Tuesday September 3, 2013
It finally worked out that we were able to take one of the Free Walking Tours that was being held in Cusco. It was by pure chance too, we hadn’t even been planning to go when we woke up in the morning. We just happened to be sitting in one of the plazas playing a rousing game of Slug Bug when the tour commenced behind us. It seemed much better than our plan of just sitting around, although our sore and aching muscles probably needed it. Climbing Huayna Picchu = kicked our ass.
Sneaking into the back of the group like this had been our plan all along, fashionably late, right?, we missed the initial introduction but managed to slink in just in time for the big cheer to let the unsuspecting people passing by know how excited our group was to start this tour. With our guide throwing some music on to a speaker that was attached to his belt, the 20 of us filed down the streets of Cusco while the latest Robin Thicke song blared out ahead of us.
If I thought this tour was going to be soley a history lesson in the Inca culture, or a spiel about the architectural design of the buildings here, I couldn’t have been more wrong. This was a tour all about what you would want to see in a city, not what you felt you had to. For most of the tour I was so intrigued in what was going on that I didn’t even remember to take out my camera most stops, only snapping a few photos at scenic overlooks where we stopped to take a break. So half the photos posted today will be courtesy of Free Walking Tour Cusco. Here’s one for you now.
One of our first stops was at a restaurant that Matt and I had probably passed a dozen times during our previous stay here, but never thought to pop our heads in and check it out. Inside, everyone was handed a Dixie cup and we sampled Chicha Morada while learning the history behind the beverage made from purple corn. We also learned it’s a great natural hydrating source after a night of binge drinking. See, you just don’t learn things like that on other formal tours. Bottoms were up for me a little sooner than the rest of the group (oops, we were supposed to wait and toast?), and I enjoyed trying out the cinnamon flavored drink again that we had savored with our guinea pig back in Lima.
(Photo courtesy of FWT Cusco)
Throughout the rest of the tour we stopped at a few more restaurants, and visited quiet yet beautiful plazas that were out of the way and therefore free of Peruvians trying to peddle their goods on you as you relaxed. I swear, I couldn’t get through one chapter in my book without saying ‘No gracias’ five times when we were in any of the main plazas.
Parts of the tour were actually informative history lessons on the area, but without the dull monotone explanation that’s been given by a guide who’s severely underpaid and overworked. It may have helped that the FWT guides work soley on tips (most of them are students who want to practice their English), but they made every aspect of what you were seeing fun and chic. It also doesn’t hurt if you’re in a young and interactive group where if the guide is stumped for the an English word and asks as you’re standing in front of a church ‘What’s the name of the place where they kept all the women?’, someone yells out something ludicrous like “Brothel!!”. I was wrong, the word he was searching for was convent.
The only way I can think of to fairly describe the tour is to quote a line from a re-mix of Poe’s song, ‘Hey Pretty’. “Taking me to parts of I city I rarely think of and never visit…”. This is exactly what that tour was. Almost all side streets and back alleys, places you would never think to go on your own, but end up being spectacular or authentic or just different and off the beaten path. The places where you feel you really get to know the city instead of standing around the pretty fountains that your handy guide book told you to visit. (Of course, those are still worth visiting too)
Other than a second visit back to the Choco Museum, and really, who’s going to be upset about trying mouth watering teas and treats again?, every thing was new and something we wish we would have known about when we first got to the city last week. Like the sushi bar just up a back alley from the Plaza de Armas where we sampled salmon rolls. Who would have known such a little gem was tucked back there? Or that they offered an amazing lunch special too good to pass up, which is how we ended up back there just a few hours after the tour. I’m so happy that we accidentally stumbled upon Cusco’s Free Walking Tour before leaving, it really did take me to parts of the city I had never seen.
Group shot from our tour. (Photo courtesy of FWT Cusco)
P.S. I totally won the round of Slug Bug today.
Slug Bug blue, red, and silver!