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Llamas, Mangos, and Cuy, Oh My

Author: Karen P.
Date of Trip: April 2011

I’m sitting in the Lima airport, drinking incredibly good coffee and eating a bowl of incredibly fresh fruit. “What’s your best memory of Peru?” my companion asks.

Hmmm. I sort through my mental pictures. There are too many, most beautiful or amazing, and a few just, well, memories. The gorgeous beach and seaside park of Miraflores. Soaking in the hot springs in (where else) Aquas Calientes. The electrical water heater attached to the shower head (just don’t touch it!) in a picturesque hotel in Urabumba. I skipped the shower but enjoyed breakfast outside in a quiet grassy courtyard. The Vistadome train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aquas Calientes, with spectacular views of the wild and rushing Urabumba River. Sitting down to meditate in Machu Picchu but falling asleep instead (it had been a very early start, in line for the bus at 5:30 AM). The mountains which I can’t even begin to describe. I had never seen mountains like those, they are the gods of all mountains. In Cusco, we found a chocolate museum and drank chocolate tea. I was absolutely floored by the ceramics in the Larco museum of pre-Columbian art. Enjoyed the sweet happy cats of Kennedy Park in Lima. Spent a week in Huanchaco, a surfing town, deserted now that summer was over. My companions there were archeologists who gave me a tour of their nearby sites and the villages they had helped by piping in water and building a school.

The day after Easter we watched the procession of the Senor de los Temblores around Cusco, a fascinating example of the blending of Christianity and Andean religions. The Lord of the Earthquake is a Christ figure, black from age and smoke, wearing a crown of red flowers. He is paraded on a float around Cusco for hours, just as the Inca used to parade their mummies. Cusco is a Spanish city built on top of an Incan one. The cathedral was built by Quecha laborers using giant stones from nearby Sacsayhuaman (you say it like “sexy woman”), on the site of an Inca temple. (So: the Spanish come to town, tear down their temple, enslave them to build a new one. Your typical European colonialism. Oh — and we’re taking all your gold and silver too.) There are still millions of Quecha-speaking ethnic peoples in Peru. I think I bought something from a significant fraction of them: mittens, hats, gloves, scarves, carved gourds, earrings, paintings, a tiny chess set whose pieces are Inca & llamas vs. Spanish & horses. The Peruvian people are gracious and polite to tourists. It would help to know a bit of Spanish.

Other memories: I spent a day in bed with altitude sickness but after that I was acclimated, mostly, with just a bit of headache and my heart going lippety-lippety when I had to walk up hill. There were beggars in Cusco — not so much in Lima or small towns — and that’s not something I was used to. I usually gave a few soles to the old or disabled. The water is not drinkable by us gringos though bottled water is cheap (until you get to the airport). Construction is common and sometimes they start with the jack-hammer at 7 AM. Drivers are more aggressive than I’m used to but they seem to know what they’re doing — I didn’t see any accidents.

Must mention the food, because I loved every meal. There was plentiful fresh fruit, like the mango-banana-papaya smoothie at Mama Olli’s in Cusco. Avocados come with everything. Pisco Sours are not an acquired taste, yum. Blue corn pudding is a dessert and better than it sounds. I wish I knew how to make that Swiss chard ravioli with carrot sauce. I did not eat cuy (guinea pig) nor alpaca though they were on the menus. Squash and other soups were always excellent.

So, my best memory? I sipped my coffee and thought. “I don’t have a best memory,” I said. “But I have a thousand great ones.” And that’s all I asked from my twenty-five days in Peru.

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