Cuzco – Peru


After the Nazca Lines flight, we decided to start driving towards Cuzco right away. Maybe it wasn’t the best decision we ever made. No nothing bad happened, but driving on a mountain road after that vomit inducing flight…well, it didn’t help. And since i had to drive i couldn’t take Dramamine (it makes you extremely sleepy). So while i held back whatever food was in my stomach and drove, Hyein, under the influence of Dramamine, passed out.

That’s good, at least she wouldn’t see me gagging for the next few hours. To tell you the truth, even while going to sleep that evening…i still felt sick. If any of you remember the “helicopter” feeling from having a few too many drinks…well this was similar, but without a single drop of alcohol!

We did the drive to Cusco in two days. Actually, the distances between points of interest in Peru such as Lima, Nazca and Cuzco are quite large. From Nazca to Cuzco according to google maps is 408 miles and you are supposed to get there in 10 hours and 1 minute.

Google…you are wrong!

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It took 2 days of driving at an average speed of 25 miles an hour. But we got to see the altiplanos and their native inhabitants. These high plains are home to herds of “wild” llamas. Since they are tagged, i assume they belong to someone, but not a herder in sight.

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From what we learned later, if the herder is nearby the llamas feel secure and will actually interact with you.
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So, whenever we wanted to come closer to them, they would just scamper away. If i saw a hooman running with their arms wide open, i would also turn and run 🙂

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Ever since we got the stickers on our car, we have started taking more pictures of it. Notice how the car is a bit tilted towards the back? Yeah, thats the weight of the drawers, water and extra gas. The car doesn’t feel sluggish, but you can definitely see it is loaded.

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Thats me, looking at the car and trying to redesign the car in my head to reduce the weight. Is the rear bumper necessary? Where would we carry the 2nd spare tire? Could I have made the drawers from a different material (currently plywood) to make them lighter? Do you need sliders (very heavy)? These thoughts are constantly running through my head, sometimes i can’t fall asleep at night, thinking how i would change it for version 2. Everything comes down to weight. Gas consumption – weight. Ground clearance – weight. Wear and tear – weight. So the next design has to be centered around the idea of cutting weight.

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Maybe this guy has the right answer? Get rid of everything all together? But then this just becomes a 6 wheeled, ladder frame motorcycle.

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We got to Cuzco when it was already getting dark and like in a lot cities the outskirts are not the nicest part of the city. My first impression was not the best, I was exhausted from driving, the trashy slumps at the entrance with never ending pot holes and road works, made us circle back and forth for an hour. But finally we managed to find our hostel, parked, got a room for $20 with a bathroom and went to the center in search of food. Since I haven’t researched Peru that much, I didn’t know what i would see in Cusco. I knew Hyein was excited, but to me it was just another city.

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We needed a place with parking for our car, so the hostel was a 10 minute walk away from the center. I was very pleasantly surprised by the city. When we got to the main square, Plaza de Armas, my worries faded. This is going to be a fun town.

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The main plaza is one of the largest we have seen, second only to Mexico City’s. There are the usual churches, cathedrals, shops and restaurants. But everything is clean, well lit and pleasant. We walked around, admiring the site. With the full moon the nearby mountains are illuminated in the background even at night. After we got bored with staring at buildings, we tried to find some food. Walked around from one restaurant to the next, nothing was pleasing to the eye or nose.

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Until we happened to come across a Korean, yes you read that right – KOREAN restaurant. I’m not sure if i have written about this before, but shorty after we left Hyein’s kimchi withdrawals started. This stuff is no joke, once in a while she would exhale with a moan and then pronounce with exasperation the name of a korean food.

“aaaaaah – kimchi jige! aaaaah – bibimbap! aaaaaah – sundubu jige! aaaaaah – kalbi!….”

Whenever we would have internet good enough for video, she would end up watching hours of korean cooking/eat shows. And every few minutes would nudge me on the shoulder, show the same guy eating yet another delicious korean food. I honestly, didn’t know what to do. This was getting serious, some times to the point of tears.

You see, ever since she has been able to have solid food as a baby, up until the last few months – Hyein has always eaten kimchi. I’m starting to believe that the withdrawal symptoms are actually real, like coffee or cigarettes. Maybe this is a shot in the dark, but hear me out. Hyein has been having stomach issues ever since we left. Nothing major, just uncomfortable more than usual. Kimchi is a fermented food, so it has some live bacteria – soooooo, could these bacteria be helping her digestion? And suddenly we stop the supply and her digestion is off balance?

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Either way we found our crack dealer. This night we gonna get high on kimchi and soju. Hyein was so excited to find this place, that she jumped around outside for 5 minutes. Literally, jumped up and down, woooohoooing the whole time. The 10 minutes that we had to wait for a table probably seemed like an eternity to her.

Her eyes were darting from place to place, talking a mile a minute, couldn’t sit still. This kimchi stuff is a real drug i say.

Finally managed to get seated, i look around and what do i see?

Jesus, I’m in Peru in a korean restaurant and i’m the only non korean here. How do they all find this place, is it all over the korean travels site about Peru?

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I have to admit, that if not for my headache at the time, i would have been jumping and wooohooing as well. I was pretty stoked to have some delicious korean food.

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Duenjang jige and seasoned spicy pork with the usual assortment of side dishes and rice. My mouth is watering as i write this. I personally finished every single thing that was served to us, down to the last grain of rice.

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Did i mention this place is popular with koreans? It’s so popular in fact, that if by the closing time of 9pm you don’t get a table, you will not be served.

This girl walked into the packed restaurant, was told the hard truth and turned around to leave. Since we had room at our table and Hyein couldn’t deny a fellow korean a chance at some kimchi, we made a friend – meet Eunmi.

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We started talking over dinner and decided to go have a few more drinks. Luckily, it was a Saturday night and the whole center was partying.

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The bar we ended up at had Jenga with homemade pieces. After a few drinks, we made up our own rules and punishments for the losers of the game.

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Eunmi was the first one to lose and had to go add a random guy to her Facebook. This only took her a minute…honestly, girls can do whatever they want 🙁

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Im not sure if these are the official rules, but we decided that once you take a piece out that you have to put it on top of the tower, making this much harder game. For the next round, the stakes went up – this time it has to be a photo with a random person.

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Eunmi, unfortunately, had to do the second punishment as well. Up next – a hug with a random person. Being sufficiently tipsy and not ready to lose, it was time to get serious. I can do this, i’m an engineer!

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No…no, i can’t. I failed and had to go outside to find my hugging victim. You can’t just run up to a person and hug them…that would be weird.

So, i had to first explain why i was going to hug this poor girl….in spanish…after a while i reserved to body language, which further confused her. I think at some point she started to pity me and gave me a hug. Whatever….a hug is a hug. Look below, that’s me in the white pants, trying to explain to the girl why i need to hug her.

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The punishments or dares, got progressively more extravagant with more alcohol we consumed. And at some point the stakes were so high, that we all decided to quit the game and go dance in the nearby club. We stayed in the historic part of Cusco, which doesn’t represent the local population very well. The historic center is filled with colonial architecture, restaurants, hostels, tour agencies and a million tourists from all over the world.

So…the club was packed with the same type of crowd, except they were more cheerful and more drunk than during the day. People were dancing to some terrible live music, even a group of “shy” koreans let their hair down and got down to dancing.

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Hyein did not need an excuse to dance.

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Can you believe that a bottle of water and a bottle of beer were the same price? No? Well, almost the same price. I just wanted a bit more beer.

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There is a lot more blurry photos from that night. Thats probably because we had a good time 🙂

And thats only our first night in Cusco!

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In the morning we walked back to the historic center. Some of the little streets in the center are so narrow that you have to stand on the narrowest sidewalk in the world in order not to get run over by a passing car. Its so small that you have to stand sideways, and if you had one to many to drink… you might not even be able to walk on it without falling.

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Back in the Plaza de Armas. Looks even better during the day. The surrounding hills are a beautiful green color, mixed with the red of the tiled roofs.

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We are back with more cathedrals. Notice the two flags, one is the national flag and the other one is of the city. This is one HAPPY city 🙂

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Panomaric view of the square.

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Hey, thats us 🙂

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The historic center is filled with colonial style buildings…the sad part is that the Spanish did not build this city from the ground up. Cuzco has been around since the 900’s, even before the Inca’s. When the Spanish arrived here, they saw a fully developed city, with large buildings, temples, etc. They destroyed the temples and used the stones and walls to make their own buildings. Thats kinda fucked up. If you remember,Hagia Sophia, went from one religion to the next, but it was kept intact. Why couldn’t this happen here too?

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Im assuming this is a city gate and wall.

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And right next to the wall…a local food festival. You see those guys at the bottom? The ones with their mouths open? Those are the guinea pigs, or cuy, as their are known locally.

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Ouch…an up close and personal view of the cuy. Without their beautiful coat and deep fried, they kinda look like rats, right?

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Im not sure what this celebration was in honor of, maybe they dance here every Sunday. The city is such a tourist powerhouse, i can imagine the city mayor encouraging these dances every week.

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While Hyein was diligently documenting the local dances, i was picking out our lunch. We are effecient, we multitask.

Since cuy looked like a rat, we decided to go for some pork belly with spaghetti. Always a good choice!

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For 1 sol (peruvian money ~ 30 cents) you can get a cup of Chicha – slightly fermented fruit drink. I tried to figure out if Chicha has alcohol, but every time the vendors told me no. I must be confusing it with some other drink, because i swear i saw Anthony Bourdain get properly sauced on this stuff. But i’m sure he can find the “special” Chicha without even trying. I, on the other hand, did not find it so far.

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A short walk through those city gates in the above photo, and you find yourself in a local market. This is mostly a local food and clothing store. Haggling is generally encouraged and taken as a kind of sport here. Everyone participates, blows are thrown but in the end you shake hands and tell each other: “good game”.

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Ever since we entered Peru, Hyein has been mentioning that she must have a poncho. If she must have it then she must have it what else can i say?

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Anyway, we found the poncho. Tried it on….and no go. Its good for modeling or just sitting there. But if you are doing anything, then no good. Instead we decided on a more functional piece of clothing – a scarf. Look, you can use it as a blanket to cover your hair.

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Or you can pretend you are from the middle east and cover your hair AND your face. Later on I learned that you can also use it as a skirt, a towel, a dress…endless variations.

We also scored some hoodies for a low, low price of 25 soles per hoodie.

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This is the Inca wall – so the Spanish didn’t destroy everything. The wall was left intact and they just built a different building using the wall.

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Hidden away in a little courtyard next to the Inca wall, we happened to see some llamas and alpacas with their owner. You could come and pet the animals, take pictures all for a small donation. The lady (owner) also provided some pop corn that you could feed to the llamas.

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If you run out of pop corn there is always some fresh grass on the ground that you can try to feed them.

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While everyone was off trying to feed all the llamas wandering around, there was one guy lying down, with the dirtiest coat. But for some reason he seemed the coolest to me, he just needed some sunglasses for people to see how awesome he was.

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A few scoops of pop-corn and it was all smiles.

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“What up dude!”

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Hyein also trying to make friends, but with less success. She told me this a few weeks later, but she learned how to interact with animals this day.

Apparently, i told her that you need to actually show love for the animal with your thought, your touch and your words.

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Probably my favorite photo of the trip.

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After i put on the sunglasses this little guy became the center of all the attention.

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But we were friends before he was popular!

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On a side note – did you know that llamas and alpacas are very “clean” animals? They pick a single spot in the grass to use as a toilet and ONLY go there to relieve themselves.

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I didn’t know this at a time but this is Hyein, trying out my “sage” advice.

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Holy…….SHIT. It actually works! A really touching moment. This trip has been a learning experience for both of us. We learn about each other and about ourselves. Hyein has overcome her fear of bugs to some extent, managed to find a way to control dogs, cows and now alpacas and llamas. I think when we come back she will be one with nature, like a disney princess.

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We walked out of the courtyard and saw the cutest little baby sheep…look at that cute little hat. Before taking the photo I told them that I only had a single sol. Which was true…we were very low on cash. Once we took the photo, i gave the 1 sol to the lady on the right. She took it and quickly walked to the other side of the street and sat down. The other lady demanded money…she saw me give the money to the other lady and wanted the same. I told her they could share, she said they dont know each other. Hm….so why are you sitting together? We didn’t have any more money so we said our goodbye’s.

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Refillled on cash and headed for dinner. Hyein managed to talk the guy into giving us free drinks and some side dishes with our main course, man, she is getting good at this bargaining business.

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Our dinner for the night: pisco sours (above), alpaca steak (below) and cuy (very bottom).

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Alpaca – very similar to beef in taste, but with an additional hint of something else. I’m not sure, but that extra flavor reminded me of liver or kidneys. Very nice texture, very juice – definitely would eat again given another chance.

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So this guy still looks like a rat, but we decided that we will finally try it. The meat itself is very tender, much redder than chicken, but tastes quite similar. The skin is chewy and has a bit of gelatinous texture, not the most enjoyable part of the animal.

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Aah, the local brew – Cusquena. Nothing special, just a light beer. Keeping up with tradition of taking local beer photos.

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Lets do a quick summary for Cuzco:

  1. Very nice historic city center
  2. Would visit this city even if it wasn’t for nearby Machu Picchu
  3. Good food and fun place to party

The only thing that ruined it a bit for me, was when you walked anywhere in the center, you would get bombarded with a million propositions for tours, food, drinks, drugs, massages and local clothes. At some point you just start plain ignoring people. Otherwise, definitely should come and visit.

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