A Travellerspoint blog

Cusco Day and Inti Raymi

Dance, dance, dance!

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This past week, Cusco has been humming! June 23rd was Cusco Day and the 24th was the Inti Raymi festival. Even the week+ leading up to these holidays has been a flurry of activity. There have been parades and traditional dance competitions almost everyday. The parade on Cusco Day lasted from 10am until about midnight.

Inti Raymi is the second biggest festival in Latin America -second only to Carnival in Rio de Janiero. It is an old Quechuan (Inca) celebration of the equinox. Hundreds of thousands of tourists descend on Cusco from all over Peru and the world. The ceremonies start at the sun temple in Cusco which also has a cathedral perched on top by the Spanish colonials. The prosession them moves to the Plaza de Armas (main square) in Cusco which is where Josh and I waited a few hours so we could have a good view. Many dancers, male and female, dressed in traditional costumes, danced and sang around the square. Some were carrying offerings of corn, potatoes and coca leaves, some incan deities and others carried mummies of former incas. Eventually the man acting as the king (the inca) was carried into the square on a large throne. He was preceded by men sweeping the way with bundles of hay and women dropping flower petals. The Inca made a speech in the Quechua language and then eventually the whole procession left and headed towards Sacsayhuaman (pronounced sexy woman) which are incan ruins up on a hill in Cusco. The crowd followed. Thousands and thousands of people (including Josh and I) then watched another ceremony for their sun god. It was very interesting but not easy to follow since it was in Quechua and because of the huge crowds. They also had a mock llama sacrifice. Apparently, they used to kill the llama in a very slow and brutal way, so they don't do it for real anymore.

The whole week has been very interesting and we have culture pouring out of our ears! Tomorrow we head out on a 5 day hike around the highest mountain in southern Peru, Ausangate, so it will be a nice change.

Photos at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=53235&l=1411f&id=553935978
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=52920&l=8fddb&id=553935978
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=54567&l=6f37f&id=553935978

for those not on facebook.

Posted by edenjosh 13:02 Archived in Peru Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Cusco Cuisine

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As far as food and drink goes in Cusco, the only items worth mentioning all begin with the letter "C".

First on the list is CUY. It is served in many restaurants and is also eaten at special times like the Corpus Christi festival and fairs. Cuy is guinea pig!!!! Many families have their own little hutch of guinea pigs, not as pets, of course, but for Sunday dinner! Often walking along the street, restaurants will display their cooked cuy outside. They look like huge leathery rats with their big rodent teeth very prominant and usually a little fur still stuck to the shrivelled ears and a whisker or two. Josh and I have yet to try this "delicacy". Not because we don't want to, but because we don't want to buy the whole rodent which is quite expensive compared to other foods.

Next on the list is CHICHA. Chicha was the drink preferred by the incas. It is a cloudy pinkish liquid made by fermenting corn. Traditionally, someone used to chew up the corn and spit it in a vat to be fermented with occasional heating. Today we were assured that people no longer chew up the corn by mouth. We visited a chicharia however (where they make chicha) and they might as well chew the corn by mouth because the place was so dirty and CRAWLING with guinea pigs everywhere! They burn the guinea pig dung to heat up the chicha. We tried a little chicha so as not to be rude but it was not very good. It just tasted like sour corn. There is a tamer version of chicha though which is much more delicious. It is called chicha morada and is made with purple corn and spices. It tastes kind of like cider with a popcorn aftertaste.

The other "C" food that we encounter daily is CHICHARRON. Chicharron is hunks of pork, usually on a bone, that is deep fried in oil. It is then left to sit in a pan where cups of oil are poured over it periodically. The worst part of chicharron is the smell and that it seems to be a breakfast food. Early in the morning, when we would be heading to our Spanish classes, we would have to pass tons of restaurants selling chicharron and the smell was so pungent that we would have to try very hard not to be sick.

Another common item here is COCA. Coca leaves, also used to make cocaine, are used very commonly for tea, and chewing. The coca leaf does not have the effects of processed cocaine, but they are used to help prevent altitude sickness, increase energy and supress appetite. The coca leaves were very important to the incas and were used for many reigious ceremonies and sacrifices. Coca tea does not have a very strong taste and it is quite pleasant. Coca is also used in candies, cookies for some beers and soups.
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Posted by edenjosh 11:59 Archived in Peru Tagged food Comments (1)

Hangin' in Cuzco

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Since June 4th, Josh and I have been taking Spanish classes in Cuzco. We thought basic Spanish would be a good skill to have for work and especially for travelling! We looked at a bunch of different schools but decided to go with "Fair Play". They are an NGO that train single mothers as Spanish teachers. This allows them to earn a decent living and provide for their children. We pay the mothers directly for their time, so there is no middle man taking a cut. It is a great program! There are so many unemployed people here and so many mothers desperate to take care of their children. It is great that we can pay them for a skill they already have.

Our last class will be on June 17th, so we will be here for a while. Also, one of the biggest festivals in Peru happens to be in Cuzco on June 24th so we may stick around here until then. In our free time we are really exploring the ins and outs of the city. Actually, we also spent a LONG time looking for a new place to stay because where we were had BED BUGS!!!! What a pain! We have found a new place to stay and have sent almost all of our clothes to be laundered (there are no do-it-youself laundromats here). Hopefully the washing gets rid of any that might be in our clothes but no one uses hot water here for laundry so I don't know if the cold, handwashing will do it. HereĀ“s hoping!!!

Posted by edenjosh 15:27 Archived in Peru Tagged educational Comments (1)

Manu National Park

Crazy, huge, poisonous, aggressive spiders with glow-in-the-dark eyes and egg sacks that spray babies everywhere. Why I love the winter.

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I tell you, you will never appreciate winter fully until you spend some time in the jungle. Winter kills the worst bugs.

On May 26, we left Cuzco at 6 a.m. to start an 8-day journey in the Manu Reserve zone in the amazon basin. Also in our group were three recent Waterloo University grads from Canada, a Dutch girl and a retired couple from Colorado, USA. The first day was long, bumpy and dusty as we drove in a van towards the edge of the park. We spent the first night in the tiny village of Pilcopata. The temperature change from Cuzco, where it is cool and dry, was extreme. All ready we were hot and sticky.

The next morning we entered the park and loaded all of our gear into a long canoe-type boat. The trip down the Madre de Dios river was so pleasant! It was warm and breezy and there were few bugs to bother us on the boat. We sailed down river all day and arrived at our lodge in the jungle in the late afternoon. This lodge was run by local indiginous people. There were little thatched huts for sleeping and a dining hut. There was no power but we had running water from the river. The people from the lodge had a large tortoise tied up which they were going to eat for dinner!!! They untied it so we could look at it and it "ran" away when no one was looking. They were upset their dinner took off but we were happy it escaped. That night we went for a walk with flashlights to looks for bugs, snakes and other night creatures. We saw many insects, frogs, bats, an anol and a snail-eating snake. After dinner, we all headed to our huts to sleep. Josh and I walked into ours and there was a HUGE spider, as big as your palm, on our floor. We yelled for the guide to ask if it was poisonous. He said it was VERY poisonous and aggressive and we were suppsed to "kill, kill, kill" in his words. Everyone rushed into our hut to watch the show. Our guide got a broom and smashed the spider which made a terrible noise. Meanwhile, one of the boys spotted another spider on our ceiling because of its glowing eyes, and another and another and another... The next hour sounded like a war was going on in our room as we all hunted and killed spiders. There was a lot of shouting, laughing and "EWWWWWW!!!"s. Just when we thought all was clear, we spotted the mother of all spiders, guarding a huge, writhing egg sack. Our guide smashed the spider but accidentally got the egg sack as well! Tiny, transparent spiders sprayed everywhere -all over our sink AND MY BED!!!! We tried to brush off as many babies as possible (the babies are not poisonous yet) but eventually, I just had to crawl into bed with them to "sleep". In order to keep out the mosquitos and poisonous bugs with my bug net, I basically had to seal the baby spiders in with me. Ewww. I still feel a little like throwing up when I picture that egg sack.

The next day we left early to stake out a macaw "clay lick". Macaws and other parrots have to eat clay to get minerals to help with their digestion. We watched over 60 blue-headed parrots eating clay, a few orange-cheeked parrots and about 16 red and green macaws. After that, we headed upriver towards the reserve zone. We spent that night in a small town called "Boca Manu".

The next day we spent about 8 hours in the boat going up the Manu River deep into the reserve zone. We saw tons of birds, caiman (small alligators), some capybara (the largest rodents in the world -as big as pigs), a tygre weasel and more. We arrived at our next lodge and went for a walk in the jungle. We saw squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys and capuchin monkeys. That night we got to try and sleep with weird howling and russling sounds going on just outside our tent. It was even worse because Josh had a few "bathroom emergencies" that night and had to run into the darkness scantily clad! Dangerous in the jungle! Not to mention the mosquito bites on your bum.

The next day we took a catamaran and paddled around an ox-bow lake. We got to watch a family of endangered river otters fishing and playing and some howler monkeys sleeping in the trees. While we were on the catamaran, a cold wind started blowing and our hot, humid weather was replaced by COLD, humid weather for the rest of the trip. That night we went for a walk along the shore and saw some caiman lying in wait for prey. We also saw some huge spiders bigger than your hand!

The next day, we headed back on the river to Boca Manu. On the way we all had our eyes peeled to spot jaguar that might be warming in the sun. We were nearing Boca Manu when our guide jumped up in the boat and said "JAGUAR!" There was a beautiful, huge jaguar sunning on the river bank. It watched us for a while then streched, yawned and walked off into the jungle. We were all very excited after that! We stopped at one point for a hike in the jungle and we saw a big, tan anteater taking a rest in a tree. It was pretty cute. The hike was pretty wet, especially after two of the boys slipped into a stream. It was pretty funny for the rest of us. We celebrated our jaguar sighting with beers in Boca Manu that night.

The following day, we spent mostly on the river heading for home. At one point though, we were able to get out of the boat and soak in some natural hot springs. We all enjoyed it very much especially since we were quite dirty and chilled. We stayed in a lodge not too far from the park entrance that night. They had a semi-pet capuchin monkey who was very interested in stealing our dinner. We had a peaceful sleep listening to all the frogs chirping in the distance. However, we also heard HUGE, BARKING bamboo rats. Not as soothing.

The next morning, we headed back by boat towards the town of Atalaya where a bus would be waiting to take us to Cuzco. The river was too shallow at one point so we all had to walk the final 500m on the shore while the boat went ahead with just the luggage. The ride back to Cuzco was again, bumpy and dusty but we all arrived back safely. It was a GREAT trip!
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Posted by edenjosh 14:13 Archived in Peru Tagged ecotourism Comments (1)

The Sacred Valley, Peru

Where a bus can never be TOO full!!

sunny 20 °C
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Besides Machu Picchu, there are countless Inka ruins in Peru and beyond. Quite a few are close to Cusco, in the Sacred Valley. There are tourist buses that can take you to all of these in one day, but we wanted to take a bit more time and spend less money by taking the local transport.

The first town we visited in the Sacred Valley was Ollantaytambo. There is a large Inka fortress there that was really impressive! They quarried all the stone from a mountain about 6 km away and then had to drag the massive stones -some the size of trucks- up another mountain for construction. There are abandoned stones all the way along. They even had to cross a river and used the huge stones to divert the flow of water so they could cross. SO MUCH WORK! The town itself was very interesting too and is one of the best examples of inka city planning and architecture.

The next day we boarded an even more crowded bus than the day before to head to the town of Pisac. Pisac has many inka ruins high in the mountains, inka baths and also an inka cemetery, which has been completely plundered of course, so we could only view it from a distance. It looked like a honey comb on the side of the mountain. I have no idea how they dug those holes and dragged the dead bodies up such a steep cliff.

Pisac is also famous for its huge Sunday market. There were hundreds of stalls selling fresh produce and handicrafts. We wanted to buy a lot but we have no room in our bags for souvenirs so we just bought freshly squeezed orange juice from an old lady and some other fruit.

The bus on the way back to Cuzco was so packed we could barely breathe...but considering the smells coming from everyone who had spent the day in the hot market, we were happy to hold our breath!

Posted by edenjosh 13:54 Archived in Peru Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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