22.12.2010 - 28.12.2010 15 °C
This was always going to be a bit of a different Christmas being away from home, away from England, for the first time in my life. I was staying at a cute little hostel just a few streets away from the Plaza de Armas, the central main square in Cusco. It was a lovely atmosphere here, a cute little courtyard in the centre of the hostel surrounded by poinsettias where I shared panettone and red wine, lots of red wine, with travellers from all over the world. Cusco has none of the festive razzmatazz that we have in the UK, things are much lower key here and I liked it this way.
The Plaza de Armas was quickly getting busier and busier with families, indigenous Quechua people, from the rural villages around Cusco. It is traditional at Christmas for these families to pilgrimage to Cusco to take part in a Christmas Eve market, selling crafts and foliage from their villages to be used in nativity settings for people’s homes. The families, including children and babies, end up sleeping rough on the streets of Cusco over Christmas and being at this altitude it must be pretty damn cold on the streets at night. I wanted to do something for these families so donated some money and volunteered to hand out hot soup, hot chocolate and candies to these families on the streets. It was CRAZY!!! MOBBED!! Kids and mothers completely surrounded me, grabbing at my offerings faster than I could possibly hand them out! Grubby hands tugging on my clothes, snatching the candies out of my bag before i could even get them out! Many of the market sellers had also gone all day without eating anything. When i realised this, I shouted them hot dogs off some other street sellers at just 50p each. I actually ended up with bruises on my legs after my volunteering stint but I felt happy that I might have just done something to make things more pleasant for these people.
I had an enjoyable afternoon being shown around some of the less well known markets in Cusco by a local, Raoul, who I had met in the main square. Think he was trying to shock me taking me to see all the raw meat, bits of raw carcasses, embryos, that kind of thing hanging up in the markets. Rather than upset me though, it just brought back memories, good memories, of the markets in South East Asia, maybe just a few different species of meat here! I was still getting quite a bit of attention from the local men. Rather than wolf whistle though, like they did in Ecuador, the guys seemed to kind of hiss and slurp, Hanibal Lector styleee, like they were going to eat you!! I felt myself falling for Cusco though, big time. Just walking through some of the tiny little streets you get a real feeling that this place has some important and complex history. Many of the buildings still display the original Incan foundations, the first few layers of bricks from the street level the tell-tale sign of being the centre of the Incan empire. On top of the Incan stone Spanish colonial buildings now sit. The plaza de Armas itself is stunning. At one end sits the beautiful cathedral, a pretty garden in the centre with sculptures, then all around the square beautiful colonial archways and buildings. Overlooking the city perched on a hill on one side is cristo blanco, statue of Christ with outstretched arms, and on the other side the words ‘Viva Peru’ carved out in the greenery on the mountain side. At midnight on Christmas Eve, the whole city erupted with fireworks, not only through the streets of Cusco but from villages all around the surrounding mountains. A majestic sight and the fireworks went on through the remainder of the night and well into daylight!
So it was roast guinea pig and all the trimmings for Christmas dinner then? Well emmm no.. I felt like I had joined in enough with local customs on Christmas Eve so do not even feel ashamed to say that I found a British bar, yes called the Real McCoy, and I joined some fellow Brits for roast turkey et al! Oh boy i am so glad I decided to do this as it was here and on this day I met Molly. The owners of the Real McCoy had partnered me up with Molly for Christmas dinner, what a stroke of luck this was! Molly had already spent a couple of months in Cusco doing voluntary work in the orphanages and things had been pretty tough for her as you can imagine. We didn’t stop talking and laughing the whole day, think it did us both some good. I certainly appreciated the company. After a lovely dinner we sat in a big comfy sofa and talked and drinked and talked and drinked, it was wonderful. We arranged to meet in the same place the next day and from then on we were pretty inseparable. Oh apart from Boxing Day dinner I had already arranged with another traveller, Stephane, freshly back from the Inca trail. I enjoyed some great company, good wine, yummy quinoa soup and alpaca steak. Peru has some of the best value restaurants and tastiest food out of all the countries I have visited. I moved from my hostel into a hotel the following day, I was just in the mood to stay somewhere a bit nicer. I stayed in a beautiful stylish colonial hotel just one block from the Plaza de Armas. Molly met me at the hotel bar and we toasted to our luck finding each other in this gem of a city with a ‘Sex on Machu Picchu’ cocktail!!