Eat, Dance & Ride – In Cuzco

After 3 weeks of traveling solita, it was both a relief and a thrill to meet back up with Jeremy in the city of Cuzco. Our 5-day trek to Machu Picchu was scheduled for the end of the week, giving us a few days to experience the ancient capital of the Inca Empire.

Let me start by saying, you could spend weeks in and around Cuzco. There is so much to see and do that we barely scratched the surface. Tip: If you have time to kill in Cuzco there are dozens of opportunities for volunteering, learning Spanish, hiking, camping, rafting, mountain biking, wildlife viewing (visit rescued pumas at The Corrao Animal Sanctuary), and star-gazing.

We decided to spend our first day exploring the city the best way we know how – by foot. We walked for hours through the hilly cobble stone streets and elaborate plazas, dodging the speeding cars and admiring the architecture of the churches (Catholicism replaced all trace of Inca religion with the invasion of the Spanish) and museums. In the Plaza de Armas (the main plaza known as the Square of the Warrior), we rested at one of the balcony restaurants and initiated Jeremy’s addiction to Pisco Sours.

Walking by the Museum of Religious Art, built on the original palace of the Inca Sinchi Roca, we noticed a crowd of people gathered long one of the outside walls. Each person was taking turns snapping photos in front of nothing. That’s strange, we thought, laughing at the tourists, but there has to be some reason. Jeremy nodded to a woman selling souvenirs at the corner to ask what all the fuss was about. It’s the 12-sided stone, the woman said. An original stone carved by the Inca and placed perfectly among the others. Not even a feather knife can slide between the stones. No other stone was carved with so many sides. “Oooh, yeah! Wow!!” we said. Suddenly noticing the feature and joining the tourists in pulling out our cameras. I quickly snapped a photo of Jeremy with the stone as the guards hissed at us for touching the rare 12-sided wonder.20121116-164628.jpg

Scampering away from the 12-sided stone, we made our way to the local San Pedro Market. I’ve noticed myself starting to judge cities by the quality of their markets, so it means a lot when I say that I really liked this market. The front was stocked with everything you could imagine: colorful hats and scarves, dried fruits and nuts, candles and cooking spoons. Moving deeper we were engulfed in rows upon rows of fruits and vegetables to one side, meat and cheeses to the other. A line of woman selling fresh squeezed juices drew our attention and we sat down for some freshly blended papaya and kiwi juice.

We spent over an hour in and around the market, feasting with both our mouths and our eyes. Being a few days after Día de los Muertos, the Peruvian tradition of T’antawanas, aka Bread Babies – sweet bread shaped and decorated like baby dolls (for the girls) and horses (for the boys) – were irresistible, selling for only a few cents a piece. Peru is also well known for its Cuy (guinea pig), a delicacy served both on the streets and in the finest restaurants. However, the cuy was a bit pricey for our liking, so we opted for the 4-Sole (a little more than 1 dollar) local lunch of rice, potatoes, salad, egg, avocado and hot dog, which we smothered in ketchup and hot chilies – sounds odd, but trust me, it’s gooood.20121116-164547.jpg
There are many ways to experience the area around Cuzco. You can hire a guide and hike to your hearts content. You can catch a comfy City Tour bus or go off the road with a hired ATV. However, there was one option that stood out among the rest. With no experience and no license required, we strapped on some helmets and rode through the Sacred Valley by motorcycle. 

I hadn’t been on the back of a bike in over 5 years and Jeremy had maybe driven one once before. It took a little while to get the feel for it, but once we were past the hill top ruins of Sacsayhuaman (pronounced like “Sexy Woman”), Jeremy was feeling good and the ride was amazing. Before long we were in the Sacred Valley. We couldn’t stop screaming back and forth to each other as we drove, unable to get over the beauty of the region and the thrill of the ride.

In addition to its famous natural beauty, Cuzco is also known as a party town. With the adrenaline of surviving our day on the bike and the presidential election pending, we met up with some friends from Lima for a night out.

I couldn’t stop giggling as we stumbled out of Mama Africa at 6am, greeted by the morning sun. With sore legs and scratchy lungs from a night of dancing in the smoke filled club, it took our last day in Cuzco to recover and prepare for the 5 day hike to Machu Picchu that awaited us.