Monday, November 12, 2007

miscellaneous catching up in Cusco

This morning we found our way to the train station to buy our train tickets for tomorrow morning's trip to Machu Picchu, which leaves Cusco at 6am. Just as with everything else, it went perfectly, no glitches. It's really kind of remarkable, like we've wandered into some paradisaical Twilight Zone (with the exception of our techno problems, of course). On every trip there are things that go wrong, plans that go awry, places that are much worse than we expected, hotels that are bad, something goes wrong. Instead, on this trip -- so far -- nothing has gone awry. In fact, we were watching the weather and it always said that it would be raining the whole time we're in Cusco, but it's been nothing but perfectly sunny clear weather. Cloudy in the morning, then sunny blue by 10am. Weird and wonderful. And the flights have been uneventful, too. No real delays, easy flights, very nice airplanes. Since most flights are 30 minutes long, there is no service; we climb, level off, then begin our descent. Quick quick. Presto. This is what it looked like as we started our descent into Cusco -- incredible geography:

So this is the first time on our vacation that Marc and I have gone separate ways for a bit. He's gone to the bank in the main square, which is an easy 10-minute walk downhill but a less easy walk uphill coming back. The street is a very narrow alley, with sidewalks on either side that are wide enough for one person only. And in places, it even disappears. Buses and taxis come hurtling down that alley, so it's always an "exciting" experience. While he's gone down to the square, I'm in the lobby catching up a bit.

Let's see. Last night we ate dinner at this little tiny restaurant on a tiny street. The name was Relic, or something like that (note to self-look it up later). It was one small square room with a blue wall, a yellow wall, a black wall, and a huge video camera in the corner. And the tv was blaring, I mean really blaring Spanish tv, which means cacophanic. It was hot, they had strong incense burning, and we were the only people in the restaurant. Still, it was Sunday night and the big meal here is lunch, so finding a good place for dinner was a bit uncertain. Marc ordered stuffed trout, and I ordered a vegetable tortilla, which is like a frittata. There were two young women working there, so when we placed our order, one went in the back room and started chopping vegetables. The other went to the store to get the main ingredients. And like most every other restaurant in Peru, they brought our meals out separately -- often 10 or 15 minutes' difference. In this case it made sense, since the woman was cooking our dinners individually.

WELL. The dinner was out of this world. Marc is always wary about ordering fish in restaurants because it's usually overcooked, but even he was blown away. The flavors were so subtle, with such depth, and the fish was very fresh and cooked just perfectly. Even his rice, which is often kind of dry and an afterthought, was moist and lightly buttered. There was a shredded beet and carrot salad on the side. My tortilla was every bit as wonderful. A family of 3 came in after we ordered, so once we had our food the cook started on those meals. And, as before, the other woman ran out the front door to go buy the ingredients. They did this for every meal we observed. It may be the very best meal we've had so far.

Our hotel is incredible. Our bedroom opens onto a lovely terrace, and you walk up a flight of stairs into our bedroom. There's an elevated platform by the huge window overlooking the city, with a small table and chairs and a little fridge. So we lie in bed and watch the sun come up and go down over the mountains, and the city lights rise and fall. They're beautiful, too, yellow and blue.

Cusco out our bedroom window
at night
how perfect, that sliver of moon

Of course, once we've walked up the hill from the plaza, then up the stairs to our terrace, then up the stairs to our bedroom, we're hot and panting and have to lie down.

hotel front door
our terrace
more of the view from our bedroom
The hotel lobby is really charming. I sit here to write these posts and listen to Peruvian music (which isn't only pan pipes, of course). They have complimentary coffee and hot water for tea, which primarily means coca tea. And of course, there's the ubiquitous large bowl of coca leaves. On every table in our hotels, there is always a large bowl of coca leaves. When you check in to hotels, they bring you a cup of hot coca tea. I drank it a few times and it tasted like chamomile tea, and I felt no effect at all.

The hotel is this little boutique hotel that used to be someone's home, and it's up the hill from the main plaza, in the artisans' section of town called San Blas. It's been the artisan quarter for centuries, apparently. A block away from the hotel is the San Blas Plaza, surrounded by little alleyways of shops. I'd been thinking I wouldn't buy anything here, because they're so focused on the tourists that all we've seen are garish tchotchkes. Bright red and pink and sky blue serapes, even more garish prints of Machu Picchu, etc. But in this artisan's quarter the shops carry handmade beautiful things. Onyx and silver earrings, lovely scarves, handmade suede purses. Presents to come for our three girls.

Cusco: The Movie!

The Cusco square is like all the others -- named Plaza des Armes, and flanked by churches. Other buildings have balconies on the 2nd floor, overlooking the plaza, made for people watching and coffee drinking.

the Cusco Cathedral

ancient Incan stone walls
those blue balconies are often in coffeeshops; we had a favorite
coffee place, for espresso, cappucino, and pitchers of limonade
I don't think this looks like me, but I really
like it -- I look as happy as I was
and I love this photo of Marc
old Cusco women and their llamas
OK -- adios muchachas!

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