Monthly Archives: October 2012

Chocolate Museum Cusco, Peru

We arrived back in Cusco by 10: 30  am. Our wonderful group leader, Patricia made reservations at the Coco Museum for Brian and I and our two travel buddies, Charla and Joel.  Here we learned the history of chocolate and actually learned how to make our own chocolate.

I just loved our instructor.  He was only one month on the job, but was so great. My favorite part was when he made us sing while we were mixing hot chocolate. He said it makes the chocolate taste better (as if that’s possible). Since hot chocolate is usually only enjoyed around Christmas, we decided to sing Christmas carols. He was right, the singing did make it taste oh so delicious.

Let me tell ya, I definitely appreciate chocolate even more now. Making just one piece of chocolate took a lot of work.

chocolate cusco, peru

While we were waiting for our chocolates to cool, we used our boleto touristico to visit the Regional History Museum. The museum was full of colonial artifacts and was the perfect way to spend the hour.

chocolate factory peru

After picking up our tasty treats, Brian and I spent the rest of the day shopping around the local markets.

cusco peru

Later that night we went out to dinner at La Retama, right in the Plaza de Armas. The food was so yummy and the live music and dancers provided great dinner entertainment.

la retama cusco, peru

After we grabbed a few Cusquena beers (a Peruvian beer) at Paddy’s Pub with some other members of our group. We met quite a character named Roger who seriously looked like Raiden from the mortal combat movies.  He wore only black leather, had 18 inches of long white hair,  chained smoked and reeked of cigarettes but his stories of travel and love kept us enthralled for a few hours.
My only regret…. I didn’t snap a photo with him, so for many  he will remain a mythical creature, as he should.

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Ollantaytambo, Peru

After a busy day of touring the Quechuan Village, we headed to the town of Ollantaytambo to stay for the night. The whole town was celebrating the festival of Corpus Christi.

Held on a Thursday 60 days after Easter Sunday, Corpus Christi in Latin literally means the “Body of Christ” and is a Christian festival held in honor of the Holy Eucharist (the sacramental re-enactment of what Jesus did at his Last Supper in giving his disciples bread).

Groups of dancers, decorated with elaborate costumes, celebrated throughout the streets all afternoon and into the wee hours of the morning.  The festive attitude was  contagious. Brian and I enjoyed sipping wine and dancing amongst the locals!

corpus christi festival, ollantaytambo

dancers in ollantaytambo

The dancers move non-stop, so it was hard to get a shot that wasn’t blurry.  But with all that wine and all that dancing, it’s hard to hold a memory that isn’t blurry either :).

A word to the wise, don’t distract the dancers. The leader, who was carrying a whip, can get quite angry. He actually cracked his whip towards one of the dancers  for dancing with us. I’m just hoping it was only the sound of the whip and the dancer was actually whipped. Oppsie.

old man_ollantaymbo, peruHere’s s a nice old man who wouldn’t think about whipping anyone.

The next morning, Brian and I woke up early to tour the Incan site, Ollantyambo. They were amazing! We climbed all over the ruins like monkeys and enjoyed watching the sun rise.

cliff at ollantaytambo

The Ruins of Ollantaytambo largely have religious significance. They also doubled as the the last and largest defensive structure for  plains below, where the Incas defeated the Spaniards in battle. Here’s some more about Ollantaytambo if you wanna take a peek.

Later that day, we made our way back to Cusco with our group and enjoyed stopping and snapping a few photos of the snow capped Andes Mountains.

andes mountains peru

If you’re interested, we stayed in the Munay Tika and ate at the Heart’s Cafe. Munay Tika wasn’t my favorite place we stayed but it was cheap and clean. The Heart’s Cafe served fresh, traditional dishes. The cafe also raises money and awareness  of the conditions native people in the highlands live in.

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Quechuan Village

On this day we traveled from Cusco to a Quechuan Village. The Quechua people are direct descendants of the Incas so I was thrilled to experience Peru as an Incan would.

On the way we stopped at a llama and alpaca farm and for a few soles were allowed to go inside their pen and feed these temperamental beasts.

llama farm peru

I was a little apprehensive to stray close to any of the alpacas. One of these mean animals almost kicked me while pumpkin pickin’ a couple years ago. It should’ve been the other way around really.  I mean I was wearing alpaca mittens and had eaten alpaca two nights beforehand. I should’ve felt like an alpaca hunter, but instead tried to be an alpaca peace maker.

I made peace the best way I knew how by filling their bellies with some greens (to fatten them up 🙂 ). The alpacas must have sensed my fear though, and sounded their alarm call along with not a kick,  but a spit. Yep the alpacas actually spit on a few of us in the group. That’s okay though…I ate them for dinner later…I kid.

llama peru

Afterwards, we continued on our bumpy ride up the side up of a mountain to the Quechuan Village tucked in the Andes Mountains.

I loved immersing ourselves into the Incan culture. We were warmly welcomed with a flower ceremony, learned to plow the land with hand tools, and even baked potatoes in the ground.  We learned more of their culture and watched the Quechuan women dye and weave aplca yarn.

After working up an appetite, we feasted on cuy (guinea pig), quinoa soup (my new favorite grain), and clay baked potatoes (with the clay still on them). Yep, I ate guinea pig. It tasted like rabbit to me; gamy. Much like rabbit I didn’t like eating it cause I kept picturing my cute guinea pigs from childhood, Bert & Ernie, but I did it just to say I did.

You can read more about my dilemma here.

eating cuy in peru

Quinoa is long been a staple amongst the Incas.

Archaeological evidence relating to the consumption of quinoa in ancient Andean societies has been found in a prehistoric tomb in Arica, Chile and among the contents of a mummy’s possessions in Ancón, Perú. According to findings in northern Chile, archaeologists believe quinoa was in use prior to 3000 B.C. Further evidence from the Ayacucho area places the domestication of quinoa before 5000 B.C.

There is little doubt that quinoa played a fundamental role in the great Inca civilization. It is believed that the Incas considered quinoa to be a sacred plant: Religious festivals included an offering of quinoa in a fountain of gold to the sun god, Inti; a special gold implement was used to make the first furrow of each year’s planting; and, in Cuzco, ancient Incans worshipped entombed quinoa seeds as the progenitors of the city.

Click here to read more of this article on the Mother Grain, Quinoa.

Since Peru, Quinoa has been a staple in my diet. Here’s a little bit about the supergrain that’s swept America in the past year (found here on the New York Times website).

Quinoa (pronounced keh-NO-ah or, sometimes, KEEN-wah) is a relative newcomer to the American pantry. The tiny, ancient Peruvian seed, which has a mild, nutty flavor, is related to leafy green vegetables and is often used like a grain. Quinoa is as versatile as rice but it has a protein content that is superior to that of most grains, because it contains all the essential amino acids. In particular, quinoa is high in lysine, an amino acid important for tissue growth and repair. It’s also a good source of manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, and it has a high iron content.

Here’s a few recipes  from Cooking Light if you’re interested in trying quinoa yourself.

quechua village peru

quechuan_village_peru

quechua village peru

quechuan village peru

This was one of my favorite days while in Peru. It was eye opening to see  just how easy we have it here. These people live a hard, but satisfying life. We made many new friends and I loved living like a Quechua ( just for a few hours).

Read more about my Peru Trip by checking out these blog posts:

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Inca Ruins around Cusco

In the morning we awoke semi-rested, but wholeheartedly ready for adventure! We grabbed a quick meal in our breakfast nook and enjoyed viewing the sea of clay tile that decorated all the rooftops. The sunshine (both my sunshine and the literal) warmed the room and holding a cup of  hot coca tea between my hands, I was finally warm for the first time in Peru. Ahhh.   Coca tea is another popular drink in Cusco. It helps with with altitude sickness (and its warm!). Incans actually ate coca leaves when traveling hundreds of miles to give them energy.

view from hotel arqueologo cusco

After breakfast we packed up and headed off to meet our tour group at Tika Wasi. 

I have this bad habit of filling my bag to the brim. Give me a 6 ft suit case and I’ll fill it to the tip top. Doesn’t matter the size or shape, I always feel the need to fit in as much as I can! Do you have this problem too?

This trip was no exception.  Tika Wasi was only about 6 blocks away from our hotel, but I swear at 13,000 ft and 30 extra pounds on my back it felt like 60. I’ve never felt so out of breath and so close to passing out in my life. Walking up about 10 stairs seemed impossible and my head felt like it might actually explode. At that point, I think I needed about a gallon of coca tea. I promise I’m not addicted! Wooooweeee altitude sickness is reallll ya’ll. Confession: I totally tought altitude sickness only affected older or pretty out of shape peeps. WRONG.

I had to take a quick sit to catch my breath. Brian kindly switched backpacks with me and I begrudgingly restarted our trek up the stairs of death.

stairs of death in Cuzco Peru

Tika Wasi wasn’t as swanky as Hotel Arqeologo, but it was charming and the staff members were just as kind.  And they had a pot of coca tea waiting in the lobby which I downed a cup of immediately. Looking back I was showing signs of dependency.

We met our whole travel group and our awesome guide, Patricia. We learned of travel plans for the day and rest of the week We decided to be brats and break away from our group to take advantage of touring the ruins around Cusco: Sacsayhuamán, Q’enqo, Puca Pucara, and Tambomachay.

We had another quick sit,  grabbed some snacks, and off we went. The first ruin,  Sacsayhuamán is about a 20 minute walk up about 5000 steps so I needed about 5000 breaks to make it up. At the top we bought our Boleto Turistico, which gives you access to all the Incan sites and museums around Cusco. Well, almost all of them, but definitely worth it!

We were quickly greeted by our trusty guide Jose’ who believed everything was sacred. He was full of stories (which I’m sure only half were true) but he was so charming he could get away with it. We followed him around for about 4 hours eager to hear his tales,  explore the sites , and count sacred numbers 🙂

Here’s a little bit about each site we visited:

saqsaywaman

Sacsayhuamán

Sacsayhuamán (said like saq-say-waman) is believed to have once been a royal retreat, a fortress, or both. Its zigzag walls are built with some of the largest stones to be found in Inca masonry; some are estimated to weigh as much as 300 tons, yet are fit together as tightly as the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.  You can see more of Peru’s awesome ruins here, where I found this quote about Sacsayhuamán.

I loved sliding down the natural slides at Sacsayhuamán! Jose’, working hard for his 100 soles (around $40) and being the experienced guide he was, knew the exact spot to yell so our voices would echo back from one side of the ruin to the other. The Incas used these locations to communicate with one another.

Tombomachay

After we hopped on our first public bus (I’m still shocked how many people they cram into the  back in those things) and chugged up to Tombomachay. Tombomachay, is known by locals as the ‘Bath of the Incas’. The water here is considered sacred and our guide insisted that Brian and I take a sip. We felt lucky to drink from the fountain and hoped our stomachs would later agree.

peru bus

tombomachay

Puca Pucara

Next, we headed over to Puca Pucara located at the  peak of a hill overlooking Tambomachy. It is thought to have been a military fortress, used as defense for Tambomachay.

puca pucara

The Temple of the Monkey and the Temple of the Moon

My favorite part of this day was walking through the country side and viewing the beautiful mountains surrounding us. Jose’, still working hard for his 100 soles, took us off road to two other sites, the Temple of the Monkey and the Temple of the Moon. We saw people meditating and went inside the sacred caves.

temple of the moon peru

cusc_field

Cusco Field

Qenqo

We ended our journey visiting Qenqo. In quechua, a native language of Peru, Qenqo means  ‘labyrinth or zigzag’.  A place of worship,  the walls are covered in carvings of  lamas, pumas, condors and other symbols.

qenqo peru

After, we said our goodbyes, packed back into another public bus, and bumped our way back down into Cusco.

Outside Cusco

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