I guess this title is a little deceiving, as we didn’t really get to see too much of Puno at all.  By the next afternoon the sickness had dissipated enough to warrant heading outside in search of snacks, and to also catch a glimpse of Lake Titicaca.

Most of the tourists depart early in the morning to see the lake tribes and return late in the evening.  This means that most of the shops nearby are closed the rest of the day.  We took a  couple photos, grabbed some bananas and dinner rolls, and headed back to the hotel.  On the way we caught an example of globalization initiatives by one of Canada’s finest brands:

After our tour mates returned to the hotel, we got together to head out for a traditional Peruvian dinner: Guinea Pig!   It seems so interesting to me that these little fellows are kept around the house as pets, until one night you can’t decide what you’d like for dinner, and your pet’s cute furriness suddenly begins to look…delicious!

Here is a photo of one of our friends demonstrating the typical spread – the guinea pig is flayed out on a plate – claws covered delicately in tinfoil.  This restaurant was first class, and they gutted the beast for you – covering its empty body with a fresh and tasty salad.  Also notice the side serving of Peruvian tater tots with cheese sauce?!  SO GOOD!

Notice the head and teeth are intact.  Our guide Alim showed us the traditional way of eating this part of the head, and the neat crafts you can do with it afterward:

Notice it is in the shape of a condor, the sacred bird of the Incas!  Guinea pig looks very unappetizing, but its really just like dark meat with a fried skin.  Not quite like chicken, but not really unlike it either.

After exploring the jungle we flew back to Cusco.  Cusco  is one of the largest cities in Peru, with over 350,000 inhabitants, and over 1 million visitors every year!   The city was the capital of the Inca Empire, and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.  It’s surrounded by the amazing Andes mountains, and as such, its kinda high up:  3,400m (11,200 ft).   We spent a night and day here to help us get acclimatized to the altitude difference.  Luckily Mike and I were not overly effected, thank goodness.

I really loved touring around the city, and it is fantastically steeped in history.  Cusco has been inhabited since approximately 1000, however it became an official capital with the Inca Civilization from 1300-1532.  The evidence of the Incas buildings are everywhere.  The civilization itself only lasted a short time, however their buildings are  very much still standing.  In the centre of the city many building foundations date back to this time.  In this picture you can see the incredible building on the right side.  The stones are pressed together so tightly you couldn’t even fit a razor blade between them.  Also notice how they are not completely 90 degrees, but slightly tapered?  This was constructed by the Incas to withstand earthquakes.  Clearly an effective strategy!

After Francisco Pizarro and the Spanish invaded in 1532, everything changed for the Incas.  Many of the native peoples were killed by the conquistadors, and many more died of things like smallpox and flu (sounds familiar, eh?).    It was very interesting to hear the perspective of our tour guide, who was ethnically Quechua – pre-contact Peruvian.  Their language, culture and peoples were largely obliterated by the invaders, and their temples and buildings looted for gold and jewels.   The Spanish were incredibly pragmatic however, and realized that Inca temples were too good to destroy, so converted many of them to Catholic churches.

This photo is taken from the inside courtyard of a Catholic church, the Convento De Santo Domingo Del Cusco.  On the right hand side, behind the colums, you can see the original Inca walls.  The original building was the most important temple in the entire empire: Qorikancha.

Qorikancha was a temple of the sun, and its walls were literally covered in gold.  Sheets of pure gold.  Can you imagine?!  All of it was stripped by the Incas to pay the ransom on their leader, Atahualpa, who had been kidnapped by the Spanish.  It didn’t do much good: Pizarro took the gold and killed Atahualpa anyway.

The buildings in dowtown Cusco are really lovely, if you are into Spanish architecture.  The grand squares, churches and government buildings are all very impressive and well kept.  We  stumbled on this parade taking place in the main square, Plaza de Armas.

We didnt get a chance to go into the cathedral in the picture, which is a real shame, because it contains a couple somewhat subversive paintings.  Commissioned by the Spanish but painted by a local, the local artist painted a portrait of Judas, but depicted him as Pizarro (oh snap!).  The same artist also reproduced the last supper, but depicted the meal as a giant guinea pig.  Classic!