How do eight people pack for a road trip? It’s mass confusion with one mom shepherding three boys through the process: Mom, where’s my iPod? Mom, I don’t have any clean socks. Jerome, have you seen my hat? Miles, can you stop playing that game long enough to pack? Then there are the three independents: I-can-do-it-myself-thank-you-very-much. Did you remember to pack some socks? No. What about a raincoat? No. Scarf? Yes. Kindle? A deck of cards?
Before the Huffords and Lezovi leave Cusco, we squeeze in another landmark, the Museo Inka. It’s not covered by the boleto turistico, and it’s probably the best museum we’ve visited. It has a large collection of Inca jewelry, pottery, textiles and metalwork, and it claims the largest display of qeros, native drinking vessels. In another area, six to eight mummies eerily peer out from under amber lights in a glass display case.
A fine piece of architecture, the former colonial home of Admiral Francisco Maldonado, houses the Museo Inka. In the building’s central courtyard, local weavers and textile makers show their talents and wares.
At last we head to Ollantaytambo, Peru, in a colectivo, a nice private van. Geoff Hufford has secured it for 10 soles each, about $3.30US per person. As we climb the curving roads out of Cusco, we pass vendors selling a variety of goods: firewood, charcoal, choclo con queso, skewered meat, cellular minutes and Inka Cola. (It outsells Coke and Pepsi here despite its icky bubblegum flavor.)
The 90-minute drive to Ollantaytambo is refreshing. We gaze upon the snow-covered Andes and lush pastures where children tend sheep. Along the road a woman in a bright skirt bears up under a load of corn stalks strapped across her back. A burro tied alongside the road looks up from his grassy lunch and stamps his foot. A clump of buggies pulled by lightweight motorcycles waits idly for passengers beside a park where children are swinging.
Our colectivo pulls up in front of the Hotel Sol and we step inside a warm, friendly hostel. We have three rooms on the second floor priced as reasonably as the hotels in Cusco. All three overlook a courtyard with a small fountain. Two rooms open onto a small balcony above a rushing stream and a close view of Ollantaytambo’s splendid ruins. A few tourists make their way down the stone paths before the sun sets.
It’s dinnertime. I guide us to a restaurant that received two thumbs up from some passersby as well as Carlo, our hotel’s concierge. Mike and I proceed to sit down to the best steak we’ve ever eaten. Anywhere.
Puka Rami, as far as I can tell, is run by an Argentinian chef, a sous-chef who’s perhaps Argentinian as well, a kitchen helper and a server. For a starter, I order a cream of asparagus soup that’s quite good. Mike has a salad. Then the filet arrives in the best pepper sauce I’ve ever tasted. I only wish there had been more. It holds a lot of pepper and perhaps some mustard as well. The steak is cooked absolutely perfectly. It’s moist and juicy and has no fat as many American steaks do. It comes with a side of French fries that are adequate. Nothing can match the steak and pepper sauce for flavor.
Mike and I rave about the steak. We refuse to offer samples to anyone except Mikayla. We continue our rhapsodies about our dinner until the Huffords insist we return the following night so they can try it themselves.