At 3 a.m., the airport authorities shooed away two dozen passengers stretched out on wooden bench seats and sent us downstairs. A gas leak was suspected in the area and a dog sniffed around to investigate. A false alarm. We had barely returned to sleep when the cleaning lady began vacuuming the carpet. It sounded like 10,000 angry bees. No more shuteye.
Two flights later, we arrived in Cusco, Peru. Rodrigo greeted us at the airport and took us to Hotel Girasoles, Spanish for sunflowers. Right away we were seated at a table and given some coca tea to help us adjust to the high elevation. Soon we were lying in our cheerful room and resting, both to recover from the late-night air travel and to acclimatize.
Mikayla continued to rest as Mike and I set out in search of dinner. Down the street a few blocks we check out a menu that offers 10-sole and 15-sole specials. The prices are so good, so rare, that we have to try the food. For my 10-sole dinner, I choose cream of asparagus soup and spaghetti Alfredo. For his pricier 15-sole selection, Mike gets taquilles and a beef dish, as well as a pisco sour, Peru’s national cocktail. A bit of sweet cake tops off our meal that has cost a whopping $9.25US.
The food is not only good; it goes to a good cause. Yanapay Café supports a local after-school program, Aldea Yanapay, for children and adolescents at risk. Jane, the associate director, and her boss teach such values as respect, trust, honesty and unconditional love in a city where domestic abuse and drug use are common. The program’s lessons are expressed through art projects, plays and musical performances.
Aldea Yanapay’s mission to help children reverberates in the restaurant’s decor and accessories. Puppets, dolls, kites and small hot-air balloons dangle from the ceiling. A child-sized dining table with chairs sits near the door strung with Christmas lights. Our toothy waiter offers a plush animal as a dinner companion. We turn down the stuffed lion and pull Mancala off the game shelf available to patrons, and Mike proceeds to beat me mercilessly in three games.
On the stroll back to Hotel Girasoles, we find an irresistible treat, a plate of picarones. These yummy rings of yeast dough are fried in a vat of oil like doughnuts. They float to the top as beignets do and they’re served hot with miel, or honey, poured over the steamy rings. Close to Plaza Santa Catalina, this corner restaurant attracts construction workers, moms and babies, and the ever-present backpackers. We like Cusco already.