Cuzco, Peru – We got back into town late from Machu Picchu, after all, it’s a nearly five hour trip back. We did cut it a little short, it turns out that one can avoid the hour of zig-zagging up (or down) the hill by taking a bus from the town at the top, Potoy, down to the central plaza of Cuzco, for five soles… still, I recommend the train ride all the way at least one direction. Unlike Argentina, Peru is not a country of late night dining. Getting back in around 9 p.m. means that some places are already thinking about closing up. Tulpanka, right off the main plaza, opposite the Iglesia Merced, is a beautifully done up modern style restaurant that we’d noticed in passing. Expensive looking, but we decided on dropping in anyway. We started off with a couple of the largest pisco sours either of us had ever seen, and quite good. We decided on a few appetizers to share rather than full dinners – we’d been nibbling along the way, including several choclos con queso at the station in Ollantaytambo – women come running out to meet the train and sell fresh cooked ears of corn topped with a slab of local salty cheese – a mere two soles apiece.
We went with… hmmm… if memory serves me right, a bowl of gratineed bean soup, a plate of cecina (a local wild boar) jerkey, a trio of causas filled with chicken, shrimp, and avocado, respectively, and ajíes rellenos. All excellent, creatively presented, and flavorful. Definitely a pricey locale, but worth checking out.
A good night’s sleep and we got up to head to another one of the spots on our tourist pass, the Convent of Santa Catalina. While one can enter on their own, there are no explanatory signs, no guidebook, nothing… and the place is filled with artwork. We very luckily accepted the services of a young woman who offered to give us a guided tour… which not only gave us some fascinating insight into the artwork in the convent, but the life of a guide as well – neither of us had any idea that official guides (you can ask to see their government identification card) go through a five year training program that includes things like spending periods of time in each of the major archaeological sites with the archaeologists and historians. Nothing stops someone without the card from guiding folks, though without the card, they don’t get to enter the sites free… which means that the unofficial guides are often more expensive than the official ones! Back to the art – ranging from 15th to 17th century, and primarily catholic religious art… but it has a twist that I’d never have noted if it wasn’t for Yony, our guide. In order to make the images more palatable to the Incans, the monks and other artists painted them with a mix of Incan motifs worked in… things like angels that have wings in the colors of the condor god’s plumage, vestments that have Incan designs worked into their borders, sun and moon motifs for god and the Virgin Mary, local flora and fauna, even pictures of Jesus give him more indigenous features and coloring… not completely, but just enough. Unfortunately, photography isn’t permitted in the convent, and they watch pretty carefully – and with no guidebooks available, it means that viewing any of the images requires going there… photos are very difficult to come by. It would have to be a fascinating study for someone truly into religious art of that period.
We ended up our tour with Yony (prounounced more or less like “Johnny” with a slightly softer J), and had already decided to “book” her for the following day for a private tour of a couple of the ruins that are off the beaten path – more in the next post, but if you find yourself in Cuzco and want an amazingly knowledgeable and friendly guide, call her… 963-2409 (tell her we sent you!). We headed back to La Chomba, where we’d been our first day in town, and tried a chicken escabeche and easily the best roast lechon (suckling pig) I’ve ever sunk my teeth into… each running about 8 or 9 soles…
We finished off the afternoon wandering and shopping, hitting a couple of bookstores – I picked up a great book on creative uses of quinoa, and some history books for Henry (out of sight of him, for our second anniversary which happened this week), and hitting the Mercado Centro Artesanal at the bottom of the avenues for a bit of looking for various handicrafts. We didn’t find much of anything we liked, but it was a fun wander.
Oh, we also found out from Yony that under the two main avenues, Av. El Sol and Av. Tullomayu, run two separate subterranean rivers that have been there since they were used as canals by the Incans. During the colonial period they were covered over… at some point in the modern era, they were slightly re-routed – the water now flows through a fountain at the bottom of the avenues as part of the point where the two rivers join up and continue on, below ground, to the main river below. If you look carefully at the photo you can see the two spouts of water from opposite sides that then flow down the back of the fountain and back underground.
Finally, we ended the evening with a show at the Centro de Arte Nativo, where a dance and music troupe put on a show of regional dances and music… all included in our tourist pass (I told you this was a good value). For dinner afterwards we met up with a couple of guys who had come to a Casa S dinner and had contacted us as they were in Cuzco as well – we went back to Pacha Papa where Henry and I more or less repeated our lunch of a few days ago – the adobo de chancha and the seco de cordero are just that good…