

Nice Journey... Cont...your journey ...every point ur journey completes, would start someone else's journey. Thanks for starting my journey. ;-) ...