Greetings from Cusco, Peru. Keep in mind that I am at an internet cafe using hispanic hotmail. Spell check does not recognize English words, and the keyboard is slightly different. Things take twice as long. Patience, Kathleen. I am with my mom, Lucy, on the first leg of this journey.
She is in the hotel room with altitude sickness. Hopefully she will be acclimated tomorrow. We flew into Lima and arrived very late. We had a wake up call early (4:30 AM….really early for this late sleeper!) and flew to Cusco. This is the largest city near the ancient ruins of Machu Piccu (pronounced MA-CHEW PEE-CHEW). We will be going there tomorrow.
Cusco is a beautiful Peruvian city nestled in the Andes Mountains. The population is about 300,000 people. The people are attractive, especially in personality. They are small in stature (even at 5´6´´ I stand out in a crowd) and dark skinned with an Inca look (a bit like the Mexican Aztecs). The altitude is somewhere around 11,500 feet. The natives offer a special coca tea (made from coca leaves) to visitors upon arrival. It is supposed to help with altitude sickness. Symptoms include headache, nausea, shortness of breath, racing heart, sinus problems. Not very pleasant for hiking in the mountains. I find the yellow tea very soothing. I have ordered it four times already. My mom finds the taste disgusting! Of course she is the one back at the room resting!
The country is a contrast of wealthy and poor, as you see in many South American countries. Peru is 92% catholic. The catholic homes have a cross on the roof with two bulls on either side. I am still trying to figure out the meaning of the bulls. (Click her for the answer!) We were in the country outside Cusco yesterday on a road back from some of the Inca ruins called Sacsayhuaman.
We were invited into a country home with a small cafe. Actually, the cafe only had cokes, water, coca tea and to our surprise, beer. Their home was a microbrewery. It was tea fermented from corn meal. I wanted to try some, but it was in a community glass for hundreds of visitors to taste. Talk about international germs! The home was very small with a dirt floor. It was made of straw and clay bricks. No electricity, only a very smokey oven for heat. Running water outside from a faucet, looked scary. They had several children out front on the street hustling tourists to take a picture with them in their traditional dress…for a small fee.
There are lots of stray dogs around. But here’s one for you….guinea pigs. Every home has several guinea pigs that live in the home. And not as pets. It is a Peruvian delicacy. They raise them and eat them on special occasions. Our tour guide told us this story…On his birthday each year he was able to pick out the guinea pig of his choice and his grandmother would twist it’s neck and boil it to get all the fur off. Then it was cooked in a clay pot all afternoon with wonderful Peruvian spices. And then a fancy dinner that night…head, bones, guts, claws and all. He told me to order it while I am in Peru. It is called ´´cuy´´. I can even pick out my own pig at the restaurant. I am not sure if I am that brave!! The cuy tradition.
My mom and I met a character named Miguel (Michael) in the post office while we were buying stamps. He told us a long story about how he lived in Hollywood years ago and was in several movies (his part always ended up on the cutting room floor). His cousin was one of John Wayne’s wives. He used to hang out with Dean Martin in his bar on Sunset Strip. He has too many correct facts to believe he is a phony. Then we saw him again this morning at the Plaza de Armas.
It is the main square in the city. Beautiful place. Two amazing cathedrals on 2 sides. The other sides have lovely stores, cafes, restaurants and hotels. Lots of red tile roofs and archways. The middle of the square has a fountain and some grassy areas with flowers. All with the Andes Mountains as a backdrop. There was a Sunday military festival going on. Miguel told us that they have one every Sunday. The Peruvian government does them in every city every Sunday.
The military is there to prove how strong they are so that Chile (to the south) and Equator (to the north) will not mess with them. Although there is no longer political unrest with either country they continue to do the rallies. It is a chance for people to dress us. School groups get a ´´forced´´ invitation to these events as they march in their catholic school uniforms. We just sat on a bench and watched the culture in amazement, feeling a million miles from home, as if in a dream.
Other notes: The kids hustle post cards and shoe shines (no Chicklets). Almost everyone knows a bit of English. I have walked around the streets in the daylight and at night alone and and have never felt unsafe. Although I am close to the equator, being in the mountains is chilly. 20 degrees celcius for a high, 8 degrees celcius for a low. (Highs in the 60´s, lows in the 40´s). No place has heat. We had 3 blankets last night and I woke up feeling mummified the blankets are so heavy! Well, these are my first impressions. I am glad I can keep in touch with the world this way. I will try to get a newsletter out every week or so. Whenever possible. I hope you are all well.