Cusco and Lou

27 Dec 2004
Cusco, Peru

Louis Comes in on Christmas Day, at 8:10 a.m., just like he promised. He’s doing remarkably well for someone who’s been traveling for 24 hours.

I confirmed the night before and the day before with the hotel that a taxi will be picking him up, and that I’ll be going with the taxi driver to pick him up. The driver takes me to the airport and leaves, so I’m back to having to pay to get us to the hotel. I’m really, really beginning to hate taxi drivers. Then we get charged too much. This will be a theme of Cusco, and Peru. Once we’re back, we get a room for Lou, and grab a little breakfast, then he takes a nap. It’s Christmas Day, but it would be hard to tell it from people walking the streets, business open, and hustlers hustling. I think I like Christmas here more than in the states. It seems like a sleep Sunday, rather than The Day of Christ. There isn’t much open (maybe 20%, more for Restaurants and Bars) but we still find things to do, parts of the city to walk around, enough to fill the whole day. Considering it’s Lou’s first day here, it’s good we don’t do too much, giving him (and me) time to acclimate. It’ll be easier for me, since I was in Quito for about a week, and it’s about 9000 ft.

My Cuy dinner

For dinner, we go to a place one of his guide books recommends. It serves Alpaca and Cuy (Guinea Pig), which are both dishes we want to try. As luck would have it, you can’t get a whole roasted Cuy without 24 hours notice, but you can get a half Cuy that is fried. We both order that, and begin with appetizers. Mine was Alpaca, his was Potatoes and Cheese. It’s a good thing we got both, since the Cuy was pretty stingy on the meat, and what it had was hard to get to. The skin was very thick, and Lou loved it. Me, I just kind of chocked it down. The meat was OK, but a little gamey. Here is what it was supposed to look like. To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy it that much – I was glad to have the Alpaca appetizers.

Afterwards we want to go have a drink (hey, it’s Christmas), so we head to the town square and find a place called Nortons. The lettering is in the Classic script used by Norton Motorcycles, so I figure it’s gotta have something to do with bikes, so we go. When we walk in, we find a seat at a bar. The place is pretty full, largely filled with tourist and students. We sit by a woman by the name of Mette, a Danish woman in town to learn Spanish. She’s sitting by herself, so we start talking to her pretty quickly, and have a very nice time. She’s telling about her brother, and the peruvian girl that’s got his hooks in him. There is a phrase for these women who are looking for a way out. We take copious notes of where to go, but find out later that might not be necessary. A little later a woman sits down on the other side of Lou. We find out, she’s from Seattle too. She’s a school teacher in Seattle, and has come here to teach English to local students. She’s a little bit older than I am, judging by appearances, and frankly a little dour and grumpy. Luckily she left before too long, and we continued our drinking. About 11 p.m., the electricity went out, and the waitstaff broke out candles. Lou and I decide to leave and as we do, I ask the Mette for her e-mail address. She gave it to me, but I’m not sure I can read it. As I mentioned earlier, this was by candlelight, so we had to call a waitress over so we could see. The waitress, while holding the candle, was looking at me so I said “do you want to give me your e-mail address too?” She said “I’ll kill you if you don’t write me.” and gave it to me. That was weird. I feel compelled to write her now, being under threat of death.

Sunday is a repeat of the same general theme. However, we have discovered the joy of Coca Tea. It’s Coca leaves steeped in hot water. It doesn’t sound very good, but trust me – it is. It wakes you up, but without the jittery feeling you get from Coffee. We grab a very nice lunch for $12/US and walk around some more. It’s easy with the love Coca has shown us. We walk around, and eventually head back to the hotel for another nap. It’s a vacation, after all. I find an internet cafe that lets me hook my laptop up, and I skype some family members. It works great, and I’m glad to be online. Before dinner, we head out to an irish pub to have a drink (and I wanted to see if we could watch a little American Football.) We run into a british guy who’s there drinking with his Peruvian girlfriend, and we start talking. He’s got a good attitude, and a somewhat interesting guy. He had an enormous interest in various schemes. He first ask us, upon finding out we are from the States, if Bigfoot exist. His next trip is going to be to the US to see if he can find bigfoot. Then he starts talking about wanting to find a lost Inca city. He gets an A for imagination. Later we head to dinner at a restaurant I had the Alpaca Risotto before Lou arrived, and it’s good, but not quite as good as it was before. We find a place to have a drink, and we literally have to run a gauntlet of people trying to get us to go to their bars/restaurants. It’s crazy, and it’s annoying. After a beer we head back to the hotel. I finish watching the LOTR on my laptop, and go to bed.

The next day, Monday, we get up somewhat early and head out to book our tour of the Inca Trail. Across the street from our hotel is a coffee shop, or so the sign says. It’s not. We go in, order the coffee, and when we start looking around, realize that some dread-locked hippie chick is living here, and she’s trying to make money selling very bad coffee. It takes a long time for the coffee to come, and we’re both pretty uncomfortable, but not so much as to leave. The coffee was horrible, it took a lone time to get, and it was kind of expensive. In another room, she designed clothes. Those darned hippies. Tomorrow, I pick were we get coffee. It’s hard to find a good guide with so many hustlers around. Lou found someone he thinks is actually giving the tour, as opposed to someone that is just an agent for the people actually leading the tour. The guy seems OK, and we get the details worked out. We decide to go with a porter, because we can. The total cost is $228 per person. For that price, you get transportation to the start of the trail, a tent, three breakfast, lunch and dinners, bathrooms, entrance to the park, and passage back to Cusco. It’s not cheap, but it’s the going price, and well, it’s a once in a lifetime experience (or at least it had better be.) We are leaving on the 30th, which is three days hence, on a Thursday. This gives us time to kill, which is good for getting acclimated, but bad because I’m getting tired of getting hassled by so many people.

This has been one of the major themes of Cusco. I’m on my Fourth day, and it’s getting tiring. Some of the hassles have been..

– taking my cleaning in. I pay extra for same day service (it’s was $2.40 to get most of my clothes cleaned, so it’s cheap) and the girl promises it by 6 p.m. At 6 it’s not ready, so she says’ she’ll charge me less. I go to pick it up later, and someone else is there, and they don’t know what I’m talking about, so I pay more.

– the taxi driver is supposed to take me to the airport and pick up Louis. He just drops me off. On the way back, I pay about $6 to get back to the hotel. It should have been about half that, and I shouldn’t have been paying it in the first place.

– we get (pasteurized, well frozen) ice cream from a street vendor. I ask for X, he gives me Y, and charges me for X. It’s only $.60 difference, but I’m just getting tired of the hassle. I go back, and he knows what he did, so it’s not a _big_ argument, but it’s still an argument.

– Lou and I grab a seat on a bench on a block or two off the main square. We haven’t been there five minutes before an elderly woman comes and sits next to me and is trying to sell me a small doll. She goes on, and on, and on. I just keep saying “no, gracias.” Then another old woman comes up to Lou and sits beside him and starts trying to sell him something. Then another guy comes up to me and does a fake forearm swing at me. I’m pretty annoyed at that point and I don’t give men roughly my age the same latitude I do a very old woman. I stand up, to get away from all these damned people and to show the guy that I’m about a foot taller than him, and so I can punch him if I want to. Of course, I stand there because Lou has taken his shoes off. I’m going to have to ask him about that one. (he says his feet were hot.)

Every time you walk down the street it’s a hassle. Shoe shining, postcards, restaurants, travel agencies, watercolors, taking pictures with a llama or a colorfully dressed local, horse rides, bars… it just goes on and on. Lou has been nice about it, which only increases the persistence of the rabble. I’ve done a lot of traveling, and I haven’t seen anything like this. I’m not sure I’d come back because it is such a pain in the ass. And the more people you deal with, the more you have to worry about pickpockets, etc. Grumble, grumble. I’ve been shortchanged before, in Mexico, and in Quito, but I’ve never felt like it was on purpose – sometimes it’s hard to give correct change when you’re trying to communicate with someone who speaks a different language, and maybe your mind isn’t on task. Cusco – Cusco is quite different.

Later in the day, we head to some ruins that are outside the city. It’s called Sacsayhuaman, and is quite a climb up a hill to get to it. We do this, and I think – we’re going to hike 26 Miles to get to Maccu Pichu? There is some pretty interesting history here, and it’s pretty cool looking at how well these huge rocks are put together. From what I’ve read, we don’t know how they Incas worked the stone to get it in the kind of shape it’s in. It is amazing, however it was done. The climb was steep, but not too bad. I was really worried about my reaction to the altitude, and frankly, I’ve been pretty happy with how well I’ve done. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not easy, but not impossible either. Some of the effects of the thin air are pretty interesting. Sometimes, I’ll be sitting down, and will have to take a deep breath to catch my breath. Other times, I’ll be still and notice that my heart is racing. Lou likens it to being fat, and I think that is pretty appropriate. I hope when I get back to sea level, I’ll have new, super human abilities.

I don’t know what my plan is for the next couple of days. We can’t go anywhere, because we have the Inca Trail to do. Once it’s done, maybe La Paz. It’s going the right direction, and it’s not Peru. Until then, I’ll just hang out and appreciate having Louis to talk to.