Cuy

One of the guys that work at the hotel invited me to eat dinner with his family. His name is Pablo and he’s really nice. I was nervous about eating at someone’s house, but Pablo assured me that it was going to be a normal experience and that there was nothing to worry about. So I got dressed and met him in the lobby.

Peruvian colored corn

When I got to the house I saw that Pablo’s family made a special dinner for me and invited a few of their friends too. They are all so nice! Pablo’s mom told me that she would cook a typical Peruvian meal. Again, I felt nervous because I’m not used to eating food from other countries, but I was excited at the same time. The first thing she put on the table was a salad made with the biggest corn kernels I have ever seen!  That was awesome. Then she brought a big plate with all these different kinds of potatoes. There were all kinds of shapes and colors: round, rectangular, twisted, hooked at the end like walking canes or spiraled like spinning tops, yellow, red, blue, purple, violet, pink with yellow spots, yellow with pink spots. I didn’t know there were so many kinds of potatoes!

Pablo’s dad said that the Europeans found the potato here in Peru when the conquistadors came in the sixteen hundreds. He also said that the Incas cultivated it in the highlands and near Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world. He also said that potatoes have been eaten in Perú for at least 8,000 years! Pablo’s sister said that their name in Quechua, the Inca language, meant  “best black woman,” “best red woman,” “makes the daughter-in-law cry,” “like a deer’s white tongue,” “red shadow” and “like an old bone,” and some other names that I can’t remember right now.

Examples of Peruvian Potatoes

She also said that scientists have classified more than 2,000 types of potatoes!! (I wonder how they remember their names!), and that there is a researcher named Carlos Ochoa who everyone calls the “Indiana Jones of the potato” who has found 80 types of wild potatoes.  It was amazing to learn all this about potatoes while I was eating them!

Then they brought the main dish. It was some kind of meat I had never seen before. Honestly, it looked a bit strange to me, so I asked what it was. Pablo’s mom laughed and told me that I should try it before knowing what it was. So I took a deep breath, cut a piece and ate it. It was actually good! Then I asked her what kind of meat it was. She said “se llama cuy,”, and that it was a typical food from the Andean region. For some reason, Pablo and his sister were laughing. I asked them to tell me exactly what it was.

Grilled Cuy a peruvian delicacy

They said it was like a cross between a hamster and a guinea pig. I must made some sort of funny face because everyone was laughing at the table. Then I took another deep breath and said: “Well, it tastes good and I am hungry!” So I ate my cuy along with the multi colored and multi shaped potatoes and the gigantic corn kernels. That meal was definitely different! But hey, I’m supposed to try new things, right?

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Cuzco

I am in one of the most important cities in the Inca Empire. My adventures in Cuzco began on the flight here. Because Cuzco is in the Andes, the view of the snow-capped mountains was unreal!  The second I set foot in the airport I got this intense headache and I felt short of breath. Then I had to run to the bathroom because I was getting sick. I came out of the bathroom, everyone said I looked like a ghost! They said I had bad case of “sorochi”, the Quechua word for the symptoms most visitors feel during their first few hours at Cuzco because of its altitude (almost 11,000 feet above sea level!) Cuzco is one of the highest cities in the world, so takes some getting used to — especially if you just got in from Lima, at sea level.

We took a cab to our little hostel in the center of town. I was in the back seat and everything was spinning! That wasn’t fun at all! After a couple of hours of rest in my room, I started to feel better. I went downstairs for a soda to calm my stomach and everyone was already down there, chatting with the hostel owner. The owner said that the best thing to do in Cuzco on the first day is take it easy and walking around. So that exactly what we did, walk around the cobblestone streets of Cuzco.

Cobblestone street in Cuzco

This place is amazing; there are pre-Columbian, Inca architecture; Spanish buildings from the time of the conquistadors; and then modern buildings. Legend has it that Cuzco is designed in the shape of a puma, considered sacred by the Incas. Cool, Huh?!

We walked to the narrowest street in Cuzco called Calle Siete Culebras (the street of the seven snakes). Its tall walls, built by the Incas in pe-Colombian times, were decorated with seven snake carvings. A man on the street challenged me to find as many snakes as I could. I took a step back and began counting. That was really cool; the Incas carved snakes on this wall along with other things so that they were not easy to find. And they were not!

As we wandered the streets of Cuzco, we saw women and men walking alongside a llama, women waving much like Incas did centuries ago, and children selling flowers, local crafts, and many other interesting things. I bought my sister a pendant with the Incan symbol for the “Pacha Mama,” Quechua for Mother Earth. I paid just a few soles for it. I bought myself the most awesome alpaca sweater, woven by hand. I love the design on it.

Catedral de Santo Domingo at the Plaza de armas

Then we walked around the Plaza De Armas. It is surrounded by four churches, which were built centuries ago. We went into two of them. The most impressive was the Catedral de Santo Domingo, also called the Catedral de Cuzco. It was built in colonial times. I was blown away by the amount of gold and silver inside!

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Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria

Did you know there are almost 3,000 celebrations in Peru each year? That’s almost 10 a day! How do Peruvians keep up with all those celebrations? I knew when I first found out about all these celebrations that I had to go to at least one. I did a little research and found the perfect one for me, the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria near Lake Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia.

People told me this festival starts on February 2nd and lasts eight days. Can you imagine celebrating for eight days? That sounded awesome to me! So I got together a few of my fellow travelers and we hopped a bus to Puno. They say Puno is the Folkloric Capital of Peru. That’s interesting, but I wanted to know how that played a role in the observation of this festival. I bumped all the way to Puno (literally, because the bus ride wasn’t so smooth).

Aerial view of Puno – Peru

When we got to Puno, it was a little gloomy, and I didn’t see any signs that an eight-day celebration was about to take place. We decided to go to the hotel and unpack. I ended up falling asleep watching TV, but my nap was interrupted by the sound of a crowd roaring. Apparently the festival came together while I was snoozing, so I rushed to get outside.

There was a parade with so many bright colors passing right by my hotel! Everyone was following the processional, which was led by a huge statue. I imagine it was on a car or something, but I couldn’t see because of the crowd. People were playing folk music and others were dancing in the streets. It was a big street party that slowly moved towards the center of town. The energy was so amazing, I couldn’t help but follow!

We finally arrived at the center of town, and the crowd moved to one side to what appeared to be a stage area. This was where a dance exposition was going to take place. Dance groups came out with their brightly colored, elaborate costumes and danced to the folk bands playing behind them. One group even came out dressed as dragons, masks and all. To me, the dances were like a cross between country line dances and folk dancing. There was lots of hopping, skipping, and turning. Each group member was really in sync, and it looked like they had been practicing for months to pull off such spectacular performances. I’m not even into country or folk music, but I really enjoyed the performances.

Virgen de la Candelaria religious procession near Puno – Peru

I looked to my left and saw that all my travel companions had made it to the dance performance. I was happy they made it, but I was even happier to know that we still had so many more days together to see what else the festival had in store for us.

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