Exploring (and being locked out of) Cusco

Our view cruising over the Andes in our final descent into Cusco
Our view cruising over the Andes in our final descent into Cusco

After 4 sleepless hours in the Lima airport and a super early flight to Cusco, we finally landed in our final destination at 7:15am.  First order of business: get to the hotel for a shower and real bed.  After nearly another disaster situation with our taxi driver, who tried dropping us off at a Kokopelli store instead of Kurkurpata Street, we got dropped off at the bottom of a hill at Plazoleta de San Blas since our hotel wasn’t accessible by car.  Unfortunately, our room wasn’t ready that early, so instead they invited us to their outdoor terrace for some coca tea, an herbal remedy serving to help with digestion and altitude sickness based on the same plant used for cocaine.  Our room still wasn’t ready after we were done, so we ended up going into town to explore…

Plazoleta San Blas, the little square right before the slew of stairs to our hotel
Plazoleta San Blas, the little square right before the slew of stairs to our hotel
Well, this view made our climb uphill worth it!
Well, this view made our climb uphill worth it!
Our terrace at our hotel gave us a 360 birds eye view of the city
Our terrace at our hotel gave us a 360 birds eye view of the city

The reason our hotel had such a nice view of the city was that we were situated high, way up high atop a hill in the San Blas neighborhood.  This meant a steep uphill climb from the Plaza de Armas, the main square, followed by more steps up a pedestrian alley to our hotel.  While this normally could be somewhat comparable to our 4th floor walkup, this was a whole new ballgame with Cusco situated 2600 meters (8500 ft) above sea level, which left us gasping for air with every step.  Thankfully, the downhill trek to the Plaza was much easier!  By 10am, the square was bustling, with oratories, performances, and parades lining the giant basilica and adjacent cathedral.  We found a spot overlooking the Plaza called Cappuccino Cafe, where we enjoyed a small breakfast of a tamale, almond tea, and orange juice while people-watching over the square.  By the time we were done, it was certainly time to check in, and time for a much needed nap.

It took some serious skills for drivers to turn and navigate down these narrow alleyways
It took some serious skills for drivers to turn and navigate down these narrow alleyways
Some of the Inca Walls that remain intact, 600 years later...
Some of the Inca Walls that remain intact, 600 years later…
These Cusquena women look sweet but man are they aggressive!  I got cornered into taking a pic with them and their little sheep (see, how can you say no) and promptly got charged for it
These Cusquena women look sweet but man are they aggressive! I got cornered into taking a pic with them and their little sheep (see, how can you say no) and promptly got charged for it
Plaza de Armas, the main square in Cusco
Plaza de Armas, the main square in Cusco
Little cusqueno children getting ready for a parade
Little cusqueno children getting ready for a parade
Waiting for her turn in the parade
Traditional Peruvian outfits

A few hours later, once we were better rested, we wandered out to Chicha, a swanky restaurant south of the Plaza de Armas.  This was one of the many restaurants owned by Peruvian restauranteur and TV personality Gaston Acurio, and I believe his only one in Cusco.  As our first real dining experience in Peru, it certainly wowed, with creative uses of local ingredients in a fusion of Asian and Latin cuisine.  We quickly learned that Peruvians love the fruits of “pachamama” (mother earth), such as their many varieties of corn and potatoes, as well as every kind of meat and fish you can imagine.  After lunch, we did a little wandering to get our bearings straight, stopping by Plaza San Francisco for a more local feel, San Pedro Market (mayhem of stalls selling food and wares also with a local feel), Avenida Sol to see the Qoricancha (already closed for the day so we’ll be back tomorrow), and just zigzagging through random small streets.  Being that it was technically winter, the sun set much earlier in the afternoon and the temperature dropped suddenly so we decided to duck inside a “spa” for a Peruvian massage.  The good news – it was only $7; however, the massages were super weak and the “spa” was definitely lacking in any sense of a relaxing ambience.

Some exotic and delicious homemade potato chips courtesy of Chicha
Some exotic and delicious homemade potato chips courtesy of Chicha
Papas y Cremas, our appetizer featuring an assortment of Peruvian potatoes cooked in different styles YUM
Papas y Cremas, our appetizer featuring potato ridiculousness (YUM)
Aji de Gallina, a traditional chicken dish served in a spicy creamy nutty sauce
Aji de Gallina, a traditional chicken dish served in a spicy creamy nutty sauce
La Gran Panchamanca - aka big daddy of meals - chicken, pork, lamb, potatoes, beans, creamed corn, grilled cheese roasted in a wood cooker
La Gran Panchamanca – aka big daddy of meals – chicken, pork, lamb, potatoes, beans, corn, and grilled cheese roasted in a wood cooker
The largest corn I have ever seen, in San Pedro Market
The largest corn I have ever seen, in San Pedro Market
Market madness at San Pedro Market, a locals market
Market madness at San Pedro Market, a market catering to locals
Narrow alleyway behind the Qoricancha
Narrow alleyway behind the Qoricancha with more Inca walls

Dinner was at a place nearby called Uchu, known for its style of serving meat on volcanic rocks heated up to 500 degrees.  The bruschetta starter we shared was fantastic, not to mention the steaks that were served sizzling and still cooking on these hot stones along with fun dipping sauces like homemade herb butter, huancatay dressing, and honey balsamic dressing.  For someone who always loves her food piping hot, this was a perfect situation.  We capped the night off with a drink at the Museo del Pisco, an interesting bar we came across earlier that featured a ton of different infusions of Peru’s national liquor, a great way to enjoy our first of many pisco sours.

The grand basilica light up at Plaza de Armas
The grand basilica lit up at Plaza de Armas
Amazing (and creative!) bruschetta from Uchu: made with caramelized tomatoes, smoked bacon, tamarind, and aguaymanto (a local Peruvian berry)
Amazing (and creative!) bruschetta from Uchu: made with caramelized tomatoes, smoked bacon, tamarind, and aguaymanto (a local Peruvian berry)
Beef Anticuchos, aka Peruvian kebabs...grilled on a volcanic stone with hot chili peanut mashed potatoes
Beef Anticuchos, aka Peruvian kebabs…marinated in chilis/corn beer/black beer/cumin/garlic cream, and grilled on a volcanic stone served alongside hot chili peanut mashed potatoes
First pisco sour of many to come!
First pisco sour of many to come!

We were talking earlier about how much we were looking forward to a bed and a full night’s sleep for the first time in 2 nights.  However, Peru had different plans for us.  By the time we got back to the hotel, it was around 11:45pm and the front door was locked.  Strange, because the hotel was supposed to have a 24 hour reception.  After buzzing repeatedly with no luck, we looked through the peephole to find that no one was at the front desk!  We tried several more times, circled the establishment to see if there was another way in, considered climbing neighbors’ roofs (thank goodness we did NOT do this), called the front desk and buzzed some more, to the point where we woke up another guest who was not very happy with us.  While Doug was trying to sweet talk her into letting us in (only to be met with an angry response, “you guys are crazy, I can’t let you in”), I was on the phone with Booking.com trying to resolve the situation, also to no avail.  Finally, after an hour of our fruitless attempts, we resignedly walked to try to find another hotel.  The Cusco Marriott was our saving grace – somehow after we explained the situation to them, they tried calling yet again and this time got through to someone!  Apparently the guest we awakened went looking for a staff member, and found someone asleep in the kitchen who would later man the desk when we came back.  We later found that the woman originally on duty had to go to the hospital unexpectedly, and I’m not sure if the sleeping man knew he was supposed to work or not, but thankfully upon my complaint to the owner the next morning, we were comped the first 2 nights, as well as being credited the $45 I spent calling Booking.com against our 3rd and final night.  So not ideal, but it all ended up (somewhat) working out.

Our 2-level room at La Morada Suites...ahhhhh...bed...finally...
Our 2-level room at La Morada Suites…ahhhhh…bed…finally…

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