Day 11 — A Few More Hours Around Cusco

Monday — April 13

When we reached Plaza de Armas, we bid Vidal adios, wishing him luck getting out of Cusco tonight. He intends to catch the overnight bus and meet us in Puno for the Lake Titicaca portion of our itinerary. Whether he makes it there or not depends completely on the farmers’ strike, which may or may not continue overnight and into tomorrow. Keeping fingers crossed.

On our own again, we headed to Alpaca’s Best, where I had earlier spotted a tunic that was different from any other baby alpaca knits I’d already seen. It turns out that we had to go to their store on Plaza de las Nazarenas to get one in my size, but Mui managed to add to his wardrobe at the store on Plaza de Armas. True, purchases from boutiques are more expensive than market-bought products, however, the quality is considerably better. And, with Mui’s bargaining skills thrown into the mix, we got reasonable prices on both items.

Baby alpaca purchases to keep us warm next winter.

Shopping completed — for the time being — we returned to the Plaza de Armas to get a bite to eat. You guessed it; we went to Yaku Mama’s Grill. Before you ask the question. Yes, there are a lot of eateries in Cusco. Some on the Plaza; others on side streets. But we kept returning to Yaku Mama’s for two reasons: (1) the food was good and there was a lot of variety on the menu to keep things from getting boring; (2) the balcony was a perfect spot from which to do some people-watching and capture photos of the local color. In fact, thanks to reason #2, what should have been a quick lunch lasted over an hour. Management didn’t seem to mind, so as they say — when in Perú, do as the Peruanos do and take your time with meals.”

Schoolgirls collaborating on homework in the park.

Left: A local woman and her baby llama look for tourists willing to pay for a photo op.
Right: Roaming vendors offer everything from chullos, to gloves, to finger puppets.

Left: An ice cream vendor is popular no matter where in the world you go.
Right: Llama carrying locals are intriguing to domestic tourists too.

After lunch we headed back to Los Apus to pack for next day’s departure. On the way, we stopped at one of hundreds of stores in Cusco that sell tourist trinkets and picked up some hand-knit alpaca gloves and socks to give as gifts. The chief bargainer did a great job of making the buying-selling process a social event and was rewarded with a gift of finger puppets.

I’m ready for winter. Are you?
(yes, I bought a pair of gloves for myself too)

Mui models his finger puppets.

Shopping bags in hand, we made it back to Los Apus without cracking open our wallets again. Our plan was to reorganize our bags for the remainder of our trip and then walk up the hill to the overlook at the foot of Cristo Blanco for sunset views of the city. Mother Nature had something else in mind. We’d just locked the last bag when the heavens opened up in a huge downpour — the strongest one of our trip; and the longest one as well. By the time the deluge was over, it was obvious that there wasn’t going to be any sunset views to enjoy. So, we passed the next hour using the hotel’s internet connection to check email and send messages to friends and family.

We had no intention of spending our last evening in Cusco cooped up in our hotel room. As dinner time rolled around, we headed out to get a bite to eat. No, we didn’t go to Yaku Mama’s (wink). This time we went to the very “hip” Cicciolina. Though it was crowded and we didn’t have reservations, they were able to seat us in the bar. This turned out to be perfect for us as we were able to do quite a bit of people-watching and check out the action in the two open kitchens.

What's the atmosphere at Cicciolina’s like? I guess I’d categorize it as Italian with a Peruano twist; certainly the food fits that niche. Let me quote from a recent review published in the New York Times: “Upstairs in the same courtyard as the restaurant A Mi Manera is this delightfully chic restaurant, probably the hottest and most stylish in Cusco. The restaurant looks ripped from the Tuscan countryside. The long and often boisterous country-elegant bar is decorated with bunches of garlic, peppers, and fresh-cut flowers and is a great spot for one of the excellent cocktails (such as a maracuyá sour), or dinner itself, especially if you're in the mood for creative tapas (which are served only in the bar). The high-ceilinged dining room at the back, one of the few places in Cusco for true fine dining, features high-backed chairs, deep-red walls, contemporary art, and large antique mirrors. …”

Mui’s solution for photographing us at Cicciolina.

We ordered off the tapas menu instead of the regular one, getting to taste a little bit of a couple of different dishes. All of our selections were great and not a crumb was left on the plate: hummus with grilled eggplant and zucchini; calamari with a sweet chili cream; crunchy prawns and sweet potato with wasabi mayo; prawns coated with red, black, and white quinoa.

Excellent tapas choices.
(plate on the left has the quinoa-coated prawns; everything else we ordered is on the other plate)

Another advantage of taking the tapas route — we had plenty of room left to enjoy a decadent white chocolate mousse served on a soft, whiskey-drenched brownie, and drizzled with a warm butterscotch sauce. Doesn’t that sound simply heavenly? We can assure you that it was (will admit I didn’t care for the mint jelly that accompanied the dessert).

Not only tasty, but also a work of art.

A great meal; a great way to conclude this portion of our visit to Perú.

Next Up: Day 12 — Off to the Altiplano

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