Saturday, April 16, 2016

Cuzco, Peru: Making Chocolate & Eating Guinea Pigs

After our tour of Lake Titicaca, Kevin, Marleen and I moved onto the famous city of Cuzco, Peru! (I make it sound easy. It was a 5-hour bus ride).

What It's All About:
Cuzco, Peru is famous because it is the jumping-off point for Machu Picchu!  The city itself is amazing - it's gorgeous and the historic cobblestoned streets are lined with old Incan walls and monumental buildings. Cuzco itself is a part of the Sacred Valley, where you can find TONS of amazing old-school Incan villages, ruins, buildings, temples, and history.  You can seriously spend a week here.

Cuzco's Plaza de Armas!  SO PRETTY

I've been to Cuzco before, about 5.5 years ago when I took a trip to Machu Picchu with He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.  So while most backpackers spend a good chunk of time in the city, I breezed through for a couple days (Cuzco is on the way to Lima, which is where I was headed next - so it was on the way! Efficiency!).  And since I'd already seen all the main attractions/events, I spent my time doing whatever I wanted, which was AMAZING. Sometimes, it's good to not have a list of must-do's: not that seeing amazing worldly sites is hard work or anything, but it can sometimes be just as good to relax.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Spent the first night wandering the streets of Cuzco and playing interesting Dutch dice games with Kevin and Marleen.  To be honest, I remember so many of the streets/restaurants/hotels from way back when I visited.  But even in the span of 5, 6 years - Cuzco has gotten SO much busier. There are way, way more people and cars and tourists. And now I sound 100 years old. BACK IN THE DAY....

Plaza de Armas by night

Some of the old, narrow passageways - still have Incan walls as the base!

This is an incredibly strange Dutch game Kevin/Marleen taught me...I think it's called "Worms." And the goal is to roll dice and collect worms. At least the name is straightforward...

  • Next day, other tourists went to visit historic Incan temples.....and I went to the Choco Museo (yep, it is exactly what it sounds like)(also, it wasn't just me - Marleen and Kevin joined as well). They offer these chocolate classes where you get to make your own chocolate - but in my defense, you also learn tons about the cacao plant and how to harvest the beans and the entire process, etc.  So really, it's incredibly educational. No, really.

    I had this crazy fruit for breakfast, called a granadilla. It's kind of like a pomegranate with the juicy seeds inside, except it tastes a little like passion fruit and looks like a wonky orange.

    I could watch this lady pipe chocolate all day

    Part of the process is heating up the cacao beans

    And you grind the toasted cacao beans into a paste. Though mine never really made it past the "fine grit" stage. I blame weak forearms.

    Here is our choco teacher - we also made three types of chocolate drinks, including choco tea and spicy hot choco

    And then we got to make our own chocolates! And add any kind of spice/crush-in/flavor we wanted! I meticulously diversified every kind of choco in my tray, but in the end, just wished I had filled every mold cup up with sprinkles and called it a day, because that was the best

    So much chocolate magic being created

    They let us lick the chocolate bowls when we were done with our molds. Marleen and Kevin and I maybe got in a tiny choco fight, hence the smudges

    Finished product! Which I nommed down in like, 10 seconds.

    • Because Cuzco/Machu Picchu has become such a popular tourist destination, it really is a traveller's paradise: cheap massages, shopping, delicious food, etc.  I spent the rest of the day shopping through Cuzco's handicraft markets, getting a 20 sole massage (WHICH IS $6 = BASICALLY FREE), drinking fresh juices, and losing myself in the maze-like streets.  

    I love you, Cuzco
    • If anyone is visiting Cuzco and is reading this blog post - there are SO many incredible sites to visit in Cuzco: Qorikancha (the Golden temple), Sacsayhuaman (amazing ruins with HUGE ROCKS), Pisac (nearby town with an amazing market and ruins), and a million other amazing, fascinating, awe-inspiring Sacred Valley sites (Ollantaytambo, Chinchero, etc.).  Not to mention Machu Picchu.  So you should def not come visit Cuzco and think the #1 sight is the chocolate museum. It's the #2 sight. Obviously.

    Meal of the Day:
    Finally! I got to try guinea pig (yes, even after I saw the small squeaky cute things running around our homestay family's floor in Lake Titicaca).  In Peru, guinea pig is a traditional dish called cuy, which they eat on special occasions in certain areas.  

    I can't tell if it's adding insult to injury that the guinea pig comes out with a jaunty lettuce/tomato hat, mounting a potato and with a pepper stuffed in its mouth.

    And it's big! Squeak squeak

    So in the spirit of honesty, I have to say that it kind of tasted like chicken....but not as good. The skin was super rubbery/tough, the bones were super small, and there wasn't a ton of meat.  But it wasn't terrible. The consensus between Kevin and Marleen and I was that it was fine, but we probably won't ever feel the need to try it ever again. Ever. For the rest of time.

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