It sounded good to a lady on our tour: suckling pig. Perhaps the Segovia style with onions, potatoes (3,000 varieties in Peru!), carrots, white wine. Or maybe the Hawaiian version with banana leaves and all the fixings.
So she ordered it and waited for tender pork to spill onto her plate.
Imagine her surprise when a very small pig showed up whole perched over a layer of potatoes (3,000 varieties!). And what is this? she asked.
“Cuy,” the waiter said. “Guinea pig.”
Quite a surprise, but the woman ate it and found it satisfying. “Like white meat on chicken.”
I thought it tasted and looked more like dark meat, like the thigh of a chicken. We had our adventure with cuy the first night we were in Cuzco when we had dinner with a former colleague and her husband. We had found out through Facebook that they would be in Cuzco when we were there. This is the second time we have met Carol unexpectedly while traveling; the first one was in Avignon in France in 1982.
Carol and Kathy had alpaca steak, and the men decided to split a guinea pig. There is not much meat to pig out on, but we ate it down to its rib cage and left the head untouched.
Guinea pigs are raised like chickens by many families in the Andean highlands, our guide said.
An adventure in eating, but we are still no threat to those in the USSA who keep guinea pigs as pets.
Cuzco, Peru, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018 – We arrived in Cuzco, Peru, today, a city of 500,000 in the Cuzco state of about one million residents. This was once the capital of the Inca Empire of about 12 million people that covered from present-day Ecuador down to about half of Chile.
In the center of the main square now is a statue of Pachacutec, the Inca ruler responsible for binding that empire together from the different groups of people who lived there in the mid-fifteenth century.
Opposite Pachacutec’s statue on the “Plaza de Armas” is, of course, a church, this one built on top of an Inca palace. When we arrived there, the Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesús (built by Jesuits) was celebrating. My devout Catholic wife says one of those statues they were carting around was maybe Saint Francis.
However, on the day we were there, the saint calendar held out many saints, martyrs from the Spanish Civil Wars and numerous other people that could have been celebrated. There was a band, a procession and statues. Pachacutec did not participate.
The band above may not be The Best Damn Band in the Land, but I had to keep shooting to see how the sousaphone player was doing. Did not dot the i in Francis.
From there, we went to the Museo Machu Picchu, home to the largest collection of Machu Picchu artifacts in the world. Housed in a colonial home, the Casa Concha, the museum includes the artifacts dug up by Hiram Bingham, generally described as the man who discovered this ancient Inca ruin. Bingham sent what he found there in 1911, 1912 and 1915 back to Yale University with the promise that they would be returned to Peru when the research was done. About 100 years later, they found their way to Peru.
Our newest Alexander + Roberts guide, Yakelin, explained that Bingham had no archeologists with him and no plan on how to go about the dig.
“He paid the people working for him one sol (Peru currency now worth three to a dollar) for every skeleton they could find,” she said. “so the farmers dug everywhere.”
The 174 skeletons they did find apparently came from important people in the Inca society – no broken bones, little evidence of hard work.
Some of the bodies discovered were probably mummies, important to the Incas. The mummies of rulers were brought out for festivals, had servants and were “sustained by offerings of food and drink,” according to John Hemming’s book, “The Conquest of the Incas.”
The Spaniards burned mummies, used them to lure Incas from the highlands to the new capital at Lima, where the mummies were never found, said Yakelin. The conquerors hoped the mummies could be replaced by images of the Virgin Mary.
Yakelin said that many of the bodies found at Machu Picchu were buried or in caves, opening to the underground world.
Which led to the subject of human sacrifice. Yes, Yakelin said, the Incas did sacrifice humans, mostly children in the worst of times – quakes, eruptions and natural disasters. The children were raised separately, fed only corn and families considered it an honor to have a child sacrificed. None of our group offered up any children.
The unfinished city was ordered to be built by Pachacutec about 100 years before it was abandoned. Five different groups of people were discovered to have lived there, representing the way Pachacutec brought together his empire, gathering knowledge from other districts and then incorporating them.
There was some metal work done at Machu Picchu, but no gold was found there. Was it a religious site without riches? Or, did the Incas take it with them when they abandoned the city in the face of the Spanish conquest?
No need for that as the Spaniards never found Machu Picchu.