If your headed to Peru to do Machu Picchu, the inca trail or Rainbow mountain, your more than likely to be headed to Cusco first. So a little tip: make sure you add on a few extra days to actually explore this wonderful city. It’s a vibrant and beautiful place and a must do for any backpacker visiting this part of the world.
I was Cusco bound on my 3rd day in Peru, of course I wouldn’t be arriving until the 4th (yup, I took the 22 hour bus, but more on that in a later blog post). Thanks to actually getting a few hours kip on the bus, I arrived in Cusco with a fair bit of energy and was keen to start exploring straight away.
Despite the drive in through some extremely poor and rundown areas, I was astonished at just how beautiful and clean the Centre of Cusco was. The Plaza De Armas is so pretty, with a huge fountain in the middle, surrounded by restaurants, cafes, small stalls, travel agents and the beautiful Cathedral (and a Starbucks, obvs).
Arriving at my hostel, Milhouse Hostel, I quickly connected to the wifi and received a message from Julia, a Brazilian girl I had met in Lima, saying she had just checked into Milhouse and did I want to meet up. Of course I did. Despite being tired and in need of a shower, I was too excited to start exploring the city of Cusco and learn about its history. Along with two lads we met from New Zealand – Richard & Lachlan – Julia and I spent the next two days learning about the history of the Inca’s and taking on the beautiful Architecture of Cusco. This city really is stunning; from huge monumental buildings to cute cobbled streets, it was all so rustic and colourful.
Filling the streets of Cusco are the locals, all trying to flog unnecessary things to Gringos (that’s us by the way, the bloody the foreigners!) from ridiculous tourist tat, to two for one massages, to incredible art work. Unfortunately one of the problems with being a backpacker, is the lack of space to pack souvenirs and gifts. With Cusco being only my second stop of many, I couldn’t possibly buy any of the stunning A3 drawings or thick snuggly llama wool blankets, so the words “no gracias” were constantly falling out my mouth every 30 seconds.
However, one thing that I was happy to pay for was pictures with the Llamas and Alpacas. Unfortunately I didn’t realise that it came at such a price…
On the first day, Julia and I bumped into a bunch of Peruvian ladies and children dressed in their traditional Peruvian clothing who were carrying Baby Alpaca’s. They asked if we wanted a photo and so we asked “Cuanto Cuesta?” (How much?) They told us it’s a voluntary tip. Happy to to tip, Julia and I took turns with our cameras to snap each other with the most adorable little Baby Alpaca. When it was my turn, I was so besotted with the beautiful little creature, I didn’t notice that another woman and a little girl all jumped in my photograph. To be honest, I hadn’t really wanted anyone to be in the photo apart from the Alpaca, it was just so cute! After a few clicks of my SLR, Julia handed me back my camera and I went to dig in my purse for a tip. As I did both women turned to me and demanded 10S each, as did the little girl. Then two children who hadn’t even been in the picture came running up, they also wanted 10S off me. Wtf? This was daylight robbery! It had practically gone from ‘tip Senora, tip’ to ‘give me all your money punk!’. They’re demanding 50S off me? And 50S off Julia? That’s £12 each! I know it may not seem like a lot, but I wouldn’t even pay that for a quick photo in England, not to mention £12 is nearly half of my daily budget. I refused, instead giving 10S to the lady whose Alpaca I cuddled, and 10S to the little girl, because, you know, you can’t exactly not give a kid money, even though she was the stroppiest kid I’ve ever met and looked at the 10S note in her hand like I’d just taken a big fat poo in it.
Julia and I quickly learnt that this particular family are actually giving the rest of the Alpaca families a bad name, as the following day we got more photos with fully grown alpacas and three Peruvian ladies who were very friendly and were happy for any tip to be popped into their bucket. We also found the secret Alpaca garden where Alpacas & Llamas roam freely, and the women who look after them give you plants to feed them and allow you to stay in the garden for as long as you want, again, for whatever tip you feel is fair. As we spent about half an hour here and got some fantastic videos, photos and GoPro footage, myself, Julia and the boys (now aptly named the Alpaca crew) were happy to pay much more as the owners were so lovely to us. Seriously, good customer service goes along way …. God, I’m so British aren’t I?
That night, the four of us went out to dinner. I had successfully talked the two Lads into eating Guinea Pig with me – Julia could not be convinced.
Now, before you go judging, I mentioned previously I wanted to eat strange things in strange places and that this trip was all about doing new and exciting things … even if those things involve eating something that was once living in my Garden as a family pet *gulp*
Guinea Pig, or Cuy as they call it in Peru, is a traditional and popular Peruvian dish, even the inca’s would eat wild Guinea Pig – they found a lot of Guinea Pig remains on Machu Picchu. So it was a must do whilst in Cusco, there is no way we could come to Peru and not try it (and this is what I told the boys when pressuring them into it so that I wouldn’t be the only one chewing on something I once used to cuddle and feed carrot to).
Julia’s arm still couldn’t be twisted as we arrived at La Chomba, a restaurant hidden away down a cobbled path and behind a courtyard. It had been recommend to us by a Peruvian guy. As we entered we found only locals there, we were the only backpackers – a good sign, I wanted nothing but tradition.
Julia safely ordered lamb, whilst the lads and I ordered two cuy to share between us, and a chicken dish … just as a backup.
After cracking open what can only be described as the biggest bottle of beer I’ve ever seen, our cuy quickly arrived.
It literally is a Guinea Pig, de-furred, cooked and crispy, lying on a plate with rice, veg, a baked potatoes, and with a square slice of rubbery cheese thrown on top, McDonalds style. Erm, okay then.
We all pondered over exactly how to tackle this meat. Is there a certain way of doing it? Legs first, then the body? Was there parts we shouldn’t eat? In the end, I just picked up my knife and fork and started carving at the Guinea Pigs torso, which was actually quite hard work. Despite the skin looking like that of tasty Peking duck, as I popped the first chunk into my mouth, I quickly remembered, duck it was not. In fact, I can’t even really describe the taste. “It’s like chicken” many had said, but that’s just a big fat lie. For starters the texture isn’t at all like chicken, and it’s saltier.
To be honest, I wasn’t repulsed by the taste but I wasn’t loving it and I kept looking over at Julia’s chunky piece of lamb with massive food envy. But I carried on, mixing my cuy with potatoes and rice. But during my fourth mouthful of Guinea Pig, I looked down and my eyes suddenly spotted the little tiny guinea Pig claws, then they darted to the face, and I noticed a huge giant tooth poking out its mouth. Images of my childhood Guinea Pig Olga, came flooding to my mind, and suddenly I not only felt an incredible amount of guilt, but quite disgusted too. I was eating Guinea Pig? Wtf? Whose disgusting idea was this??
I threw down my knife and fork and called it quits, as did the boys. I then washed away the taste with my Cusco beer and nibbled on some chicken and lamb to try and erase the very fresh memory of chewing on and swallowing an actual Guinea Pig *shudders*
And with that, after a long exhausting day of walking, exploring, Alpaca’ing and now Guinea Pig’ing, we all pottered back to the hostel for an early night.
Have you tried Guinea Pig?
Do you think you would if you visited Peru? I’d love to know in the comments below…
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