The gal arrived in Cusco on Andean New Year, August 1st, when many families make payment to Pachamama, Mother Earth. As it happened, there was an amazing ceremony taking place at Cusco’s most established luxury hotel, Belmond Monasterio, and the shamans and assistants were all ready – see above, and left. There was dancing and singing (see the video immediately below). Then the shamans carefully packaged food for Pachamama, about 30 ingredients, including herbs, candy and chocolate bars. Into a hole in a flower bed, local wine and a corn liquor were poured in, the package was carefully placed on top, and then the head shaman replaced earth. What an honour to coincide with this! (Now see more of my stay, beneath this video)
The short flight from Lima is actually jolly exhausting as Lima’s domestic airport is a nightmare, nowhere to sit, and planes leaving for Cusco every ten minutes are all full. I was met at Cusco by my favourite local guide, Walter, and he drove me to the Monasterio, which has a fabulous new GM, Arturo Schwarz, who started exactly a year ago today – he is a real details man, and the hotel is better than ever. To cope with the 3,400 metres ASL altitude, and since breakfast was so many hours ago, I sat in the courtyard in the bright midday sun and had a detox salad, with papaya, lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, rucula and vinaigrette – and the breads here are absolutely addictive, especially a wholegrain with fruit studs.
What a welcome, gazing up at the 330-year old Andean cypress, a unique tree apparently, that dominates the centre of this courtyard. I looked around at the cloisters, dating back to the building’s start, in 1592, on the site of the palace of Inca Amanu Ohata. I drank a silent toast, in a Riedel glass holding still water, to those who have over the centuries made this such a unique place (it was Filip Boyen who transformed this and Machu Picchu’s Sanctuary Lodge into such special hotels when Orient Express paid $10 million for a 50% stake of both, back in 1999). I finished with a cup of coca tea from the help-yourself in the hotel’s lobby, noting that no-one should drink coca after 5 p.m. as it keeps you awake – at that hour, the lobby’s beverage switches to maca.
That night, it was opera, from local soprano Angela Medina and her husband Moisés Mendoza, in Tupay restaurant, and on my way back I passed the nightly whole-log firepit, live music and bar in the cedar’s courtyard. In the morning, it was Gregorian chant, oh how memorable, at breakfast in Illarly, where portraits of ancient clerics look down at the buffet. I had an omelette filled with Andean herbs, fresh basil, chincho, cilantro, coca, oregano and an assortment of mint, including black Peruvian mint, huacatay. Back in lovely suite 230, looking out at a private courtyard, I sorted photos while listening to a Feast of the Transfiguration choral vespers from the Church of the Transfiguration in St Petersburg (the Russian one, naturally). This was a spine-chilling finale to what was an impact-full stay throughout my 24 hours back at this gorgeous luxury hotel. SEE THE GREGORIAN BREAKFAST, BELOW, AND, UNDER, SUITE 230