Plaza de Armas
Known as Cusco’s city center, this plaza has been the location of many historical events for the city. It’s where, in 1533, Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro proclaimed his conquest of Cusco, and thus completing his conquest of Peru and the Inca Empire (this time I didn’t eavesdrop on a tour guide, I read this in a book an my hotel’s cafe). The Spanish would eventually built stone arcades around the Plaza de Armas, which you can still see today.
The three main structures in the plaza are the main cathedral, the Church of La Compañía, and the controversial Inca statue that graces the Plaza de Armas fountain.
The plaza is so so beautiful, definitely worth an afternoon visit. I recommend a cup of coffee, your camera, and a leisurely stroll….
Then I’d grab some lunch at one of the many restaurants looking into the courtyard… I ate at this place called Papillion - great food and an even better view. The people watching ain’t bad either.
Cusco’s San Pedro Market
What traveler doesn’t love rows and rows of local (sometimes scary) cuisine, fresh fruits & veggies, souvenirs, and indigenous clothing & accessories? Well I sure as heck do… So I was in Cusco heaven today at the San Pedro market, aka Marcado Central de San Pedro for those of you who like it in español :)
I won’t write much because the pictures should do just fine… but here are my four takeaways:
- The fresh juice/smoothy stands are a must (there are a ton, all side by side, and the owners cat-call you in to sit & drink - do it)
- You can haggle like any other market or swap meet
- You can buy a doll in a bread blanket
- Check your change (coins). Apparently “falso” coins are common and some sellers will try and give them to you as change, only for the next seller to tell you they won’t take it. I’m speaking from experience, twice over.
Fugazi change and all, San Pedro market is a must if you’re in Cusco.
Last but not least, the amazing juice bars… I told the girl I have had a terrible migraine for two days straight so she whipped me up some carrot-mixture magic. Cost at San Pedro market: 4 soles (about $1.50). Cost at Whole Foods back home: $10.
I LOVE PERU!!!
Cusco y Arte
I didn’t realize art was such a flourishing part of the Peruvian culture, especially here in Cusco. Apparently the city is littered with art museums and galleries that pay homage to its ancient andean roots and Spanish/European influences. The art here is notable for the historical details used to portray the indians, conquistadors, and other important aspects of Peru’s mystical ancient culture (I clearly overheard a tour guide say this so I thought I’d throw it in to sound knowledgable).
As sophisticated and mature being “into” art sounds to me, I’ll admit I’m not much of an art buff… Hell, I’d be lying if I said I’ve ever enjoyed going to a museum or gallery. The dead silence, the people walking around with their hands behind their backs, the feeling that everyone sees something I don’t - it all makes me feel unworthy of the art behind art. But there’s something about an outdoor setting, where artists and musicians showcase their talents in real time that I resonate with. That’s some art I can get into.
Today I stumbled upon what seemed to be- what we in the states would call- an art walk. Artist and vendors lined the streets of Cusco’s art district, selling, demonstrating, and some just showing their work. Here were a few of my favorites:
I have no idea what these guys were supposed to be or represent but I enjoyed them for whatever form of artistic demonstration this was…
Rainy night in.
So my big plans to explore the city today didn’t quite come to fruition. I had had a pretty bad headache since my LAX-LIMA flight, which turned into a full-blown migraine right after I settled in this morning. I took some meds, downed more Coca tea, and took a nap. Later in the day I attempted to walk around the immediate area of town to see what I could find… but then came rain… and then came more head pain. So I said f-it, and headed back to lay in bed and get some work done, which of course turned into sleeping until 9:30pm in my cozy room.
When I woke up it was full-blown raining out, too much for my butt to take-on in my physical state…so I stayed at the hotel and had a small dinner of lentil soup, crispy tortillas with delicious avocado spread, and more of that Coca tea (I’m hoping third cup’s a charm). The small restaurant at the Ninos hotel (at Meloc location – they have two diff locations and I don’t know if the other is the same) is beyond charming and romantic. They had the fireplace burning, some Brazilian jazz playing (anyone who knows me knows that’s my weakness), and glass window views of the outside street being drenched in rain - a great combo when you’re alone and not feeling well :(
But tomorrow is a fresh start, and I plan on getting a lot of sleep tonight in order to make up for my lost day in Cusco tomorrow. Night night <3
Peru - First stop, Cusco!
After an 8 hour flight from LAX, a midnight to 5am layover (attempting to sleep) at the Lima airport, and a short plane ride later, I arrived bright and 6am-early in Cusco. This southeastern Peruvian city is near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range, making for some beautiful scenery so far (from what I could tell during my 10 minute taxi ride), and of course some slight altitude sickness.
It’s the closest airport city that accesses the famed 15th century Inca World Heritage site, Machu Picchu - the #1 tourist attraction in the country. Tourists usually reach the historical site one of two ways: hike to it via the Inca trail (with guided routes ranging from 2-4 days) or take a train (ranging from budget to luxury accommodations).
I’ve opted to take the approximate 4-hour train ride to and from Aguas Calientas (the small town at the foot of the valley next to Machu Picchu). Don’t’ judge my shortcut choice or think I’m being a sissy bit*h, I’m a solo traveler and on a time crunch. Hiring a private trail guide was over $700 for the shorter Inca trail options and I didn’t really want to try and crash anyone else’s group trip, so train for me it will be.
But I don’t depart for MP until Sunday morning, I’ve heard and read too many good things about the city of Cusco to one night stand her. So I’ll be spending a couple days exploring, shopping, eating, and Instagraming my way through this city first. For my first Peruvian experience I downed a traditional cup of Coca tea upon check-in. I’m told it helps with altitude sickness, which didn’t take long for me to feel at this city’s approximate 11,000 ft elevation.
I’m staying at a place called Ninos Hotel y Hacienda for a total of 4 nights, with two days allocated for Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu in the middle. I wanted something small and quaint for my time in Cusco, and of course affordable on my solo traveler budget. Thanks to trusty Tripadvisor I stumbled upon Ninos Hotel after looking at about 20 different hostels and at least a dozen hotels (I couldn’t believe how pricey some were)! It fit the bill of the look and feel I was hoping for, within a reasonable budget for a private room and bedroom (I have trouble sleeping so I always opt for my own room when possible).
And if it’s charm wasn’t enough, the story behind it sealed the deal…All proceeds from Ninos Hotels and Hacienda, including their restaurants, go to the Ninos Unidos Peruanos Foundation – a program that helps provide 2 healthy meals a day, educational assistance, and social skills to over 600 local children. Each day at 5pm hotel and hacienda guests, whose financial support helps to make the program possible, have to option to go see the foundation’s work first hand.
It’s a beautiful place to stay with a beautiful purpose behind it. I am happy to spend my hard earned travel funds here and any place like it <3
Camping with elephants <3
Yesterday was nothing short of amazing… but what else would camping with elephants be?
The other volunteers, project coordinators, mahouts, a handful of elephants, and little ol’ me trekked our way to the campsite Friday morning. It was set alongside a small river bed, with enough space for the elephants to be secured (with plenty of room to graze and roam) and us humans to open up shop.
It was two days of cooking, tent pitching, campfire building, campfire drinking, and game playing.
It was pretty damn epic.
God Made Dirt & Dirt Don’t Hurt
It seems like just yesterday that I arrived to The Surin Project… and now here I’m feeling like a professional elephant poo cleaner-uper & bucket shower pro. I’m even willing to admit I’m gonna miss the rugged factor of volunteer life when it’s time to leave. There’s something liberating about surrendering to the hairy legs, dirty feet, no point in covering up pimples because you’re just going to sweat & have dust kicked in your face all day ways of life.
On that note being covered head-to-toe in mud today was insanely fun.
I wasn’t sure that I believed Wills (one of the project coordinators) when he said working in the garden was one of the most fun jobs at the project…. surly he was just trying to rally a group of us. While I’d still classify it as one of the more tiring tasks here (a lot of digging was involved) he was right. It was a damn good time once the watering of the plants commenced. We had to walk around barefoot in the muddy sludge building mini dams with globs of mud to ensure water was flowing properly… And at some point during our agricultural training lesson a mud fight went down.
Later on the day (after a luxurious bucket shower) a few of us headed out with the mahouts to help cut and collect firewood for the camping excursion Friday night. It was actually my first time ever cutting down a tree… and man that ish was a lot of work (don’t worry my fellow tree huggers these bad boys get replanted).
And just when I thought I could stay semi-uncovered in dirt & grime one of the mahouts thought it would be funny cover us with soot…. ha. ha.
Bucket shower #2 has my name all over it.