Katie and I had blocked off Wednesday as a day to explore Cusco and relax before going to Aguas Calientes to hike Machu Picchu. We had intended to sleep in but both woke up around 7am. We went up to breakfast and were impressed by the expansive views available from the restaurant (Siete y Siete) as well as the extensive breakfast spread available to us (including in the $79 per night room cost). There was bread, fruit, cereal, avocado, pancakes, and they offered to make egg scrambles with bacon and veggies. We enjoyed a large breakfast and then hit the road to see more of the town.
First stop – Qorikancha, a temple to the sun god, Inti. The name is Quechuan for “court of gold”, though we didn’t see any gold because it is believed that the Spaniards stripped all the gold before building their church of Santo Domingo on the same site. There was an abundance of blooming flowers in and around the Qorikancha courtyard and there was plenty of interesting history and architecture to admire at this site.
We moved on to the Centro de textiles tradicionales where we saw traditional Andean mountain women weaving intricate textiles in the back of the shop. There are plenty of goods for sale here and they are top quality compared to what is seen in the markets. They also have a museum type room reviewing the history of the looms and the art of these textiles. I would recommend spending a small amount of time here to gain a deeper appreciation for what goes into these quality products.
After the textile center we decided to check out the large Mercado central de San Pedro, this market was HUGE. They had everything you could possibly need – hand crafted souvenirs, fresh squeezed juice, prepared foods, raw meats and fish, spices, sweaters, jewelry, etc. There were locals here getting cooking essentials, tourists purchasing souvenirs, laborers grabbing lunch, just a really great hustle and bustle to encounter. It was very crowded and impossible for me and Katie to enjoy it without losing each other; so we set a meeting time and location then went our separate ways. We spent about 1 hour, met back up and decided we both needed another 45 minutes. After we had hunted down some perfect gifts for family and friends we got out of the market, the mixed scent of raw foods and spices became overwhelming and quite nauseating by the end of our time there so we were both happy to leave.
Katie was craving some ice cream she had read about on TripAdvisor, El Hada, the one we had unsuccessfully tried to find on our first night in Cusco, so we set out in search of it again. When we got to the listed address it was a new French bakery – El Hada had closed down.
Katie was super bummed, but we decided to go to the Museo del Pisco to learn how to make pisco sours. A friend had recommended we check out the museo and request to go behind the bar and make cocktails with the bartender. We ended up with the kindest, most patient bartender who spoke only minimal English, this added to the fun of the experience. He explained some history of pisco, which is actually made from grapes – just the fruit without the skins, and let us taste the difference between aromatic and non-aromatic varieties. Aromatic are more for sipping and tasting while non-aromatic, like the Quebranta variety we would use, were for mixing into pisco sours. He gave us the proportions – 3 and 1/2 oz. Pisco, 1 oz lime juice, 1 oz. simple syrup, 1 oz. egg whites, 4 ice cubes – and then SHAKE, SHAKE, SHAKE until the whole thing is white. You have to shake it REALLY hard to get the egg whites to froth up, my face turned really red from all the shaking. Then you add 3 drops of Angostura bitters on top after it’s poured into the cocktail glass. The bar was quite full so we had something of an audience watching us make fools of ourselves but that made it all the more fun and memorable 🙂 We had a lot of fun with this experience and would recommend it to anyone passing through Cusco.
Katie was still craving ice cream so we found an alternate location on TripAdvisor, La Esquina Cafe Heladeria which wasn’t far from our location. This was a really cute little cafe with super friendly staff, we tried at least 4 flavors each before making our selection. I ended up with the Lucuma flavor which is a local Peruvian fruit (the same flavor as the filling we had tasted at the churro shop in Lima). Even though it was a fruit flavor, it wasn’t like a sorbet, it was a creamy and delicious ice cream, again like a spiced vanilla pudding I think. I requested the single scoop and it was a very big single scoop, too much to finish. Katie got the Lucuma and the other local fruit flavor Aguaymanto (gooseberry), she approved of this ice cream shop even though it wasn’t the initial one she had selected. As we were leaving, a local woman sat down across from us with her 3 children all enjoying their ice cream; we made what small talk we were capable of communicating in our broken Spanish before we left – it was a really pleasant and memorable experience.
We continued shopping through some little boutiques around town. We walked into an interesting looking shop off of an alleyway and, though we didn’t find anything we wanted inside, the back door was open to a square of other boutiques which didn’t appear to open to any main street. One jewelry shop in particular caught our interest, ESMA Joyas. This shop is a mother/daughter duo who designs their own jewelry, they were manning the shop this particular evening and were such a pleasure to chat with, they take tremendous pride in all of their jewelry. Every unique piece is logged into a notebook including a small drawing and verbal description of the piece along with the asking price, this seems a bit tedious, but makes it all the more special because you know that the individual piece is one of a kind. I found a pair of royal blue and copper earrings that were so unique, and at 88 soles I couldn’t say “no”. I also snagged a couple of simple stone dangle earrings for my sister and sister in law that I wish I’d also gotten for myself since they’re too cute and also my favorite color, blue. Katie fell in love with a ring at ESMA but was hesitant to splurge as we were only half way through the trip, 2 days later we would make a return trip to ESMA specifically for her to snag that beauty. I highly recommend passing through this unique shop if you have the chance.
We went back to our hotel to drop off our shopping loot and have a glass of our leftover Intipalka wine before heading to dinner. Shocking, I know, that we didn’t finish the bottle the previous night, but I have to remind you that we were still at 11,000 ft altitude and recuperating from our 2 day Rainbow trek. On our way out of the hotel we asked the front desk to book us a taxi to Ollantaytambo for 4AM the following morning, we had a train from Olly to Aguas Calientes at 6:45AM and then our Machu Picchu trek at 9AM. The desk attendant (I wish I knew her name because she was very helpful and essential to us) informed us that there was currently a strike going on, the roads were closed (blocked with rocks, logs and garbage by angry citizens) and that taxis could not pass between Cusco and Ollantaytambo, additionally no trains were running along this route either. She said she would see what she could do to prepare a ride for us and to give her 20 minutes to work it out. We were alarmed but didn’t fully appreciate what was going on.
We left for dinner and passed a small café where we decided to pop in and grab an empanada for breakfast in the morning (didn’t get the name of this cafe). The employee at the café was a sweet American woman from Pennsylvania, she had come to Peru as a social worker for a non-profit outside of Cusco. She stayed after her yearlong commitment because she had met a Peruvian guy, though the relationship had ended she was not sorry for the incredible journey she’d embarked on. We really enjoyed conversing with this woman and stayed at her shop for about 45 minutes chit-chatting before continuing on to dinner. She let us know that these strikes happen frequently because citizens feel that the government is taking all the tourism funds and leaving them impoverished despite their contributions and hard work. They block the road from Cusco to Ollantaytambo for 48 hours knowing that tourists fly into Cusco and have to pass through Olly to reach Aguas Calientes (where Machu Picchu is located), it should effectively inhibit our Machu Picchu plans for the following day 😦 . We were disappointed to hear this but still had hope in the hotel concierge who thought she could manage a ride for us.
We continued on our way to dinner at La Bodega 138 for some wood fired pizza. It was a Wednesday evening so we didn’t make a reservation at La Bodega. When we walked in, it was packed. The owner greeted us at the door and said he could seat us at the bar immediately if we didn’t mind, so we sat at the bar (otherwise it would be a 45 minute wait); we were pretty hungry since we had only opted for ice cream and pisco sours for lunch. We decided to split a salad and a pizza. They immediately brought out some bread with a white garlic sauce and a spicy marinara, we loved the sauces and requested more to go with our pizza since we got a no-sauce pie. I scooped that spicy marinara onto every bite I took and it was delicious! We also enjoyed the salad as any fresh veggies were welcomed on this trip since they were few and far between. We really enjoyed this dinner and our conversation with the owner who talked us about growing up in Cusco and his many visits to Machu Picchu. I recommend checking out this fun and tasty establishment.
We got back to the hotel around 10:30pm, a full 2 hours after we’d spoken to the concierge woman, her shift had ended and a very young looking, Spanish speaking male had come on duty. He found a note about our taxi and said we would need to leave at 3am and it would cost 150 soles (we had expected to leave at 4am and pay 60 soles), but the language barrier prohibited us from discussing the details of this discrepancy. We hesitantly agreed and said we’d see him in a few hours, at 3am. Then 5 minutes later we had a knock on the door of our hotel room, it was the concierge man with a note written in English that we should pay the 150 sole taxi bill right away. This was alarming because we weren’t certain of the taxi conditions or that we could safely pass to Ollantaytambo, but we decided to go ahead and pay the 150 soles to secure the ride. By this time it was after 11pm and we had to be ready to go at 3am so we got in bed, I went to sleep with a huge amount of concern that we would miss our Machu Picchu trek and that we could encounter unsafe conditions on the road. I slept uneasily until 2:30am when our alarms rang.