Location: Cusco, Peru
Cusco: The Party Town
Lima was loud. The party scene seemed never ending, one night`s fun rolling into the next days´ outing. I wrote it off because I knew I was in the tourist part of town, and tourists are always up for a party.
Cusco is different. There is a party every night, and some nights the Peruvians outnumber the tourists.
On Saturday I decided to go to a Pisco Sour making class at the SAE Club. It was at noon. Earlier, but still technically afternoon! After my experience in Lima, I wasn`t too excited (WAY too much lime) but was curious how they were made. Apparently I was the only one. Luckily there were 2 women working that day, so I didn`t have to drink the entire pitcher alone. Instead, I only drank an entire pitcher minus 2. It was going to be a good day
Unable to find McDonalds´ (drunk in the middle of the day, it`s no wonder I couldn`t follow directions) I decided a 6 soles lunch of spaghetti wasn`t a bad deal.
There is a reason Peruvians aren`t known for their spaghetti.
Walking through town with food in my belly I sobered up somewhat, and arrived ¨home¨ in time for dinner. Dani and Aly asked me again if I was going out, and again looked disappointed when I said no (I knew no one! Did they want me to go out and strike up conversations with complete strangers?) but luckily Emilien saved me from their disappointed looks by inviting me out with him and his friends. Showered, sobered up and ready to go I met Emilien and the Germans (Stefi minima, Stefi maxima, and I forget the other girls` name!). We went for dinner at a cute, random restaurant filled with toys.
They left to get ready (and pick up more members of their posse) and I introduced Emilien to the tiny hostel Rawsam introduced me to earlier.
And then? BAILA!
Did you know that as a gringo/a in Cusco you can get a lot of free drinks? But not tequila. That I had to pay for. At least they poor their shots tall here!
A few hours later and it was only Stefi minima, Emilien and me dancing (on the bar at that point. 2 continents down, 5 to go!). Finally at 5 am Emilien had had enough and we went home to sleep the uninterrupted sleep of the drunk and exhausted.
Like I said, Cusco knows how to party.
Location: Cusco, Peru
Did I mention my phone works? This was reaffirmed to me at 8 in the morning on Monday when it rang and I was woken out of a dead sleep.
It was Rawsam, the salsa teacher I`d met in Lima and waltzed in the park with. He`d flown to Cusco the same day I took my bus, which of course meant he`d arrived almost 2 days before me! We arranged to get together that evening and he introduced me to the owners of his hostel. It was new, and run by a Peruvian girl and her French boyfriend. It was small, but clean and the owners were so friendly! We spent the night talking about everything and anything, joined at different points by Ecuadorians, Argentineans and Chileans. The conversation was mostly in Spanish, but I worked on my miming skills and managed to get a few points in. Sooner than I liked though the soroche kicked in and I had to head home.
The rest of my week followed the formula of homework, class, nap, with the exception of a couple trips to the bank, and Thursday when I finally ventured to the SAE Club. I already had to walk up towards the Plaza from my home stay, and was not pleased to find out the Club was even further up the hill. I took my time, and rested on every bench I came across, but I was still breathless walking along. I got a little lost and asked one of the street sellers for directions. She was very kind, and it had been freezing, so I decided to buy a chullo (traditional Peruvian hat all the tourists wear them) from her. I found a pretty purple (I know, I know) two sided one, and then the bargaining began. She said 15. I forgot the Spanish word for 10, so said 11. We finally agreed on 13. Too much, I know, but she did give me directions, so I put my lack of good bargaining skills down as her tip. Besides, it still cost less than $5 Canadian.
I left her and walked up the ridiculously steep hill to the club. I had to rest halfway up
and then ¾ of the way up
and then right outside the door so I could catch my breath. At one point a woman came out and stared at me so I pretended to be admiring the view of Cusco
I don`t think she bought it. When I finally caught my breath, I rang the buzzer and was admitted to an oasis. Cacti, flowers, and shrubberies even Monty Python would admire filled the yard. The building was a 2 story cool structure filled with comfy wicker couches perfect for my weary body. I exchanged a book, had a tea, and called home. I`m pretty certain I`ve already justified the $60 membership fee by all the phone calls I`ve made home. Gotta love Magic Jack! When I´d rested and chatted to my hearts` content, I headed out again downhill this time. I found the plaza and sat in front of the Catedral people watching. It`s amazing how many different types of people travel through the square. A Peruvian didgeridoo player (don`t ask. I couldn`t explain even if I wanted to) sat down next to me and started talking to me. In Spanish. Keep in mind I`d been in Peru just over a week. He talked for a long time, and I nodded a lot, while watching the sun set behind the mountains surrounded Cusco. When it had set I used what little Spanish I had to excuse myself and started the long walk home, also downhill. It`s the little things like gentle sloping downhill planes after a long day walking that make life worthwhile.
Location: Cusco, Peru
You probably won`t believe me, but it took a week to put up that last post. Have I told you yet that internet in Peru is terrible? I have just spent the last 2.5 hours trying to upload 1 picture. 1!
Needless to say, I wouldn`t hold your breath for many pictures from me anytime soon.
Now, onto the past!
My home stay was fairly calm. It was like living at home
if my parents spoke Spanish and looked nothing like me. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were with Dani, Aly and Emilien. They also had a live in maid, named Nancy. She ate at the same time as us, but in the kitchen, and cleared and cleaned our plates. It was very strange to me, as I`ve never had a servant, but I rebelled by washing my own dishes whenever Dani and Aly weren`t looking.
I´m such a rebel.
Mornings I usually ate alone, having slept in past 7 when everyone else ate. Then I would usually do my Spanish homework, or maybe go for a walk (second week first week I was still feeling the effects of soroche and rarely felt like leaving the house), then be back in time for my Spanish lesson. It ran into lunchtime, so I usually was starting to eat when everyone else was finishing, and often ate lunch alone as well. After class I would either nap (first week my brain hurt and it was COLD! Did I mention they don`t have central heating here?) or go to the internet café (second week the internet at the house was broken). Then it was dinner time, and afterwards I would entertain myself before bed.
This sounds much drearier than it was, but this was the basic template to which I added various excursions around the city. On the Monday after I arrived Jesus, head of the Amigos school through which I was taking my lessons, showed up. He explained to me that he was heading out the South Africa that week to discuss a business deal and therefore my classes would be held in the house. However, he took me to the school to show me around and also pointed out where the closest bank was. I walked there and back while he attended to some business at the school, and though the walk was not long or hard I was soon breathless. I made it back to the school just as it began to rain a regular occurrence during the rainy season!
Jesus then walked me into town, showed me where the plaza was (all roads lead to the plaza!) and where the tourist office was, then left me to my own devices. Tired from the little physical exertion I`d already had that day I decided to walk home as it was almost entirely downhill. Eventually it started to rain in earnest, and I had walked off the map Jesus gave me, and was (yes, I´ll admit it) lost. I hailed a cab and handed him the card Dani had given me at breakfast with their address on it.
Fun fact: there are both registered and unregistered cabs in Cusco and for the first 3 weeks of my stay I made no effort to distinguish between the two. Dani had told me the price of a cab ride around the city at different times of the day, so I usually just handed over the money and stepped out of the cab before they could try to get more off a gringo like me. Apparently this was a very dangerous practice and garnered gasps of horror from my fellow travelers when I told them that not only had I gotten into unmarked cabs, but I`d also done so WITHOUT agreeing on a price before hand. Horror of horrors. (I still do this, just not with my travelling friends. What they don`t know can`t astonish them!)
When I arrived back at the house I was a bit of a point of ridicule as I`d only been a couple blocks from the house when I jumped in the cab. Oh well. If you can`t laugh at yourself who CAN you laugh at?
Location: Cusco, Peru
I know. I haven`t posted in a long while. It happens. I was enjoying my life, as one should when in a place as amazing as Cusco. Seriously. You should come.
Now, where did I leave off? Right, Cusco...
Dani picked me up at the bus station. He didn`t speak much English, and since I was coming to Cusco to learn Spanish, I wasn`t much help conversationally. I think there was a moment when he wasn`t sure he`d actually picked up the right person, but nevertheless he helped me get my luggage and flagged down a taxi. Now, my bag is big, but it is by no means so heavy I cannot lift it. The walk to the taxi with my bag winded me, but the walk with my bag up the stairs to my room nearly killed me. That was my first indication that soroche (altitude sickness) was not something to be trifled with!
I don`t know what I was expecting when I arrived at my home stay, but a house bursting with Peruvians and a party in full swing was certainly NOT it. It turned out to be Dani and Aly`s son Frank`s birthday. After 23 hours trapped on a bus all I wanted was a bathroom that wasn`t swaying, water, and food that wasn`t vacuum sealed. I received all this and more....
As Dani and I sat down to a late lunch (almuerza) Frankie´s friends slowly trickled out, and our food started piling in. We started with ensalada, then followed it with sopa, then segundo (potatoes and chicken, or papas y pollo) then finally postre (a dry vanilla cake). Raised both to clean my plate and to be polite I ate every bite, and nearly died for the effort. My stomach is used to small meals, and still queasy from the bus ride, a big meal was the last thing I needed, but I dreaded insulting my hosts, so down it went. I couldn`t even tell you if I enjoyed it, I was too busy concentrating on getting it all down. Finally it was over and I had earned my reprieve. I escaped upstairs for a nap.
All too soon I was awoken, this time for cena (supper). I made my way downstairs just before the flood of family came. Apparently in Peru birthdays are celebrated in the afternoon with friends, and in the evening with family. About a dozen Peruvians, laughing, talking, hugging and just generally making a ruckus entered the house. Tired and overwhelmed, I found a chair and clung to it like a life raft in a sea of Spanish. The family was very kind, introducing me around and speaking to me with the little English they knew, but for the most part I sat and let the Spanish wash over me, understanding about every 10th word. Eventually we made our way to the table and, except for the sopa (soup) we had the exact same meal.
I tried. I really did, but after a few bites it was all I could do to keep from exploding. To hide my lack of appetite I employed the age old trick of cut and push, moving my food around my plate until it was finally cleared. I did thoroughly enjoy dinner though. It was nice to experience Peruvian traditions, and both comforting and odd how similar they are to Canadian ones. At dinner the topics of discussion were football, politics, and prostitutes - regular fodder for many an Edmunds` family dinner. Afterwards the lights were dimmed, a cake was brought out and Happy Birthday was sung - in Spanish of course, but the tune was the same.
Finally, the family headed out. Though I was grateful to have met them, at that point I desired nothing more than a bed and warm blankets. The combination of a lengthy bus ride, an exhausting altitude, and an overexertion of eating would cure even the most devout insomniac, and I was not immune. 15 minutes later I got my wish, and was soon dead to the world.
Location: Cusco, Peru
I woke up to snow.
At first, I had a minor panic attack. Was it all a dream? Was I still in Toronto?
And then we hit a bump and I realized, no, I WAS in Peru. I`m not a morning person...
We were really high up in the Andes, and as we drove the sun rose and the snow disappeared. I saw a herd of llamas grazing in the snow covered mountains, and saw a lot of square rock formations that may have been the remains of farms, but there was nothing else around for kilometres, so I`m not actually sure what they were.
We left the snow capped peaks behind, and began one of our many descents into the fog laden valleys. At one point to the front and to my right all I could see was fog. I prayed our driver was alert and, more importantly, awake! We travelled down the side of the mountain on switchbacks, turning 180 degrees every few kilometres as we zig-zagged further and further down. Eventually the fog cleared to reveal one of the most beautiful settings I have ever seen. A river wound it`s lazy way through the base of the valley, mountains of varying heights rose up from the depths like great green goliaths. I had no idea where we were, but was so awed by my surroundings I could have cared less.
I`m sure by this point my seat mates were tired of my constant picture taking, but that didn`t stop me! Throughout the rest of the day we descended into valleys and climbed mountain sides, passing through tiny villages and large towns. We passed older men and women in traditional Peruvian garb, with large packs of sticks or babies slung over their backs, and younger people dressed in sweaters and jeans. There is a definite divide between young and old here, and it was nice to see people wearing these outfits not to please tourists or make money, but because they chose to.
We passed pigs and donkeys and horses grazing along the road side, people on bikes, people in cars, people walking, people working, people talking. This was no dead highway meant to ferry people from one part of the country to the other. On this road lives were lived.
As I mentioned earlier, they made it very clear that we were to use the toilets purely for urination. As a result, we never got off the bus. In fact, the only time we stopped was when we switched drivers, which was every four hours on whatever stretch of highway we happened to be at the time. The change took about a minute, and then we were off! By midday of the second day of busing, someone clearly needed to use a bathroom for something more, so we stopped in a little village. I got out to stretch my legs and thought ¨maybe it would be nice to use a bathroom that wasn`t moving¨ and wandered over to the bathrooms. I was all set to go until I realized the bathroom attendents were ¨cleaning¨ out the stalls after each use by throwing a bucket of water into the stall. I decided right then that peeing on a moving vehicle was highly underrated.
A few hours later we arrived in a city - I didn`t catch the name, but about half our bus departed. It was another few hours before we reached Cusco, and on the way we passed 8 firefighters helping one other firefighter descend into a gully, multiple houses where it was laundry day, dogs, horses eating cacti, and waving children. And then? Cusco: the big city with the small town heart.