We surfed in Miraflores, dune-boarded in Huachachinea, White water rafted in Arequipa and climbed in Cusco and after all the adventures, Cusco came calling and we had intended to use this as our base for the projected highlight of the trip: The journey to Machu Picchu.
Every single tourist loves Cusco. This city has a heartbeat of its own and is truly lovely. Tiny streets branch out from the Spanish colonial Plaza in dizzy directions, with the locals painting their little houses and streets in all colours. Our hostel was based in San Blas, and just like Gozo’s namesake this little area was just perfect. Located on a low hill, San Blas had commanding views of the city underneath it and a hike around the area can give you perfect viewpoints as we discovered while sneaking past the security guard of the park.
Due to the massive amount of tourism, Cusco has in someways sadly sold its sole, and everything has a price. virtually all the locals work in tourism, selling all sorts of tours to different areas and regions. Little tourist traps are all too common here, but with tourism this rich, it’s easy to see why and in someway, very understandable.
Digging our heels in, we always bought food from the local market and often cooked our own Peruvian meals. Cities in Peru have two markets, one for the locals, and one bigger one which attracts tourists. here you can buy your Inca outfit, your souvenirs and all the alpaca jumpers you ever need. Prices here are sometimes double those of the local market, but because it is more visible, the sheepy tourist will head there and will pay over the odds. The little commadors, off the beaten track, are an experience in themselves and probably the main attraction in Cusco.
Hearing the sizzling pans as ladies prepare for Sunday lunch in San Blas is magically relaxing.
Clinically white walls which cordon each little individual kitchen off each, house a mother and at times her baby. The market is organised with the purchasing goods packed in the middle, housing the chefs on the borders of the walls. Unlike any other market, I felt this was peaceful and the cooking instantly makes you feel happy and gives you a sense of homecoming. The smiling mothers have each made their little quarters their own, and each dish is seasoned with love, bursting with enough flavour to tempt you to try every dish possible.
Those white walls give the place a sense of order and you feel the locals do not mess about when it comes to their food. Each little tiny kitchen corner is fully equipped with a sink, oven hobs, the suez chef and her master chef. Twenty minutes before 12 I snuck my order in, before the massive onslaught began. As the minutes ticked by the intensity of the sizzles grew louder and a sense of urgency gripped the chefs. No sweat, no panic just faster chopping adding to the cocktail of wonderful sounds produced by the synchronised intense cooking.
Just imagine about 30 versions of your grandmother’s cooking together each with their own old pots bubbling away enhancing the amazing sensual experience.
As we moved closer to midday, scores of little Peruvian kids poured in, hungry after school and each was served with what could be the healthiest school lunch possible. Having a market near the schools can give the children all the substances they need to grow and improve their concentration levels at school. With parents working day jobs each knows their sons and daughters are well fed and returned to school with not only a full belly but wide grins.
And the food I mentioned earlier? The starter: an amazing thick maize soup which fills the pallet well, leaving you totally enriched.The main: a little plate crammed with a cocktail of fresh vegetables hugging a piece of fried chicken, dusted with spices and rich flavours. Finally, neighbouring chef Maria prepared a lovely succulent freshly squeezed juice to wash all the unique and fun flavours down.
With every passing moment, more surprises came as the class captain Diana served her mother’s food with pride to all the kids. At just 15 this student has already learned so much from her experience of the San Blas market, you get the feeling Diana will soon fill her mother’s large shoes in the commodor, ensuring health and happiness to the kids of Cusco.
Eating all this would be scary in Europe but when she asked for only 7 soles (1.89eu) I was shocked. Avocados and quinoa are also in abundance here and to us westerners, the prices come as a shock. Rather than forking over a ridiculous sum of money per avocado as we do in our supermarkets, each barely costs 20c here so we were quick to fill our boots.
This article is a continuation of Peru with no guide – Part 1
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