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lunes 23 de diciembre

Destino: Cusco Modo: Avión y Taxi Distancia: 623 kilómetros


Arequipa a Cusco, Perú Edgar picked us up on Calle Jerusalén in front of the Nuñez promptly at 5:00 for a twenty-minute ride to the airport. Despite having shuttled locals and tourists around town all night, he greeted us with the same cheerful disposition that had drawn us to his taxi last night. The morning drive gave us the opportunity to see la segunda ciudad más importante del Perú in broad daylight. Not wanting us to leave his hometown without some sense of La Ciudad Blanca’s history or beauty, Edgar drove past several historical sites and explained their significance. In the distance, we could see the sun rising above the peaks of three volcanoes: the Chachani, the Pichu Picchu and the Misti. Edgar explained that the Spaniards founded Arequipa in the 1540s and that many of her colonial buildings were built using piedra de sillar from the surrounding volcanoes. Some of the temples, especially the Iglesia de la Compañia and the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, were as impressive as they were old. We arrived at the airport minutes later and were the first two people in line at the AeroPeru counter, strictly adhering to that airline’s policy that passengers arrive two hours ahead of their scheduled departure time. The wait was another long one as the six-man AeroPeru tripulación didn’t shuffle in until around 7:00. After check-in, we hit the lone concourse gift shop in hopes of a little breakfast and perhaps an I Survived A Night in Arequipa T-shirt. Unfortunately, they were fresh out of souvenir threads and the morning fare did not look overly appetizing. Ditto for the warm beverages in the drink cooler: Inka Kola, Coca-Cola and jugo de naranja. Finding a refrigerated beverage in Perú, or just ice for that matter, is a tall order due to the country’s sky-high utility rates and low per capita incomes. 141

After an hour’s wait in the salón de desembarque, we boarded the flight to Cusco. On the way out to the tarmac, we caught a glimpse of a large blue sign bidding Feliz Viaje to all departing passengers. The Spanish farewell lost a little something in the English translation, but we still appreciated the send-off sentiment. During the course of the flight, we went from Arequipa’s arid terrain at 2,300 meters above sea level to more rolling, rocky terrain enshrouded in fog at 3,500 meters. The requisite AeroPeru lemon drop gave us a full day’s supply of vitamin C, but the citrus zing would not begin to prepare us for the sudden change in altitude. Our elevated status would become evident the second that we emerged from the cozy confines of the pressurized cabin.

met eters 2, 30 0 met ers

Altitude Changes in Altitude
3,00 met eters 3,0 0 0 met ers

3,500 met eters 3,50 0 met ers

Leaving Arequipa

Apurimac Valley

Cusco International


Standing on the gusty tarmac of Cusco’s Aeropuerto Velasco Astete, we both looked and felt totally como las huevas. In fact, the last time that I could remember feeling this D.O.A. (Drained On Arrival) was on the train platform last Thursday morning in Santiago. Inside the Cusco terminal, the tourist hustlers were kept at bay thanks to a city ordinance that requires them to stand behind counters: a practice that should be adopted in tourist traps worldwide. Andy went to one of sentir como las huevas: to feel horrible. the counters to ask about a place mate de coca: Strong tea brewed with coca to stay while I was drawn to the leaves from the Peruvian highlands. This beverage can be easily prepared using small sweet aroma wafting from a tea bags that are sold in most Peruvian Mate de Coca stand. Though I kioskos and supermercados. residencia: boarding house, residence, lodge was already familiar with the 142

magical properties of yerba mate, the mate de coca elixir was new to me. I quickly deciphered the large, cardboard placard on the mate bar which had been penned to assuage the minds and stomachs of gringos like me. “GOOD TO THE ALTITUD(sic)! ” was written in large block letters. Without hesitation, I ordered up a tall herby one and chugged it on the spot. Andy did the same and, miraculously, we both felt like a hundred pesos. Brains and veins fortified with warm mate, we walked outside and hailed a cab into town for ten nuevos soles. The driver was going to take us to three spots, but we were instantly sold on the second joint upon arrival. The Residencia Los Marqueses was an enclosed two-story stone fortress with a beautiful courtyard, brick archways and hand-carved wood railings. The second-story railings were adorned with potted plants and a smattering of silver and gold Christmas decorations. We checked in at 8:30. The owner was a robust, matronly type named Lida. After giving us our key, she served us a Residencia full breakfast. She was a lovely woman who told us that the hostel, with its twometer thick walls, dated back to the sixteenth century. Señora Lida runs the hostel with the aid of her twenty-one adopted children: sixteen boys and five girls. The dining room was right next door to our bedroom, so the breakfastLos to- bed commute was a short one. The room had old hardwood floors and was simply decorated with two beds, night stands, and a wicker rocking chair. The beds were softer than Amazon quicksand, and we both slept soundly until noon. Marqueses 143


At 13:00, we made our first trip into the heart of the action: the sprawling open-air marketplace madness that is Cusco. Having left our few valuables with María, one of Lida’s daughters in the Marqueses’ safe, manta: blanket we could breathe a little easier as we dove into the especia: spice labyrinth of vendors located in the Plaza Don hierba: herb sopa: soup Francisco. We wandered aimlessly among pairs of gallina: chicken Peruvian mothers and daughters all wrapped in a la parrilla: grilled mozo: waiter colorful mantas. Seated on overlapping tarps, they armas: weapons peddled their wares including suéters, mantas, arriba: up, above nariz: nose especias y hierbas, incienso, sopas, gallinas, vegetales a la parrilla and nativity scenes. Most of the items were offered for barter or outright sale. After about twenty minutes of browsing, we were ready for lunch. A personable streetside mozo coaxed us into his establishment, La Estancia Imperial, where we enjoyed a real Peruvian delicacy: pizza. Next stop was the Plaza de Armas, the city center of Cusco, for a tour of the cathedrals. We had both forgotten our student ID’s which would entitle us to a student discount. Short on pesos, we opted to walk back to the hostel and pick them up so we could purchase the requisite CuscoWorld multi-attraction pass at half price. Cusco’s answer to the Disney Multiday Pass is a Multi-day Cathedral/Inca Ruin Pass which

grants visitors entry to fourteen of the most famous surrounding landmarks. Most of the relics are downtown cathedrals which 144

seemed to be closed all day, save for fifteen minutes in the afternoon when the locals attend Mass. The remaining sites are mostly Inca ruins situated miles away from downtown Cusco. Since practically no tourists have rental cars, the locals are cognizant that you will be forced to fork over some pesos to their friends and relatives for full-day guided tours of the nearby ruins which pale in comparison to Machu Picchu. A one-hour tour of the cathedral gave us enough time to see the dozens of altars housed inside the dark, four-hundred year-old Baroque church. La Compañia next door was closed until 18:00, so we strolled up Avenida San Blas for a look at the hilltop market that our pocket travel guide had recommended. We must have hit the market on an offday, because the place was deserted. We then struck out at the next cathedral which was also closed until 18:00. With close to an hour to fill, we sat on a park bench overlooking the Plaza de San Francisco and enjoyed the scenery. A young Cusconian, Andrés, offered to shine our hiking boots for one sol apiece. We politely explained that we liked our boots dirty, but the lad was not convinced. Andrés was very persistent (a smoother salesman than the two of us combined) but we were gradually able to get him out of street vendor mode. We started asking him questions about his friends and family and he immediately opened up. He told us that he was thirteen and the youngest of ten children. His father and two of his siblings had already died, but Andrés took comfort in the knowledge that his departed family members were in Heaven, or as he said, “Arriba.” On a lighter note, we watched in amusement as the shoeshine boy worked the groups of tourists passing by. He seemed to waffle between polite customer solicitation and serious teasing and name calling with one of his friends and fellow shoeshiners who called Andrés flojo for relaxing and rapping with the gringos. In retaliation, Andrés pelted his friend with a chorus of “Nariz, nariz, nariz” accentuating the other boy’s most prominent facial feature. He told us that on a good day he would earn about eight nuevos soles; the majority of which he gave to his mother for food and clothes. He also boasted about fighting at least once a week, explaining in Spanish that “You’ve got to fight to live in Cusco.” I imagined that this gritty kid had bloodied a nariz or two. We gave Andrés four soles for keeping us entertained, said good-bye and walked up to a nearby cathedral where Mass was just beginning at 18:00. 145

At 18:30, when the evening services were finished, we were ready to cap off our sightseeing with a chilly mug of Cusqueña. We settled on dinner at a dive on Avenida Sunturwasi that we had spotted earlier in the day. The food was good, but neither of us was entirely sold on the grilled cuy which is a local delicacy. With fresh guinea pig breath, we walked back to the hostel via the Plaza de Armas which had been transformed into a bustling nighttime marketplace. The same cast of hard-working females from the afternoon had returned to have a second go at selling their handmade designs in the sprawling, often intimidating, plaza. Resisting a strong urge to purchase one of the many colorful alpaca sweaters, Andy and I wandered up Avenida Plateros in the direction of the Marqueses. Back in the hostel, the only sign of life was the slow blinking of red and yellow Christmas lights strung around the courtyard passageways. On the way upstairs, we had a conversation with two of Lida’s youngest adopted children, Alejandra and Miguel. They were both excited about the holidays and were contemplating putting up even more decorations in the hotel courtyard. We told them “good night” and continued upstairs to our room. Without the temptation of an honor bar or Pay-Per-ViewPerú, we turned in promptly at 22:00. Tomorrow will be spent touring the ruins around Cusco and getting ready for the much anticipated Christmas Day trip to Machu Picchu.


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