Upon arriving in Cuzco, Peru I was immediately astounded by the beautiful Colonial architecture (built on top of Incan structures), grand churches, quaint cobble stoned roads, and quiet plazas decorated with trees and fountains. I was quickly put at ease by the countless restaurants serving anything from Italian to Thai (and of course quintessential Peruvian cuisine) to the rows of the travel agents that can surely help me get anywhere from Machu Picchu to the jungles of Manu.
Once I exhaled, it became apparent that Cuzco is more or less like an amusement park. The countless passes a tourist can purchase from the full package of more than 10 historical sights to the partial passes of four, felt not unlike the old “E tickets” of Disneyland’s past. The “E ticket” reserved for nothing else but the peaks and ruins of Machu Picchu of course.
The streets are clean, and you can always find a child and llama to take a picture with for a price. The bars play mixes of electronica and US top 40, and finding the Internet or a bag of Doritos is easy.
Once I took a loop around the Plaza de Armas and took count of the overpriced cuisine, I decided to find the markets (the open-air market of any town is an essential find). Following the directions of nice tourist officer, I slowly walked down a street on my way to the San Pedro market. As I walked I saw the Internet offices and souvenir shops fall away. The prices of the daily menus of restaurants I passed also began to fall and finally I felt like I was in Cuzco.
Once at the market, I walked through rows of woman behind pyramids of colorful fruit selling fresh squeezed juices, butchers with slabs of meet on their tables, lanes of gains and nuts until finally I got to an area soley for the selling and consumption of chicken noodle soup. Taking a seat at one of the many stalls selling the same fare, I was given a hot bowl for three soles. There I enjoyed the delicious bowl of food and chatted with the soft spoken Peruvian man and his son who sat elbow to elbow with me at the tiny counter. They gave me tips on buying my train ticket to Machu Picchu and inquired about where I was from and how I enjoyed their home town of Cuzco. All in all it was a lovely afternoon of hometown cooking and company. And plus, if I missed Thai food I could just walk my way back to gringo alley for dinner.
I am too young to remember the “E ticket,” but have heard many stories from my oldest brothers of a time in Disneyland when tourists had to pay for individual rides through tickets, and the “E ticket” gave you access to the best rides.