Luxury was how we entered Cusco. The Tepsa bus not only provided dinner and WiFi, but 160 degree reclining chairs and even a library. Luckily the WiFi on board meant I could check couchsurfing and see that we had been accepted to a very interesting hostel.
From the outside you see the business ‘Going Bananas’ juice bar. This is the owners main business and source of income. However if you go through the back there is a hostel that you won’t find on hostel world, ‘La Casita del Chato’. This second venture started because the owners wanted somewhere cheap for travellers to stay, so along with the people who owned the building they converted rooms into dormitories. The cost of a bed is only 10 soles (£2.50) I.e. their runing costs of the hostel. There are hot showers, which are needed for the cold of Cusco and you can hang out in the juice bar. In the bar you can find other couchsurfers and like minded people, so the atmosphere was great. Plus the place itself is very cute with Chato the dog, who the hostel is named after, coming over for a scratch, home made brownies and a book with tips left by other travellers. It was nice we stumbled across such a place on Couchsurfing. Maren and Carolyn are their names on the site and the hostel is located at 554 Calle Recoleta Agosta, if you fancy dropping by next time you’re in Cusco.
Chato the hostel dog
Once checking in and breakfast had been had, we meet up with another of Elena’s friends who drove us around the city. We saw the Plaza de Armas, which is the main square and is very beautiful, the church above the square and the Blanco Cristo. We also looked around the some stalls at a town festival. Thee wasn’t much to see but we enjoyed some cake and bought a few souvenirs.
Now it was about 12 so we were dropped back at the plaza ready for the free walking tour of Cusco (‘Free Grand Walking Tour Cusco’). The guide, Marco, was very enthusiastic and much better than the one in Arequipa. He talked of Tupac who was the first revolutionary against the Spanish and started the road to Peru becoming independent. We visited the museum of medicinal and magic plants where he talked at length about Coca and Ayawaska. The former is what cocaine is made from and the leaves can be freely traded in Peru. Chewing them helps with many things including tiredness, altitude sickness and stops you being hungry. However don’t expect a high as you need 30kg of coca leaves to make one of cocaine.
Ayawaska is a strange and also scary sounding drug. It is involved in a ceremony with a shaman and allegedly when you take it you can see your present, future sand past. It opens up other realities and can change your way of thinking. The guide says this is because it contains DMT which is natural, but is only released in the body when you are born and when you die. Hence taking this substance is the same experiencing as dying, without the hassle of actually having to give up your life. I’m not sure how much of this so true as the guide was getting very philosophical at this point, however I think Bruce Parry tries it in the BBC television documentary ‘Amazon’, if you want to see it in action.
Afterwards we walked up to the church we had seen previously and then down again to see the famous 12 angled stone. The reason it is famous is because it is part of a wall built by the Incas, but in this wall the blocks aren’t rectangular as this would make the wall collapse during an earthquake. Instead each stone fits neatly into the other even though they are various shapes. The most impressive is obviously the one with 12 angles. Also in this wall the Incas left stones that create the image the three animals which represent this world, the underworld and the upper world; the puma, the snake and the condor.
Finally we went to a Pisco bar where we were told how they make it from distilled wine and of course got some more samples of Pisco Sour. Feeling very hungry we then went to get some food at the San Pedro market via the chocolate museum – everyone loves free samples. We then looked around the handcraft market before heading to the hostel.
Here we chatted with more travellers and the owners. We got some snacks and Peruvian wine from a local supermarket -it was surprisingly nice considering I don’t like wine. Elena and I then walked back into town to meet up with the guy from this morning and his friends. We went to an invite only party which included waiters offering us nibbles and some free beer on entry. Even though the music couldn’t be danced to it was still fun. We then went onto ‘Mama Africa’ which played American style music so we left soon after. We both had a good night out in Cusco.
The next day, which started around 11, we decided to go to Pisac, a town an hour away, with Daniel from the hostel. The reason was that we were on a mission. A mission to find and sample Guinea Pig. A place had been recommended to us there but upon arrival the locals did not know where it was. It turned out it was actually the name of the next region – some information had obviously been misunderstood along the way.
Undeterred we bought some chicken and vegetables at the market and then walked around the biggest market we had seen – you could have easily got lost. Oddly we then had a sit down in a cemetery and appreciated our surroundings. The sit down was definitely needed as on the bus back we had to stand for the whole hours ride.
Both of us were starting our way to Machu Picchu the next day so we visited our separate agents to get all the final details. This included surprises like hot water costing extra. It still sounded great, biking, trekking, rafting, hot springs and of course seeing the main even itself.
Our search for Guinea Pig was not over and eventually we found it on the main plaza, hence it was expensive. However we split four different dishes between five of us, which made it a bit more affordable. The verdict? It was fantastic, quite fatty and a bit like lamb. Obviously there is not much meat on it but the restaurant had prepared it superbly roasting it in rosemary and other tasty things. We hoped to have it again sometime in Peru, but for now it was time for bed. We needed to be ready to start our four day trip to Machu Picchu.