Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cuzco

The flight to Cuzco was fairly quick, an hour or something. Coming in is weird, cos you're surrounded by mountains. So the plane has to fly past the tarmac and then do a u-turn to land. The mountains are literally 'right there' so it's slightly scary. Cuzco is 3,400m above sea level so flying here from sea level means there's a good chance you'll get altitude sickness. Thankfully I am carrying around a small pharmacy donated by Glenn from when he was here. This included altitude sickness pills. I'd started taking them last night. I sat next to some English guy on the plane who'd bought some coca lollies in Lima.


Apparently this is what the Peruvians take for altitude sickness, amongst other things. You can get coca levels everywhere here. This is the tree. Looks fairly harmless.


Some people chew them (gross) but they mostly make coca tea. And you can produce cocaine from them. But this plant is legal so I'm assuming there's another kind used for the mass production of illegal drugs, or they are planting a lot of coca tress somewhere. I can just imagine the drug lords now "oh no officer I'm not selling drugs to kids, I'm making tea! Nothing to worry about here". So far, I'm not convinced coca leaves are good for you and have avoided it. Anyway, English guy gave me one of these lollies since I gave him my chicken sandwich from the flight. A fair trade I think. First it was like one of those boiled sugar lollies, then the coca taste kicked in, which was like eating hand sanitiser, then it tasted like tobasco. It was not a pleasant experience at all. Sucks to be him though cos he's got a whole packet to get through.

We got through the airport and then everyone is on you straight away to buy tours to Machu Picchu and for taxis, hotels, etc. I'm glad our tour is organised, cos it's very in your face, and a bit overwhelming. We found our guide who's called Marco, and went to the hotel. After checking in he took us on a walking tour of the city centre. We went through a market and he decided to go down a meat aisle. This is when I found out my roommate is vegetarian and we refused to walk down it and went down another one. This is much more pleasant.


Then we found the juice ladies!


Basically it is rows of juice stands and ladies compete to make you fresh juice. We decided to ditch the group and get one. Our lady made us fresh orange and mango and it was delicious. However, Marco had employed another guy to make sure no one got left behind. So he came back and told us we had to go. We said no, we've ordered a juice and he'd have to wait. He wasn't happy but he did. Then we caught up to the group five mins later anyway cos Peruvians are the slowest walkers ever! Probably cos they're all high from their drugs tea.

The walking tour ended up on the main square. Tim, here's your water feature.


Marco then decides we should go for a group lunch. Now I know from my Gap tour of Asia last year, this typically means going to some boring, expensive tourist restaurant. Christine and I have already decided to go to a vegetarian restaurant. Because I'm super organised, I've marked every vegetarian restaurant in every city I'm visiting on all my Lonely Planet maps. She is really excited cos she didn't know about happycow and struggled in Buenos Aires. Love happycow!

So we set off for the closest veggie restaurant but can't find it. We can't find the second closest either (in my experience happycow is about 80% reliable with street addresses). So we head off for the third, Prasada, which is further away but a nice walk cos it's on narrower streets so there's less cars.





Ok, sidebar while I'm talking about cars. Peruvians are shit drivers. Much worse than the Argentineans and Brazilians (but still better than the Vietnamese). As an example, many intersections here have traffic lights, as you'd expect. However, traffic cops are required to direct cars cos apparently they don't know what the colours mean. Here's an example.


Back to the main story, there are like 50 steps we have to walk up on this street. Normally this is not a problem. However at 3,400m there is less oxygen in the air than at sea level. So Christine and I make it to the top of the stairs and are knackered. Seriously, we felt like unfit old women with a pack a day smoking habit, we were breathing so hard. Luckily there was a nice view over the city so we had a rest for a minute to recover.


Then some local guy ran past us. Showoff.

Next we ran into some women with an alpaca and a llama.I have no idea which is which. Never seen these animals before but they are lovely docile creatures. It makes me sad that people eat them.


I don't know why the women look so grumpy, they rippled us off good for having our photo taken. Rookie mistake, we should have asked the cost beforehand. Go buy yourselves a cup of drugs tea with our money ladies, and put some smiles on those faces.

In fact everyone here in Cuzco is trying to sell you something or begging for money. The same thing happened in Asia so I'm kinda used to it, but it's super annoying. And it's all cheap tourist crap no one wants. Some kid even tried to sell us pencil sharpeners outside a school. Since the school year doesn't start until February, I'm not sure who his key target market is. Seriously though, unless these people are going to carry around fruit and a blender, I'm really not interested.

Eventually we found Prasada and it was amazing and deserves its 5 star happycow rating. The lady made my meal vegan and then specially made some gluten free falafels for Christine using quinoa flour. I tried one, and they were the best falafels I've tasted. Yum! Then we had another juice. It was all so good, and it cost about $7 in total so we felt less annoyed about getting ripped off by the grumpy alpaca ladies.

By this point it was about 5pm and raining and cold. As I suspected during my wait in Auckland, I have seriously underestimated the amount of winter clothes I need. I just assumed it would be like Australia. Summer and hot all the time. Fail. We headed back to the hotel to put jeans and jumpers on. Then we were meeting the boys from our tour to go for drinks. Our British friend was not feeling well from the altitude so he decided to stay back and rest. The three of us went off to Paddy's bar. I love that Irish pubs are everywhere. Apparently this is the highest one in the world.


Not sure why I look so fat here.

I've decided to add my second Cuzco post to this. From here is post-Machu Picchu.

Today was a free day for us. After getting up and spending some time on the internet at the hotel, Christine and I went up to the the vegetarian street (there are about three on this street) in search of lunch.


On the way we found the 12 sided stone, which is listed as a tourist attraction in Lonely Planet.


As I will discuss in my next blog, the Incas were really into their stone work. If I saw this the other day without going to all the Inca ruins first, I'd think so what? But now I understand what they were doing and using patterns to put stones together to avoid them falling down during earthquakes. Anyway, there's more to come on stones. It's pretty interesting to learn about actually.

We found a veggie place on the map. However, when we got there it wasn't actually a veggie place. This was not a happycow recommendation by the way, it was just on a map. But they did have a a good vegetarian selection so we decided to stay. We both had a local Peruvian dish that was peppers (spiciness was between a chili and a capsicum) stuffed with veggies and came with slices of fried potatoes and rice. It was really good. Then we went to Paddy's Irish pub again to meet the rest of the group for a beer.

After lunch we went to the chocolate museum. It was pretty interesting. I did not know that Peru was a major supplier of cacao. Apparently, but unsurprisingly, the Swiss eat the most chocolate per capita, 18kg a year or something. Also the British consume 1,000 chocolate bars for every 1 consumed in China. I liked this poster cos it is combines chocolate and cricket. 


Of course I bought some chocolate. It was quite nice.

After that we wandered around for a while. They have a big Jesus here too, although not as big as Rio. You can kind of see it up on the hill in the middle of the photo.


Also, I've noticed that in Peru, stuff seems to be divided into streets. For example, if you want shoes, you go to the shoe street. This also happens in Asia. I walked down a whole street of shops selling safes in Ho Chi Minh. Anyway, our hotel appears to be in the mattress district.



For dinner, Christine and I went to Govindas (one of the ones we couldn't find the other day), while the group decided to go eat guinea pig. I'm sure there's a little girl crying somewhere cos her pet is missing. Anyway we knew where to find Govindas now cos the bus drove past it on the way to the Sacred Valley. I had a veggie curry with quinoa and a veggie juice. Was pretty good. This was my first veggie juice in South America, and it was a nice change from fruit juice.

After dinner we went and found the group. Thankfully the guinea pig was gone, although we were treated to the photos. Hmm.... And then we all set off for Paddy's again. Basically no one knows where any other bars are and Paddy's is right off the main square so easy to find.

The next day is our flight back to Lima and the last day of the tour. I've really enjoyed it and Marco was an excellent guide. I will be sad to leave the group as we all head off in separate directions.

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