Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On ruins, stray dogs and guinea pigs

"Some experiences simply do not translate. You have to go to know." - Kobi Yamada
Saturday, November 26. Today we walked up to an Inca ruin located right above Cusco, at 3700m. Cusco is at 3300m. The ruin is called Sacsayhuaman (and that's a link to Wikipedia, if you want to know more about it.)
View of Cusco from the Sacsayhuaman ruins vista point.
They charged us 70 Soles for a “boleto turistico," which was valid for only one day. This would be $25, a ridiculously overpriced fee for what it is. And of course, as everything else in touristy areas of Peru, there is always a different price for tourists than for locals. The price for tourists is always double or triple of what locals would pay. We know we are getting ripped off, we sometimes try to bargain, but even if we manage to bring the price down a bit, we invariably lose. It will always be way more than the locals pay. But sometimes it’s ok, because these people are so poor that a few dollars for us make a lot of difference to them. 
When we were about to leave the Sacsayhuaman ruins, this cute Quechua grandma and her alpaca were on the side of the road and we couldn't resist the temptation to take photos with them.
The “sexy woman” ruins were ok, not too impressive. Layers of terraces made with meticulously carved stones. If there’s anything memorable about Inca constructions, it would be the stone walls. The way these huge blocks of stone are so perfectly carved and fitted is mind-blowing to me. I don’t believe in aliens, but seeing these structures makes me think of super-human forces. 

Being whiter-skinned and taller than most women here, we can’t escape being singled out as “gringas” everywhere we go. So, while we were visiting these ruins, a group of school children of about 10 years old of age saw us and asked to be photographed with us. What we thought was going to be one photo turned into a 30-minute long photoshoot. Every kid in the group wanted to be photographed with us. Even the moms accompanying the group wanted their own photos. The teacher diligently took all the photos with the same camera and thanked us countless times at the end. A girl started crying, we assumed it was because she was filled with emotion that we hugged her while we were taking photos. Just when we thought we were done with our moment of being in the spotlight, a group of local teenagers approached us and asked if they could take photos with us as well… 

Stray Dogs
Peru must win the record for number of stray dogs. But then again, I haven’t been to India yet. I thought Bucharest was high up there, with about 60,000 stray dogs, but Peru definitely trumps that number. If there’s one thing that terrifies me about walking around on the streets here in Peru are the hoards of stray dogs. They seem to be peaceful  and even little kids walk carefree around them, but I can’t get past the fear that one of them will attack me. Many of them wear a blue collar, which means they were vaccinated by a non-profit, so I take it that Rabies is not an issue in Peru. Some of the stray dogs seem to be nice breeds, like cocker-spaniels, and I’ve been told that they are not all stray, but that their owners leave them loose, pretty much like all other animals around here.  It is not unusual to see chicken, piglets, ducklings, donkeys, cows, sheep, etc. walk around freely on the side of the road. Somehow, all these animals know where their home and who their owner is. It reminds me a lot of the cows in my grandparents’ village, that would come home from the pasture in the evening and stop in  front of the gate of their owner, mooing and waiting patiently to be let in. 

Visiting Tipon and eating Cui
Sunday, Nov 26 – we decided to go see the Tipon ruins, located about 30km outside Cusco. A British girl we met at the hostel told us about these ruins and how to get there. There’s obviously guided tours for everything, but they are always very expensive, so we decided to do it on our own for a lot cheaper. We first took a cab from our hostel to an intersection where we could catch a “collectivo” towards that direction. The cab was 3 soles (about 1 USD). Then, we took a collectivo, which is a minivan filled to the brim with people. Local men and women are sitting anywhere they can. A woman was sitting with half her ass on the stick-shift area near the driver. Kids sleeping on people’s laps, other people standing in the isle, a warm sweaty ooze in the air, but not too bad. We had to stand the entire 40 minute ride, but for 1.2 soles (40 cents) a person, you can’t complain. 
Tipón, located east of Cusco, are Inca ruins that may have been a park for upper class or agricultural centrum. Still today, water is rushing though the channels, which is seldom, and the wide terraces, masterpieces of mortar-less walls, are in perfect condition. (from Wikipedia)
Once we got to Tipon, we had to find transportation to the ruins themselves, as they are perched up a steep hill, 8km away from the village. A guy with a car asked 15 soles to take us there, which is a lot of money, so we said no. No local in the right mind would ever pay that. We ended up sharing a cab with a Peruvian family. The cab contained the following people: driver and visiting Peruvian grandma in the front seats, Peruvian husband and wife, Monica and Anne on the back seat, young Peruvian couple in the trunk. So cabbie and 7 passengers drove up a steep, windy and unpaved road. For this, we paid 3 soles (1usd).
The Tipon ruins were absolutely amazing and totally worth the effort to get there.

The ancient Inca irrigation system at Tipon is still working even today. You can also see the steps made of over-sized pieces of rock, used to move from one terrace to another.
The amazingly perfect carved stones that make up the Inca irrigation system at Tipon.
Towards the end of our visit it started to rain and we couldn’t find any cars to take us back down to the village. We ran into a few other gringo kids in the same situation as us and we decided to hike back together. We were 8 total: a guy from Austria, 3 girls from Holland, one girl from Berkeley and the two of us. The girl from Berkeley was Japanese, one of the two Dutch girls was of Carribean descent. I love how you get to meet diverse and interesting people when travelling.
Our little group decided to take a different path down the hill than the main road, which ended up being an enjoyable 1h hike.
Once back in the village, we all got cui at the local restaurant. Restaurant is too big of a word to describe the dirty little hole in the wall on the side of the road. It was overpriced (we were charged “tourist” price, of course) and kind of disgusting. Cui means guinea pig and it’s a specialty and delicacy for this area.
They either roast or deep-fry the entire animal, including feet, claws, head, teeth, eyes, internal organs.
Needless to say, these little guys don’t have much meat on them, we were hungry still and disappointed at the end of the meal. Between Anne and I, one fluffy and cute little guinea pig would have been better alive than on our plates. At that moment, I really contemplated becoming a vegetarian. We both decided this was going to be our first and last time we tried guinea pig, same as with Inca Cola, the national Peruvian fuzzy drink that looks like pee and tastes like bubble gum. Two Peruvian staples that unfortunately didn’t resonate well with our Western palates.