April 8, 2015 (Wednesday)
Our last day in Cuzco was a free day for John, Joy and me since we opted out of the additional tour. After a leisurely breakfast I intended to go back to my room to plan my day, but I had accidentally requested maid service. So instead I wandered up to the local market to research possible souvenirs and pick up some more bottles of water while they cleaned my room.
It makes sense to mention at this point that upon arrival in Cuzco the tour company gave each of us a handcrafted doll and a small handcrafted carrying bag (or as Joy aptly put it, a man purse) with our name, our guide’s name, and an emergency tour contact (Diego) pinned to it. I used the man bag when I went to Machu Picchu, so I could leave my backpack on the bus. It came in very handy throughout the trip, so much so that I had gotten into the habit of carrying it with me (slung over my shoulder) whenever I wandered about. In it I carried a bottle of water, a rain poncho (which came with the bag, but I didn’t need thanks to my newly purchased rain jacket), my tube of sunscreen, and some portable toilet paper purchase in the U.S.
Armed with my trusty man bag, my rain jacket and wide-brimmed hat I set off for Qorikancha, some Incan ruins which (according to Lonely Planet) form the base of the colonial (read: Spanish) church and convent of Santo Domingo. The ruins were about halfway between my hotel and the Plaza de Armas, where I planned to have lunch either at Jack’s Café (which the Lonely Planet reviewer claimed was the only place she was willing to stand in line for) or at Granja Heidi just up the street from Jack’s. Qorikancha is an architectural marvel. Its walls had once been lined with gold until Pizarro and the Spanish conquistadors looted the temple and melted down their booty. What remains is still fascinating, and there are lovely grounds upon which you can walk. When I arrived at Qorikancha, the streets had filled with demonstrators and the streets were lined with the Peruvian equivalent of our National Guard and the local police. They were not overtly threatening, but the guns and shields were disconcerting. While I wandered the ruins I stumbled across an exhibit of Salvador Dali’s series of paintings depicting the various circles of Hell, a subject right up his surrealist alley.
Next up was lunch at the Granja Heidi. Jack’s Café’s line was long (as predicted), but, unlike the Lonely Planet reviewer, I was unwilling to stand in line when a less crowded and just as appealing option waited just up the street. In addition to offering a la carte many restaurants also offer a fixed price menu. Granja Heidi had a fixed price lunch that included soup, vegetarian option for an appetizer and for the main course, and cheesecake for dessert – all for just under the equivalent of US$10. Worth a try, I thought. I went upstairs and was escorted to a table. There were a handful of patrons. It felt more like a coffee shop than restaurant. I ordered a cold ginger milk drink and the fixed price lunch. My waiter (who I believe was the owner, because he would sit and chat with other customers like old friends, then get up when more patrons arrived) pointed out that the lunch came with a drink and did I still want the milk drink. I asked to think about it, and he was amenable. He teased me good-naturedly when I used the word “chica” (girl) when I should have said “chicha” (a type of drink). I liked the place already. The soup was a very simple broth with vegetables and grains, the drink was refreshing and had little chunks of apple in it, the appetizer and main course (they came together, so I can’t be certain which was which) had vegetables, quinoa, tofu and other things I have forgotten, but all were delicious. Only the cheesecake was less than inspiring, but, for the price, perfectly acceptable. I declined the other drink, because I was stuffed to the proverbial gills. I headed back to my hotel to gird myself for the market and a little souvenir shopping.
Upon my arrival at the hotel, which was a leisurely 30-minute walk from the Granja Heidi, I realized I had left my man bag slung over my chair in the restaurant. So I hoofed it back, trusting in the goodness of man. As I walked it began to rain steadily. My trusty new rain jacket is the best travel purchase I made. (At this time our compatriots who had taken the optional tour were wet and cold on the grounds of the Sacsaywaman ruins.) I arrived at the Granja Heidi to the smiling proprietor who promptly returned by man bag. I thanked him profusely and called myself a stupid tourist in broken Spanish. He pointed out I was not so stupid since my bag still had the emergency contact information pinned to it. I found out later when Diego called my hotel room that the proprietor had called to let him (Diego) know I’d left the bag. At that moment I realized I loved the city of Cuzco and its people.
Our tour group of lucky number 13 agreed to meet for a dinner on our last night in Cuzco. John and Joy handled the arrangements. The 7 at our hotel met the 6 at the other hotel and commenced the long march to the restaurant Chicha, just west of the Plaza de Armas. The older Asian women struggled on the journey (it was uphill and longer than anticipated). Matters were not helped by Linda barreling ahead and expressing frustration at the pace of the 70+-year-old women (whom I thought were doing rather well). Did I mention that Linda was a headstrong, somewhat selfish Southern belle? Despite Linda’s annoying complaints we arrived for our reservation early. That’s not to say the Asian women don’t create frustrations of their own – a sometimes grating combination of language barrier and cultural pushiness. The 3 older Asian women gave our barely legal (and very patient) waiter no end of misery when placing their order. I hid behind my menu in embarrassment. The youngest of their group, Nancy (who, I was beginning to suspect, had a crush on me based on the amount of attention she paid to me) was more flexible in her culinary tastes and ordered what Bonnie ordered. She got a little drunk by evening’s end. I ordered a drink with pisco and lime in it and was initially distressed when it arrived pink. I was reminded by Debbie that Campari (another ingredient in my drink) gave it that color. It was quite delicious. I ordered the trout, which was spectacular, and saved room for dessert – a chocolate soufflé that took 18 minutes to prepare. It was worth the wait. Served with a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream, it was sin in a bowl. I persuaded a handful of our group to try some, but most was left for me to eat. And eat it I did. It would have been a sin to waste it. The 3 older Asian women and John and Joy had left before dessert arrived, so the rest of us stumbled downhill, tipsy and sated, to our respective hotels. However, that meant that once the upgraded group dropped off it was Nancy and I alone for the rest of the walk. Again, I got a vibe that Nancy might have an interest in me.
April 9, 2015 (Thursday)
Today we were to take a 10-hour bus tour to Puno. There were several stops along the way, but it was going to be a long haul nonetheless. We had to be checked out by 6:20 a.m., which meant a 4:30 a.m. wake up call in order to make breakfast by 5:15 a.m. and to finish packing. I arrived in the dining area, and only the 4 Asian women were there. I knew Joy thought 5:30 a.m. too early for breakfast and would not be there, but I felt certain John would make it up eventually. The restaurant was at the top of the hotel and offered a spectacular view of the city and surrounding mountains. I had finished most of my breakfast and was relaxing with a final cup of coffee. The 3 older Asian women got up and left, and Nancy walked over to my table bearing a cup of coffee with milk (just how I drink it). She asked to sit and of course I said yes, then she offered me the coffee she had brought over. I said it was early and she would probably need the coffee, to which she replied that she doesn’t drink coffee, only tea. Suspicions confirmed. Unfortunately the interest was not reciprocal. Nancy dressed young for her age and behaved somewhat immaturely. I had already been down that road and wanted to simply enjoy my vacation. Luckily John arrived at that moment, saving me from an awkward exchange.
Our comfortable group of 13 grew much larger as we merged into a larger tour bus with about 25 additional tourists for the drive to Puno. Our group was in the front of the bus – a plus – however, because I travelled alone I sat next to a very nice, quiet elderly gentleman with a cane who spoke no English. Having minimal human interaction during the drive eventually led to my lethargy. Our first stop was the church of San Pedro Apostol de Andahuaylillas. We were given a set amount of free time after the guided portion of the tour, and they were militant about it. Just to move stragglers along, the driver would start driving away at the appointed time, then wait as you rushed to the vehicle. It was unnerving but kept us on a tight schedule. Our next stop was a church in (I believe) Huaro, which had two striking paintings of the damned being devoured by serpents.
Next were the ruins at Raqchi. We were left to wander through the maze-like stonework after the guide finished his spiel. How apt that as I reached the far side of the ruins, the onset of Atahualpa’s Revenge made itself known. I walked quickly but carefully back to the plaza area (jostling seemed ill-advised) and was confronted by a brusque woman demanding 1 sole for admittance to the toilet. I absolutely forked it over (and even have a receipt to prove it). Crisis averted. Our next stop was the buffet lunch, which was not nearly as impressive as the one a couple days ago at Tunupa. Or maybe, thanks to gastric issues, I wasn’t all that receptive to eating. Anyway the next stop was La Raya Pass at an elevation of 4,338 meters or 14,232 feet. Between snapping pictures of the snow-capped peaks, several tour members took the opportunity to purchase wool sweaters and hats from the merchants at the pass.
Pukara was our next stop. There were several fascinating skull exhibits; however, I was soon preoccupied by the reemergence of Atahualpa’s Revenge and ducked into the nearest bathroom. To my (further) distress there was no toilet paper. But (thank you, Lonely Planet!) I was prepared with some of my own. Mission accomplished.
On the last leg of the trip we drove through Juliaca, which is over an hour outside of Puno, and the streets were flooded from the recent rains. It was slow going. Juliaca has nothing to recommend it but the airport we would be flying to Lima from in a couple of days. It’s like Fresno but without the personality. I hope the roads aren’t as treacherous on Saturday.
After checking in at the Qelqatani Hotel in Puno, John, Joy and I walked to Mojsa for dinner. The place was packed (a good sign) but they were able to seat us in the bar upstairs where a sweet, overwhelmed young bartender suddenly found himself serving food to lots of diners. By the time we left, the bar was full of dinner overflow. I had a pisco sour (natch!) and a delicious vegetable lasagna. John had the alpaca, which he said was the best he’d had on the trip. Back at the hotel I recharged my camera battery in anticipation of our boat tour of Islas Uros tomorrow on Lake Titicaca (pronounced properly as “Lake Titty-HaHa”).