Monday, June 12, 2017

Cuy in Cusco

We arrived in Cusco after dark and after splitting from one large group in a bus too large for the narrow Cusco streets to two smaller groups in two vans that were just the right size. Not being super hungry (the noon meal is the large one of the day in Peru), the husband and I settled for pizza and pisco sours in the hotel bar. A pisco sour is the national drink of Peru. Many restaurants offered members of tour groups such as ours the choice of a free pisco sour or a free lemonade with the meal. They actually taste very similar; the pisco sour just has alcohol in it, about 45 percent according to one guide.

There were three sights or events planned for our one full day in Cusco--Coricancha and Santo Domingo, a Dominican church built atop the ruins of the Inca Templo del Sol, or Temple of the Sun; the Cusco Cathedral; and lunch with a Peruvian family. Since I've been asked more than once since we returned, did I partake of guinea pig, I'll cover the lunch first. We split into two groups, each meeting a different family. The family the husband and I visited was husband, wife and six kids ranging in age from 23 down to about 4. The eldest, a lawyer, spoke good English and served as the interpreter. She still lived with her family; moving into one's own place is typically not done until marriage.

Cuy, guinea pig, was served as part of the first course. Sheila (the tour director, who was with our group) had told us that we did not have to take any or we could take only one piece to try it. That's what I did. There actually wasn't that much meat on my piece, but it was enough to say that it did not have a distinctive taste. A friend had suggested that it might taste like rabbit. It may have, but since it's been decades since I ate rabbit, I couldn't really say. One person in the other group told us that he'd liked it so much that he cleared the plate that had been passed around. The meal as a whole was a fine representation of Peruvian foods. Chicha morada was the beverage; the dessert was a pudding also made from purple corn.

After lunch we spent some time chatting with the family. The father is a local representative of Odysseys Unlimited, our tour operator. The older kids all spoke some English. The 10-year-old daughter gets about two hours of English instruction in school weekly. Since they were all willing to try a bit of English, I brought up from the depths of my memory some of the Spanish I once spoke fluently after minoring in it in college. The father complimented me on my accent. He also shot an unexpected question at me, and I actually managed to answer it.
Located on the Plaza de Armas at the center of Cusco, the Cusco Cathedral is a Jesuit church. Just as many of the cathedrals in Spain were built atop Islamic mosques, the Cusco Cathedral was built atop a former Inca palace. Unfortunately, no photographs are permitted. After the tour, the husband remarked that rather than call the cathedral a Roman Catholic one, perhaps Fusion Catholic was a better descriptor. There were clearly Incan additions to the Catholic elements. For example, there is a painting of the Last Supper showing the main course of the meal with a clear Incan flavor. Most sources say it is a guinea pig being served; however, I found one source that held it was an Andean chinchilla instead.
While that one out-of-the-ordinary item might well have been added by the Spanish to appeal to the Incas, another was more likely added by one of the Incas trained as a painter. There is another painting showing the torture of Jesus as he is made to shoulder the cross. This scene traditionally shows Roman soldiers poking Jesus with sticks. The soldiers in the Cusco Cathedral painting are dressed as Spanish soldiers. Many of the representations of Jesus in the cathedral show him with a slightly darker complexion that is usually shown.
As with the cathedral, the church of Santo Domingo is built on the foundations of an Incan sun temple.

The foundation walls were, as in other places, rocks fitted tightly together without mortar. One earthquake supposedly severely damaged the church while the foundations stayed intact. From the temple, the Incas saw the sun radiating outward in 48 rays. The courtyard of the church had some interesting modern sculptures on display.
Being a sucker for shots taken through windows and doors, I could not resist taking the photo below.
I feel as if I am not giving Cusco the attention it deserves, but I actually felt this day was something of a rest and catch-my-breath day after the awe of Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. At the end of the afternoon, we bid Fernando a fond farewell and regrouped for the next day's bus ride to Puno, on the shore of Lake Titicaca and the highest point of our trip altitude-wise.  The husband and I went out with two other people from the trip for a very nice dinner accompanied by a very good red wine. If you're ever in Cusco, I highly recommend Limo.

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