Thursday, 13 December 2012

Diez Soles Muchacho?

I'm now back in Chile after a whirlwind trip to Perú, where I visited the gastronomic capital of South America (allegedly) that is Lima, and the ancient Incan capital of Cusco. I spent over two days on buses, and a pleasant 8 hours on aircraft. I tried Cusqueño beer, Inka Cola, lomo saltado, peruvian pisco sour, guinea pig nuggets, alpaca meat, and lots of té manzanilla. So what's Perú like?

Cusco, where I spent most of my time, is a bizarre city in the central Andes. It's promoted by the Peruvians as a cultural and historical capital, chock a block with traditional Andean culture, ancient ruins and Incan history. This is sort of true, but it's also full of all the shops that pander to gringo needs: Irish pubs, international restaurants, and 5***** hotels. The whole "cultural journey" seems a bit silly when you're seeing it from the window of your pub quiz venue!

First it might be worth mentioning the insane journey I took to get here. Not insane as in 5 day truck ride through the Amazon, but insane as in 24 hours in bus-borne luxury.

The bus was run by Cruz del Sur, and I was going to ride in their first class service: cruzero suite. The crazyness started when I boarded from the VIP lounge onto the huge double decker to find my wide, reclining seat on the top floor. I was offered tea and coffee by the attendant, and we quickly got under way. We were shown a variety of decent films, and after a few hours the attendant then came round with our dinner. Unbelievably, it was hot, and significantly better than airline food: beef and potato stew with rice, a potato omlette, and cornet manjar to finish.

This was swiftly followed by a casual game of bingo (I was the only one who found this a bit weird) which I didn't win, then another film and finally bed. This all continued into the next afternoon when we arrived in Cusco. I would say though, however comfy the bus is, you're still spending 24 hours sat on a bus.

Back to topic - you can't really deny there is some amazing stuff in Cusco. The ruins of Sacsayhuaman and Qorikancha, both within the city limits, are breathtaking. Going some 30 minutes outside the city shows you how seriously poor peruvians live, many still holding on to the traditional ways of life. We did in fact drive through some of these villages on the bus, something that was strange to see from the tinted windows of my VIP ride.

Cusco also has a lot of conquistador history, where the invading Spanish tried to suppress the traditional ways in favour of their new European ideals. You can see how colonial buildings have been built on top of Inca foundations, and indigenous motifs have been absorbed into the new way of thinking: one of the most famous examples of this is a depiction of the last supper in Cusco's cathedral where the disciples are eating guinea pig.

Now heading back to Lima, the only site I really saw there of any importance was the Museo Larco, a huge collection (by Lima standards) of Peruvian artefacts, including some amazing pottery and jewellery. Sorry Martha, but it was actually quite interesting! The museum is really well done, with lots of information about the various artefacts of pre-Hispanic societies: quipus, human sacrifice, jewellery, and, Greg's favourite, hand axe thingys.

That evening I flew back to Santiago with TACA, after a slightly bizarre ride to the airport with an eccentric driver. Lima airport is big on security - only passengers are allowed into the terminal - and very modern and new. The country is clearly keen to shed the image of Shining Path that P&G probably still have in their minds. For me, they have!

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