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By this Author: joannacez

Donde es la clase? Lost in Quito...

semi-overcast

We made it back from the Galapagos Islands--tan, tired and a little fatter for all the buffet food we ate on the Coral II.

Now it is time to get down to business of learning the local tongue. After a restful night at Casa Bambu hostel, we headed into Quito to research Spanish Language schools. There are supposed to be over 60 Spanish schools in Quito . How does one choose with so many options?!?!

Luckily, we were able to access the South American Explorers´Club for their recommendations on where to start looking. They recommended about 15-20 schools, most of which is in the trendy, touristy New Town. The hard part was actually FINDING these places. Street names have changed, street numbers are hard to come by, and some places just no longer exist. Not to mention our unfamiliarity with the city!

After an afternoon of walking, talking broken Spanlish, and scratching our heads, we settled on the Apu Inty, which is situated in a converted house. It had a really nice casual feel and offered morning classes as we were hoping for.

The rest of our day was spent exploring the shops and cafes of New Town........

Tomorrow - a new language and Old Town.

Posted by joannacez 18:45 Archived in Ecuador Tagged educational Comments (0)

Tu hables Espanol? My Brain Hurts.

Okay - I will admit that Spanish is much easier than I thought it would be. But you must... speak.......very.........slowly. The blank stare I display when a local has spoken to me is slowly being replaced with basic understanding. More of the bits and pieces understanding, but it is slowly sinking in.

After 4 hours of having my brain filled with Espanol, we headed into Old Town to check out the more historic buildings and local scenery. A quick side trip into the Museo del Banco Central, which houses the country´s largest collection of Ecuadorian art from pre-Hispanic to contemporary art. Then we headed into the heart of Old Town.

Old Town has some of the narrowest streets! I don´t think that many of them are two-way, there´s barely room for a bus to get down these them. The old buildings are lovely but it is funny to see a KFC or ¨Texas Chicken¨housed in these old colonial buildings.

Posted by joannacez 18:59 Archived in Ecuador Tagged educational Comments (0)

The Navel of the World

Cusco

sunny

The train finally pulls into Cusco station and the hiking adventure portion of our trip comes to a close. Time for a little rest and relaxation in the lovely city of Cusco. Cusco was the capital of the Incan Empire and was considered ¨the Navel of the World¨by the Incans. We have found it to be lively, beautiful and full of interesting things to see and do.

Evidence of the Incans is everywhere in Cusco. When the Spainards took over Cusco, they destroyed many of the original Incan buildings and built their own on top of the ruins. Many of the buildings in Cusco still have the original Incan walls in the infrastructure - banks, hostels, restaurants, churches alike. Earthquakes that have struck Cusco have destroyed newer architecture but the Incan walls remain.

No, Gracias

Cusco is definitely a tourist city. So many shops selling t-shirts, alpaca clothing, Incan antiques and such, fill the streets of Cusco. There are also many, many people wandering the streets trying to sell you something - massages, finger puppets, postcards, ¨original¨works of art. You can´t buy it all! Luckily, the most simple of learned Spanish, ¨No, Gracias¨works to ward off the throng of vendors.

¨We´re going to Sexy Woman¨, huh?

Among the Incan ruins within a stone´s throw of Cusco is Saqsaywamán. The Quechua name for this ancient fortress sounds very much like ¨sexy woman¨ - talk about confusing. We were told it is one of THE Incan ruins to see.

We took a taxi up to Q’enqo, a sacred area used for rituals to foretell the prosperity of the coming year on the winter´s solstice. Q'enqo is another set of Incan ruins only 1km from the more well known Saqsaywamán. A few tour groups were there and we were eavesdropping on their guides to learn a little something about the site. We were approached by what we thought was just another street vendor, but ended up being a shaman-in-training/tour guide, named Uno (though we called him Crazy Eights). He showed us some of the symbols found within the rock formations, where llamas were sacrificed during rituals, and still even he tried to sell us a marble puma figurine at the end. No, gracias.

We then walked 15 minutes to the nearby Saqsaywamán site. Honestly, at this point, we were all Inca´ed out. The old fortress is quite impressive - three levels of immense stones cut so precisely that mortar was not needed for construction. We milled about for a bit, took the requiste photos and headed back to Cusco.

Ahhhhhh, Masaje
One of the troubles of touring on the advice of a guide book is that the only constant is change. There are plenty of people hawking massages on the street, but you want to know that it will be a good massage. So, we consulted the guide book, found a massage place that sounded like a good option, and headed out to find it. It wasn´t where it was supposed to be. Taking matters into our own hands, we visited one of the MANY other massage spas available just down the street. Within minutes we were enjoying hour-long massages (and for only about $23 each!). Ahhhhhh, why didn´t we do this sooner? (like RIGHT AFTER the Inca Trail?)

Local Flavor
EVERYONE tells us that we have to try the Peruvian speciality, cuy. Yup, your childhood pet guinea pig is considered a delicacy down here. And travelers we met liked showing us their pictures of a whole roasted guinea pig skewered and looking shocked about it (both the guinea pig and the traveler). So, with only a few days left in Cusco, we needed to get our lips around some cuy!

We were slightly disappointed when the somewhat ¨fancy¨restaurant we went to brought the cuy to the table already quartered and sans head. I mean, if you're gonna go for something that most people cringe at, it ought to be truly cringe-worthy, with roasted head and all, no? It was surprisingly tasty - somewhere between pork and hmmmmm, gerbil? The tiny ribs made for interesting eating - it´s a hands-on eating experience.

Keep Your Head Down
One thing about Cusco, being such a tourist-oriented town, is that if you walk down a street with lots of restaurants you must deliberately keep your eyes focused down to avoid catching the interest of one of the energetic young Peruvians that lurk in every doorway, wielding a menu as their weapon. If you catch the eyes of one of these predators you are doomed. "Amigo, tourist menu, 10 soles!" is the innocent beginning. Even if you have the common sense to say "No, gracias," you are in trouble. They will follow you all the way down the street repeating their offer and demanding reasons for your lack of interest. The best thing you can usually do is to say "Mañana". Then they eagerly hand you a flier and (usually) let you go. If you make the mistake of stopping to look at the menu, you are truly doomed. At one place, we were attached simultaneously by two of these "pullers" - one of which was from the restaurant we actually wanted to go to - and they both leapt ahead of us up the stairs. There they both lurked, ready to pull us to the left or to the right, to their restaurant. We bulldozed our way to the right, and even after walking into one place the other guy kept trying to lure us back out and acrosst he hallway to his restaurant. Crazy.

Wine and Couches
One of our favorite places in Cusco was Los Perros Wine and Couch Bar. It's a really neat, cozy lounge/bar with artsy decor and funky music. It's only a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas, but you have to know where it is to find it. We visited Los Perros a couple of times while we were in Cusco. Their food was amazing, and they had a pretty good selection of wine. It kinda made us think of places back in San Francisco where we might head for a trendy and relaxed night on the town.

Posted by joannacez 12:20 Archived in Peru Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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