Last night we had a lovely display of fireworks right off the balcony of our hostel in celebration of the Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen.
Today was yet another beautiful one here in Cusco, with temps reaching low 70F. I have to say the weather has been much warmer than expected. We started our day with another great FREE breakfast provided by our hostel, once again trying the Coco leave tea (still not sure if it is working or not) yogurt and cereal and home made orange juice.
At 9am we met one of our hostel leaders- Louis and went to the Flea Market near Santiago, Peru. On our way he informed us about everyday life in Peru, pointing out skinned guinea pigs- often cooked for dinner and dried baby goat used for ceremonies. After 15 minutes of weaving in and out of pedestrians, merchants and little kids we made it to the flea market. Only held on Saturdays, this market is a hot spot for locals to find cheaper items than what is sold during the week at the markets in the main square. Louis warned us to be careful of knock-off products and since we don’t look like locals, he helped us barter and purchase items. The biggest item being sold were shoes – old and new, youth and adult, sandals and boots. Louis informed us that shoes are a form of status in Peru, those who can afford nice shoes are seen as higher up socially.
(Peruvian weaving a very traditional textile on a loom. It will take her about 25 days to make a 10m long tapestry)
Since arriving in Peru, we have been in search of a cell phone company selling sim cards with data for unlocked phones. The first search was unsuccessful so we asked Louis if he knew of any good places, he said to keep an eye out for street vendors who may be selling just the sim card. On our way back from the flea market we ran into just that! They were selling sim cards for 5 sol ($1.50) which included unlimited whatsapp, facebook, 60 min of calls and 1 G of data for 7 days. This is exactly what we were looking for! Having data will help us make arrangements with our tour groups and allow us to find directions when not on the wifi at the hostel. Wifi is not very common throughout the city, so for such a cheap price we bought the sim card.
After arriving back in Cusco, we sat down and had a fresh juice drink with Louis and discussed different options for Machu Picchu Treks. We have decided on 3 nights/4 day Inca Jungle Trek leaving Monday morning. On this trek we will be mountain biking part of the Inca Trail, Zip Lining through the jungle and hiking up to Machu Picchu and we opted to take the train back (a little pricier but it saves us about 3 hours of travel time). We paid $225 per person, I’m glad we waited to book a trek like this until arrival because online, similar trips were almost twice as expensive.
After making our usual PB&J lunch, we headed back to the main square to meet our guide for the Cochahusai Animal Conservation tour for 35 sol (about $12). Our group of about 10 met in the center square and proceeded on to a small bus which took us up into the Saksaywaman Hills. 30 minutes of driving up a windy road over looking the city of Cusco we arrived at the Conservation. Here they rescue hurt animals and animals involved in illegal trafficking and nurse them back to life, releasing them when they are able to. Our guide was great, allowing us to go in and pet and feed many of the animals. The highlight of the conservation were the Andean Condors, close to being endangered due to illegal traffickers who kill the birds and harvest them for ceremonies and sell their left over feathers and meat. The head male condor at the conservation is 65 years old and weighs 20 kilos. With at least 15 more being nursed back to health, they try to release one each month or so back into the wild. Some though, like the 65 year old male keep returning back to the conservation where they feel safe. Along with the condors, they had alpacas, birds, Wildcats and many more.
(Dominic the llama!!)
Once returning down the winding roads of the hills of Cusco we stopped at a small restaurant on our way back to the hostel. I have been very nervous about trying the local street food – many say it can make you sick if not accustomed to it, so we decided on going to a safe bet with grilled chicken, french fries, and fresh salad. The meal was very good, cooked right in front of us and only cost 7.50 sol ($2.50).
All day and all night there are small celebrations throughout the city for the Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen which is also celebrated in various parts of Peru. The exact nature of the festivities varies by region, but normally involves a mix of Catholic and pre-Columbian traditions, centered on the procession of the image of the Virgin. Bands, dance groups and colorfully dressed devotees lead a parade through the streets to the main square, reenacting key events in Peruvian history and portraying the battle of good versus evil.
Now we are resting up because early tomorrow we head out of a FREE guided tour of the Lost Inca Trail with our hostel.