27.12.2010 - 30.12.2010 15 °C
I was over the moon to have met Molly in the Real McCoy pub on Christmas Day. We shared a similar sense of humour and a love of adventure. We very quickly became close. A real bonus was that as Molly had already spent 2 months or so in Cusco she knew the area pretty well, so we set about exploring this amazing place on local buses, called collectivos. What a fantastic experience this was. Not only did this save us a heck of a lot of money, costing about 2 soles (about 50p) for a 2 hour bus ride to the sacred valley, but it was an unforgettable experience. We travelled in real style, squished in with the locals, enjoying the salsa music blasting out from the bus speakers, young kids wiping their noses on Molly’s alpaca poncho and the smells of freshly harvested herbs when the country folk hopped on laden with their big colourful bags on their way to market. We finally bundled off the collectivo at the market town of Pisac, situated in the beautiful sacred valley of the Incas.
Most tourists come here just briefly as part of an organised daytrip to the sacred valley but as we had made our own way we had the luxury of spending as long as we wanted, without the hustle of other tourists, and really get to know this place. We set about doing a spot of bartering in the market. I remember there was a time that i used to be shy doing this kind of thing but no, not any more. It would feel rude NOT to start off at a third of the ‘best price’ and end up agreeing somewhere around half. Two simple words ‘Baby alpaca’ bring sharp memories of the Peruvian market experience, baby alpaca oh yes of course, that is what they all say eh!!! Alpaca are camelids, similar to llama, found in the highlands of Peru and bred for their fur and their meat. As they are adapted to live at higher altitude than llama, in cooler climates, things knitted from alpaca wool are softer and warmer than sheep or llama wool. Even higher up in the hierarchy of Andean textiles are those knitted using ‘baby alpaca’. Not actually referring to fur from a baby animal but the first shearing, the softest and best quality fur. Well EVERYTHING on the market was of course baby alpaca honest guv’nor. I was starting to wonder if what they were really saying was ‘maybe alpaca’, much more like it! Anyway, Molly doesn’t half like to shop. Many a bald baby alpaca running around due to Molly I am sure.
We wandered a bit further out of the main market and stumbled on the most amazing little plaza with a pot bellied indigenous guy roasting guinea pigs in a huge clay oven. Actually, this guy looked a bit like the guinea pigs sat there charred in the oven on top of a pile of potatoes, their mouths set wide open as if in shock. I am sure it was a bit of a shock to be thrown in an oven like that. Behind us, there were cute little fat guinea pigs hopping around squeaking in a huge enclosure, guinea pig heaven, blissfully unaware of their fate. Molly was drawn to a vendor at the plaza entrance selling jewellery, and this is how we met Jose. A stylish Peruvian musician with waist-length dreadlocks and wearing a poncho, he reminded us both of John Rocha, the designer at Debenhams hehe! Anyway, Jose took a bit of a shine to me much to Molly’s amusement. He joined us for a cappuccino in guinea pig slaughter plaza and asked me to marry him!! No kidding. Keep a straight face Karen, he is a sweet guy, different cultures, do not be impolite. I could see Molly out of the corner of my eye with a look of surprise and oh I so wanted to burst into giggles. Before we finally left, Jose gave me a necklace that he had crafted representing ‘his naval’??? We later worked out this actually represented Cusco, known as the naval of the earth doh !!! We spent the rest of the day meeting more locals, climbing a watchtower for views of the valley and stuffing our faces on restaurant balconies while people watching. Back to Cusco for a couple of cheeky ones in the Real McCoy, perfect day.
During the bus ride to Pisac, Molly had pointed out the Awana Kancha llama sanctuary that she had visited previously, so another day she took me back there to check it out. This sanctuary houses many sub-species of llama and alpaca, as well as vicuna, a rare and endangered camelid that lives at even higher altitude and has even finer fur. Clothing made using vicuna fur is stupidly expensive but also illegal to take out of Peru due to the endangered status of the species. The sanctuary is also home to an indigenous community project to preserve traditional ways of dyeing the wool and weaving. We had an interesting afternoon cuddling various different llama type cute things then we went back to Cusco and had an alpaca steak pizza specially made to order along with our sangria!! How could we? Well it was bloody tasty if i am honest!