The pig head dangling from the meat hook could easily have been a turn off for some Americans. This was my first full day in Peru, Cuzco to be exact, and I found myself in a large market where not only did animal heads hang from stalls, but cow tongues too. As my heart stopped for a second and the smells of life, death, and blood filled my nostrils, I realized I had come to a completely different culture, a completely different country. And I loved every second of it. My final goodbye to South America after living as a US citizen in Venezuela for almost two years was a trip to Peru with my closest friends. Unofficially, we were celebrating new job opportunities, graduate school completion, and passed medical board exams. Officially, we were acknowledging 10+ years of friendship. This international celebration of professional and personal success is how I landed in the amazing San Pedro Market full of people, vegetables, cheese, chocolate, bread, textiles, and culture. My travel mentor, Sojourner at Sojourner’s Sojourns, makes it a point to visit a local market wherever she goes. The reason is simple and elegant: a market is a country’s pulse. If the San Pedro Market was a way to take Peru’s vital signs, Peru was alive and healthy.
This particular market visit was a part of a relaxed, convivial cooking class where my friends and I learned how to make traditional drinks and dishes such as lomo saltado, crema de maiz, and pisco sours.
After cooking, eating, and communing, the ladies—as my Southern mother refers to the group—strolled to the Convento de Santo Domingo Del Cusco–Qorikancha where views like this awaited us: This first Dominican convent in Peru was originally an Incan temple. The art adorning the walls as well as the building’s mix of Incan and Spanish architecture helped me to better understand why some argue the search for beauty is what gives life meaning. In the streets surrounding Qorikancha there are families dressed in traditional clothing who allow you to take pictures of them or with them in exchange for money. When I plopped down for my shamelessly touristy picture, the little girl immediately reached out to touch my hair. I couldn’t help but laugh. No matter the continent, fascination with Black people’s hair never seems to end.
Our night ended at the organic, laid-back restaurant Greens Organic. As I savored each rich bite of the curry dish, it dawned on me that I would be delving into Peru’s extensive food scene. Suffice it to say that the restaurants could be a post in and of themselves.
This was only my first day in Peru and what a beautiful day it had been. Thankfully, the dreaded altitude sickness only slightly affected me (I believe regularly working out beforehand, drinking liters of water before and during the trip, and limiting my caffeine and alcohol intake helped. A headache pill, food, and some sleep was all my body needed to adjust).
As I ate dinner with my friends and relished in the beauty of a new country I couldn’t help but think that this, this was Peru.
This was love and beauty.
Pure and simple.
Future posts: Machu Picchu and Lima