Altitude – Cusco sits at approximately 11,000 feet above sea level. For anyone who has ever been with me to Mammoth you know how hard it is for me to breath at that height. Even with inhaler in hand and an oxygenated hotel room my lungs certainly got a workout hiking up and down the hills of the city of Cusco. Machu Picchu is actually slightly lower (9,000 feet) and with a slightly more mature crowd and 2 ½ hours of climbing there was a lot of huffing and puffing. Today I spent the day exploring Cusco and going up and down a lot of stairs like those in the picture above. I'd hustle to the top and find myself gasping for air with my heart pounding in my chest. Quite an experience!
Pisco – The Pisco sour is a typical beverage found in Peru made with Pisco, sugar syrup, lime juice, bitters and egg white foam. I’d tried this margarita-like drink in the US but had never had the liquor on its own. On our way back from Machu Picchu, my dad and I sidled up to the train bar and asked for a Pisco lesson. There are 5 varietals of Pisco, all made with distinct grapes and they range from sweet to aromatic. The grapes are harvested along the coast of Peru from Lima south towards the border and are treated similar to wine – crushed, barreled in aluminum, heated and then chilled and then only the middle portion (el cuerpo) is bottled as clarity and lack of impurities is what constitutes a quality Pisco. To me it tasted like a good white Tequila with a sharper edge; the illustrious Scandinavian Aquavit also came to mind when it hit the back of my throat.
Food – Usually I talk a lot more about our culinary experiences but until today we’ve been on a pretty generic food routine. Today I ate at Pacha Papa, a restaurant in the San Blas area of Cusco and ate two amazing Quechuan dishes – Roleto Relleno y Alpaca a la parilla. The first is a pepper grilled and filled with meat, corn and peas and topped with melted cheese; the second is marinated and grilled Alpaca meat. Both were succulent. Toasted corn kernels is a customary snack as well and quite tasty. Quinoa is also a prevalent component on the menu; we had cannelloni’s filled with spinach quinoa on the Hiram Bingham train returning from Machu Picchu.
Quechuan Women – Bouncy skirts, knee high socks, sweaters, colorful blankets tied to their backs, long dark hair braided down their backs, and a variety of hats resting atop their heads. Spanning all ages, these ladies walked the streets with their colorful blankets tied to their backs typically filled with small children, bringing images of Strega Nonna to my mind. Their hats were a curious adornment, ranging from Panama style caps to small bowler hats, hardly seeming to have any utilitarian purpose.
J.C. – Visiting another church in the Plaza de Armas this afternoon, I was reminded of another unique element we learned. In several of the churches in Cusco, the scene of the crucifixion was depicted with a very dark skinned Jesus. As I mentioned in my last post, the Incans were the primary artisans in the churches and the theory is they depicted Jesus in the image of an Incan - with dark black hair and dark skin.