Subject: Re: Peru
Hi Elena

I've visited a couple of times, once in 78 and also in 2001. Lima has REALLY gone downhill - didn't find anything of interest this time. In simple terms, spend time elsewhere.

In 78 I rented a car and drove out into the desert from Lima - until the road disappeared under the sand. I recall being 'impressed' by the effects of zero humidity/rainfall - it means that no bacteria act on anything in the desert, so it doesn't degrade. This means decades old garbage lying around.

On the upside, loved Cusco. However, the weather there depends on season. This time I went in winter (June) and it was very clear, but a little cool. Hotels are not great - too many tourists. Same potential problem with restaurants - but I'm copying a write-up I did of our better eating experiences.

Others had recommended Pucara (on Plateros just off the Plaza de Armas), so we headed there first and had an excellent meal. There were several Japanese groups there, and you can choose from a menu that has little pictures of each dish. The Plaza de Armas area is the most expensive, but most of the better restaurants are there. Pucara was cheaper than most and the food was excellent (although service runs on `Inca time', so make sure you're not in a rush). I had the beef heart Churrasco # tender and well prepared but not really exciting. Catherine had the Aji de Gallina a spiced chicken (more correctly a young cockerel, chicken is pollo) dish that was excellent. So much so that she ordered it at another restaurant later, where it wasn't nearly as good. The reason we didn't return # Pucara is closed Sundays, when we tried to go back.

But the main search was for cuy. When in Cusco###.etc. It was on the menu in several places, not difficult to find at all. Based on a tour guide recommendation we went to the Aztec Grill (on Plaza de Armas), which served several versions. Essentially there are two versions. One stretches the meat out in a single layer (sort of like being on a rack). The other roasts it whole (al horno), something like a roast rabbit that's been cleaned and not cut. But both leave the head on (be warned). We had several people come up and take photographs! The taste was like a cross between rabbit and hare # more distinct flavor than rabbit, but without the gaminess of hare. And it's much larger than I recall. It's certainly for the hungry diner. For those who want the experience without the eyes looking back at you, they also serve a cuy stroganoff.

We also had the medallions of alpaca. Alpaca is also available in many places, and the version here was excellent. The medallions were served medium rare and were melt-in-the-mouth. We saw Alpaca from around $5 - $10 at different places, so I presume different cuts are served. This was the $10 one and was worth it # we tried a $5 portion elsewhere and it was stringier and had less taste (the good stuff was like very fresh spring lamb, with a hint of pepper). Strangely, llama was not served anywhere as `it doesn't make good eating' # yet it's available back home in Toronto. I guess we're savages.

A warning (or recommendation, depending on your preferences) that applies to most of the restaurants around the Plaza de Armas. You are likely to experience traditional music sometime during the meal. Various small musical groups travel from restaurant to restaurant to play a half hour set then pass round the hat and aggressively push their cassette or CD # if you don't buy, then donate! El Condor Pasa is NOT my favourite song, and it usually hinders digestion rather than assisting it. I don't like forced listening that's too loud to permit conversation # even less do I like being interrupted by people selling anything while I'm eating. However, you will experience this, so don't let it spoil the evening. Actually, the Andean Grill was better than some # and there's no band at Pucara.

Alan Gardner