Monday, October 11, 2010

The Long Awaited Guinea Pig

It might not seem like it, but I'm going to have to be rather economical with the pictures in this entry. The time frame being covered here - three days - is likely the longest Boo and I have gone and will go without a new bottle of wine to blog about.

With the life-long dream of visiting Machu Picchu now behind me, we've returned to Cusco for a couple of nights; however, Boo's bout of Incan Revenge, if anything, is getting worse - to the point where our agent had a doctor come to the hotel to check him out. He's even opted out of a scheduled private tour to the Sacred Valley in order to rest it out in bed, loaded up with antibiotics.

His not feeling up to the tour was a real shame because this day was our best opportunity to experience a more down-to-earth flavour of Peru and the local Quechua life - the Quechans being the local descendants of the Inca. When planning the trip, we were excited to be in Cusco on a Sunday as that would allow us to travel to the neighbouring town of Pisac for its famous Sunday market. An added treat was to be that the local church features a procession of all the regional mayors and deputies, dressed in traditional garb and carrying the ceremonial staffs. Well, the first thing that my guide mentioned was that the Pisac church had been severely damaged and torn down after the terrible spring rains. Accordingly, there hasn't been a church procession in months.

He suggested, instead, that we might start with the smaller village of Chinchero which is more off the beaten tourist track and then end with Pisac. Chinchero is also built upon Incan foundations and it is a known centre for Quechan weavers, but the unexpected bonus was that it also has a church procession and our timing had, inadvertently, resulted in our arriving in the town square and church at precisely the moment of their local dignitaries gathering for mass.

Chinchero also features a Sunday market. It may not be as large as Pisac's; however, it also isn't geared as much for the tourist and remains primarily based on local farmers bartering their goods and produce amongst themselves. The colours and the array of stalls was wonderful.

There was no wine for sale - in either the Chinchero or the Pisac markets. Not really a surprise; however, there was plenty of chicha - or corn beer - to be found. Normally, I would have been tempted to try some, but Boo's current condition left me cautiously re-thinking that idea. Unfortunately, I had no real need of buying anything else. There was plenty of incredible produce but we wouldn't have any opportunity to actually enjoy it.

I think it's safe to say that the most intriguing stall in either market was one that was a little off the beaten track in Pisac. Around one corner, there was a beautiful, big wood-burning oven and there was a batch of potatoes being roasted and they looked delicious. However, over in the corner, there was a stack of artistic cages. Upon closer look (and a tip from the guide), it was clear that the occupants were guinea pigs - all ready to be prepared for roasting. Boo desperately wants to try some of the local delicacy while in Peru, but seeing them there, all fluffy and cute, is enough to throw most city folk (at least me) for a bit of a loop when you first encounter it.

When I recounted the day, perhaps the biggest disappointment for Boo was when I told him that there was small cemetery just across the street from the Pisac market. Since it was a private tour, a quick "detour" and wander through was easily arranged. It wasn't hard to conclude that this cemetery was going to be nothing like the famous Recoleta Cemetery that's about a week away on our schedule. The diversity of the gravesites was simple, yet staggering. There's no doubt, however, that this is one of the most peaceful resting places I've ever seen.

Trying to experience the Sacred Valley in less than a day was obviously going to be limited to a few highlights; it certainly adds to one's perspective of the Peru though. Lima, Cusco and the metropolitan areas may be the engines that drive the country, but the valley offers more of a feel of what life in this foreign land is and was like.

But, yet again, I digress, somehow I need to fit a bottle of wine into this posting - and that comes from the one dinner that Boo and I actually went out to enjoy in Cusco. Between my initial bout with altitude sickness and his Incan Revenge, we've spent more time in bed than we have wandering the streets of Cusco. If we hadn't been on the tours, we might not have seen any of the city at all.

Even after a day in bed, Boo still wasn't really up to a night on the town, but he put on his game face and gave it the old college try. Our reservation was at one of the city's prime restaurants - MAP - at the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art. We'd arrived at the Plaza where the museum is located a little bit early, however, and, lo and behold, Fallen Angel, one of the trendy Cusco hot spots was sitting there right next door.

We went into the wildly decked out Fallen Angel and had a quick cocktail. Too bad that we didn't have more time because I'd have loved to blog a wine from there. But MAP beckoned - and our only bottle of wine in all three nights in Cusco.

614. 2005 Zuccardi Q Tempranillo (Mendoza - Argentina)

Boo and quickly decided on two of the restaurant's signature dishes. Whether he was feeling well or not, there was no way Boo wasn't going to try the guinea pig confit. As for me, the capchi - a creamy, mushroom soup/stew - was the starting point.

Accordingly, we didn't want to go too heavy on the choice of wine. When talking a lighter red, the sommelier quickly recommended the Zuccardi, saying that this vintage won all sorts of awards and garnered huge points from the wine rags. Not thinking of Argentina as a regular source of Tempranillo, we took him at his word and thoroughly enjoyed the bottle.

I mostly know of Zuccardi from its mass market wine, Fuzion, and it's not exactly what I'd immediately think of for a nice dinner. The Q series has been around since the late-90's, however, and it was the winery's conscious decision to try and position itself in the world's changing wine scene. The 1997 Q Tempranillo was the winery's first release of a higher end wine and it has quickly established its reputation as one of the, if not the, finest Tempranillos produced in Argentina.

We don't have a Zuccardi visit scheduled for our Mendoza tour, but we might need to keep an eye open for it.

As for Peru, it's time to move on. With a couple of flights ahead of us, we're hoping that the antibiotics are going to continue doing their thing and that we'll be able to leave the Incan Revenge behind us on the Inca Trail.

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