These little chicha sucking candies I try thanks to my tour guide, capture the beverage’s flavor perfectly, and I decide to buy a few packs to bring home. Alas, the supermarket across the street from the JW doesn’t carry the brand I’ve come to like, so I take a fast walk around the town… and, forgetting to pace myself outside the oxygen-enriched property’s walls, I begin to feel a fainting spell come on.
Fortunately, I don’t pass out, because I stop walking for a few minutes, breathe in deeply, and slowly saunter back to the property (with the candy no less, found in a tiny convenience shop). Instead of coca leaf tea, I decide to opt for a tea made with the hotel’s Muña leaves instead. Muña, unlike coca, is shorter-acting and won’t keep one awake at night even if consumed shortly before bed. It also reportedly boasts digestion and aphrodisiac benefits.
My condition warrants a visit to the Convento’s 3,300-square-foot underground spa, situated down the hall from one of its architectural ruin sites, for a serious bit of decompression in its gorgeous aqua-blue relaxation pool. After the pool, I sweat a bit in the stream room and dry sauna, and eventually indulge in a treatment. One of the spa’s signature packages, “Magnificent Festival,” is inspired by the Incas’ Capac Raymi, a religious celebration taking place during the winter solstice, and involves a diamond scrub, gold body wrap, deepcleansing facial, 50-minute massage, and a manicure/pedicure. The spa also offers specific men’s services.
After all that pampering, it is time for some Peruvian cuisine. Over the past decade or so, Peru has arrived as a major foodie destination, and I’m admittedly on a mission to try what some would regard as the hot dog of Andean Peru: cuy.
Cuy (guinea pig) is a staple of Andean cuisine and available in numerous iterations. From street food, sometimes bought and consumed on a stick (not glamorous), to restaurants where you can pick your guinea pig like a fish from a tank. I’ve elected the JW Marriott’s stunning Pirqua restaurant as the place to lose my cuy virginity.
Exemplifying the property’s concept, this venue is a juxtaposition of the ancient and the 21st-century (even the event spaces boast fantastic design that riffs on Inca culture and architecture). This is not a “big room” style restaurant, either. Instead, Pirqua’s tables and sumptuous leather chairs are lined against a stone wall from the Augustin Convent on one side, with a glass-enclosed view of the ambrosial courtyard and surrounding arches to the other side. This is a fantastic, lovely arrangement and chock-full of atmosphere and style. The food, meanwhile, is modern Peruvian that puts the region’s bounty of produce, which includes over 3,000 distinct types of potatoes, to delectable use through international techniques (six different potatoes were used in my starter course, a soup).
Organic, seasonal, and locavore are key words at Pirqua as well—the suppliers are carefully selected. The chef, Rely Alencastre, informed of my desire to try cuy at dinner, procured a guinea pig that had been raised on an all-organic diet, making it palatable to even the most stringent of Portland hipsters.
After several courses, including a trout tiradito (a more delicate, saucy version of ceviche), the cuy arrived, lying flat with arms outstretched as if a superhero in flight, atop a bed of sliced potatoes, and brightly flavored pile of onions, peppers, cilantro, and citrus zest on its caramel- hued, crispy-skinned back.
My dining companions, whom also had never tried of cuy before, reacted with a mix of amusement, horror, and curiosity. With help from the chef, we carved up the cuy, which was actually very tasty—akin to dark chicken meat— and was truly elevated with the onion-based condiment. While I’m steering clear of the ready-to-eat cooked cuy I saw at Cusco’s San Pedro market, whose vendor stored it in a large sack, I’m definitely a fan. After dinner, it was time for a pisco sour in the Qespi Bar and its adjacent Nina Soncco Lounge.
While it was tempting to explore Cusco’s electric nightlife scene, which includes a few LGBT and LGBT-friendly spots like café/bar/restaurant Macondo (Cuesta San Blas 571. Tel: +51-84-236799. www.facebook.com/pages/macondo-cafe-concepto), a train ride to Machu Picchu, my final destination in Peru, awaits in the morning.