June 14, 2011
To Market, To Market, to Buy a Fat (guinea) Pig!
Taypikala Hotel Cusco, Cusco
Our morning started back at Plaza de Armas, where the children were still dancing. This time Vidal's eldest son was one of the dancers! Vidal was part of the parent band. Look for the photograph of the man in the yellow hat playing the flute. That is Vidal, our guide. There were five educators, including myself, in my group. To see our guide being a good dad to his child, and supporting his child's school only increased our already stratospheric regard for this wonderful man!
This morning, most of our group went to the ruins of Sacsaywaman and Q'enqo. Knowing that many of the stones from these sites are now the foundations of several colonial churches was interesting.
After lunch, several of the group wanted to go to a museum. However, I was finished with Inca life, and wanted to explore present-day Cusco life. I asked to be let off at San Pedro market.
A market place is a great place to learn about a community's culture. (Next time you are in you local supermarket, slow down, and really look at the items you can buy. You would be surprised!)
San Pedro's Market, is a covered market place about the size of a football field. Around the perimeters are clothing stalls. Inside the market, the areas are clearly marked with signs. This market has been filmed for the Travel Channel Shows "Bizarre Foods" with Andrew Zimmern, and Anthony Bordain's " No Reservations".
Each aisle has its own specialty. The flower aisle is filled with stall after stall of fresh cut flowers, and the smell is sweet and spicy. The bread aisle smells heavenly, as large round loaves are wrapped for customers. My favorite aisle was the chocolate aisle! I was given several samples of some delicious chocolate, and even bought a few dark chocolate bars. There are aisles specializing in veggies, fruits, and fruit juices, which are blended and served on the spot. The meat aisles are separated by what type of meat is being sold, pork, beef, etc. And yes, a person can buy cuy (guinea pig). No, they do not sell cuddly live pets. These are prepared for cooking, with the exception that the little claws and head are intact.
Nearby is the Witches' Market. Here is Cusco's version of Diagon Alley (for you Harry Potter fans). There are enough potion ingredients for sell that even Severus Snape would salivate!
Dried llama fetuses hang on stall walls. These are used to place in the corners of new buildings, as a blessing on the new structure. Live toads, and dried toads sell for a variety of medical ailments. Potions in all varieties, including love potions, are sold in kits. Hallucinagenic cacti used for medical/spiritual purposes are sold. A person can even sit with a shaman for consultation. Only good magic is for sell here - no Sectumsempra here!
While Catholicism is the main Christian religion, it is also mixed with indiginous beliefs in many areas. There are shaman shops all over Cusco, and the few I visited look like American health food stores. A few look like medieval markets with mounds of spices - until you look real close, and those spices look like ground frogs, etc!
A person can even go on a tour for health reasons with a shaman guide, and partake of the hallucinogenic cacti. The San Pedro and Ayahuasca cacti contain mescalline, an extremely powerful drug, which can be toxic if used improperly. Cusco is not Amsterdam, and a person just can't go into a "coffeeshop" and have a psychedelic experience. If this is something that must be experienced, it is best done with a trained shaman who knows how to use the drugs. The shaman I spoke with told me that he does routinely turn down potential customers who just want to get high.
That evening, Vidal took us to a restaurant for our final meal together. One of our group, Will, did the brave thing, and ordered cuy! He gave me a taste, and it is delicious! As a person with gluten allergies, eating in Peru is extremely easy, as the main grain used is quinoa. (Amaranth, known in Peru as kiwicha, is also easy to find. It is often puffed, like Americans puff wheat and rice, and served as a breakfast cereal.) For dinner, I had a traditional Quechan meal of quinoa, melted cheese, potato, and rice. Oh, it was rich!
During dinner, a Peruvian band came in. Now, we had heard bands with the flutes, guitars, etc, all over Peru. There is something wrong to hear a Beatles' song played with Peruvian instruments. This band played only Peruvian songs, which Vidal was singing along to. Our favorite song was what we called the "Pacha Mama" song. When these men brought out their CDs to sell, we all bought one! I wish I had brought my video camera! The man playing the box, and it was that, a wooden box, had the most fascinating facial expressions as he sang and made various sounds. He was fun to watch!
That night we said good-bye to each other, as we were all leaving at various times. A heartfelt good-bye was said to Vidal, the best guide EVER!
THINGS TO KNOW: Ask for Vidal as your guide. The man is awesome, humble, knows history and facts. And he is a great dad!
LAUNDRY!!!!! We all need clean clothes. The Taypikala Hotel does provide a laundry service. When I wanted to get my laundry done, the front desk was inundated with about 30 other patrons trying to check out. So, I went around the corner (by the school), where there is a laundry service. I paid 5 soles for one kilo - 10 soles in all. Then I recalled that I wanted to clean the clothes I was currently wearing! I later brought them to the front desk of Taypikala. Same amount of clothes, but the price - 53 soles! Ouch! Now, the cheaper place had my clothes finished faster. They were slightly damp, and one sock was missing. The expensive bunch took 12 hours....beautifully pressed and folded. I will always pick the cheaper route.