Feliz Navidad from Cusco, Peru…. no, too late for that! In fact two days ago, 11th January 2013, was exactly 6 months since we started our Family Gap year adventure…even Feliz Ano Nuevo is belated! At least this blog post will bring us to the end of 2012 and to the New Year!
We arrived in Cusco on a flight from Lima on 19th December 2012 and settled in for a few days at the Amaru ll guest house, ready to celebrate Lara’s 5th birthday and enjoy the buzz of Christmas in Cusco. Here’s our Christmas Cusco diary……
It starts off as a bit of a fuss because we’ve booked at the Amaru l after loads of research looking at location, rooms etc. to get it right for Christmas. I’d also emailed to ask for the offered free airport pick up – no reply and no pick up, the excuse given, ‘oh I didn’t read email today I’ve been browsing the internet?!’ Then they bump us to their sister hotel with barely an apology – its 500m uphill to the furthest reaches of the lovely San Blas district on a dangerous busy road with narrow pavements and steep cobbles enough to challenge us all, especially Oma who’s sprained ankle is still quite bad! The Amaru ll even try to charge us more but thankfully it turns out to be a fairly super place and once we’re over being messed about, we decide we can live with the pleasant rooms, sparkling wooden floors that get polished about five times a day (not so good for Ben’s coccyx when running around in socks) and gorgeous views across the city rooftops to the mountains across the valley!
In the days leading up to 24th, the beautiful main square Plaza de Las Armas changes from a quiet, relaxed square surrounded by little shops, restaurants, the imposing cathedral and backed by Cusco’s green hills, dotted with tiny abodes, to a bustling market square with people from Cusco and the surrounding areas selling everything from alpaca jumpers (yes I have succumbed), scarves, socks, hats etc. to moss, sprigs of Christmas tree, nativity figures, candles and every type of Christmas decor imaginable. It’s a massive part of Christmas to make a huge nativity scene with moss, a stable and beautiful, decorated, clothed figures.
Many people are dressed in bright traditional Peruvian clothing, often carrying or leading llamas or alpacas – some for the purpose of a photo opportunity with tourists like us!
We succumb, paying about 50 pence for the privelege but it works out a whole lot more costly when poor Ben wakes with a huge puffy eye next morning and we have to seek medical attention! He gets antihistamine, anti-inflamatory and antibiotic medicines and is advised to avoid alpacas!!
We wander around the market for a little while on Christmas Eve trying not to lose anyone! Then, in contrast to our usual trip to a nativity service back home, we are lured into a little massage shop where Martin, Erika and Ben are treated to fantastic Inka and Hot Stone massages, whilst the girls and I get rather disastrous manicures and foot massages! Lara is happy with her pretty nails with flowers, Zoe and I are a bit gutted, especially when she has the owners 6 year old daughter doing some of the painting, about as well as Lara might do it. ah well what do you expect when 60 minute treatments for 6 people cost £25 for the lot?! Unfortunately I forget to take a photo but by Christmas morning, this is how they look!
Across the city in the few days up to Christmas, we see massive queues of poor children and families queuing to enter a church or other place for a Chocolatada – an event where hot chocolate and a sweet bread is given to everyone, games and music might be played and the kids may each get a present.
We have the privelege of taking part in a Chocolatada at the twin hostel where we stayed on 22nd – a real Christmas highlight.
In two hours we have 700 children and babies through the courtyard of the Amaru hostel – we carry in babies and toddlers and then pass them back out to their mums with a wrapped bread and a small gift, we have a Santa and music and give a mug of hot chocolate to older kids, some needing help to drink it, Ben and Zoe give out around 700 gifts including some bracelets the girls have made, a book we’ve acquired on recent flight and happy meal cuddly toys!
Most of the kids look so poor it’s obvious this is their one piece of Christmas cheer and when the hostel closes the door at 11am with still a few people desperate to get in, being turned away, Ben and Zoe are so upset they sneak out to give away the last few bread buns that were in the last box and being given to volunteers:) I have to admit, they soon seem to recover from these moments of compassion and insight but I think they are taking away a lasting understanding about the world they’re exploring.
In contrast, we enjoy a few days of excellent dining! Spoiling ourselves, we seek out the top restaurants from the 216 listed on Trip Advisor. It’s a very stark contrast between us spending perhaps $70 on a wonderful supper for six people and the few Soles (4 to a GB pound) a family might earn selling a little moss that they gathered in the Sacred Valley, at the Christmas Eve market.
In Peru as many other countries across the globe, celebrations are mostly on Christmas Eve. We embrace this as we are invited to a midnight party! So on Christmas Eve, we persuade the kids to have a nap then a couple of hours later peel the reluctant girls from their beds to jump in a taxi across town. Ben hasn’t actually slept so is still excited and bouncy and ready to party!
Lovely Elizabeth and Erick who we met at their fabulous Uchu restaurant have invited us to join family and friends where we enjoy the traditional midnight unveiling of the baby Jesus, wave sparklers and watch fireworks across the city then eat a delicious supper. Our girls wake up and get into the spirit of the night, performing some Christmas songs amidst giggles and are still buzzing when we get back and to bed at 2.30am!
Poor Santa must have called back several times till he found three sleeping children with pillow cases at the foot of their beds! Or maybe he’s used to a late visits in South America! Either way he somehow manages to sneak into their hotel room sometime after about 3am when they finally get to bed!!
Christmas Day is something of a recovery day!! More like a typical Boxing Day back home but with presents still to open! The children sleep till almost 9am and eventually Lara wakes, eyes the lumpy pillow cases at the foot of the bed, registers what they are and starts to shake Zoe shouting ‘Santa’s been’ – it takes them a further 10 minutes to rouse Ben!
Then we have breakfast and gather around the tiny tree we put up in our room and open the reasonable (but small compared to usual) collection of little pressies underneath.
We have a wander around the town then go off to Christmas lunch at an apparently child friendly restaurant where all profits go to a children’s poverty program in Cusco… The girls take their too-small trainers to hand over, and love that there are teddies and games to play with and silly hats to try on(!)….. but the food is really disappointing – Lara eats nothing! We should have gone to a better reviewed place and had delicious alpaca steak instead of seeking out turkey, but at least it was a good cause!
Afterwards, we have to take refuge in Starbucks to recover! Although I feel we should boycott the Global brands that have invaded albeit almost discreetly, Cusco’s beautiful plaza, Lara’s passion for chicken nuggets and chippies and mine for a Vente Latte makes this too much of a tall order at Christmas!
A quiet evening of card games and a Christmas movie brought from home – ‘Santa’s Apprentice’ rounds off our day nicely!
Boxing Day is another lazy late start, a lovely lunch at Inka Zuela which is another top restaurant. Ben has a good chat with the waiter and gets a kitchen tour and more complements on his Spanish.
Then we take the open top bus tour of the city, including a drive through the famous Inca ruins of Saksawhuamen (not to be confused with Sexy Woman as the guide loves to remind you:)
We wander some more around town then back at the hotel we finally give the kids their ‘main’ presents – iPod touches – they are completely beyond themselves with delight!
And they are more than happy staying at the hotel for a pizza from down the road whilst Martin and I finally get to head off for a Boxing Day supper at ‘Soleil’ a lovely French restaurant that has already made it to No1 of 216 in Cusco in its short life of 16 months. The snails and fois gras come from France – the owner makes regular flights to Paris to pick them up!!
And it’s our last night in Cusco. Tomorrow, we’re off to the Sacred Valley and will visit some Inca sites along the way then stay in the picturesque valley town of Ollantaytambu, from where we’ll head by train to Machu Pichu for New Year’s Eve!
Read all about our Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley New Year Adventures in Zoe’s new year blog:)