4 nights of recovery in Cusco

Trip Start Sep 28, 2006
Trip End May 04, 2007

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Friday, November 10, 2006

I know I seem to begin almost every entry with something having to do with my sleeping troubles, but seriously, how is it possible that after having hiked the Inca Trail and taking an Ambien that I STILL did not sleep more than four hours? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? Instead of tossing and turning, I played with my camera for several hours, editing and resizing pictures so that I could upload them later on. That's one of the best features of my camera, that I can edit before uploading. It makes life so much simpler! I finally got out of bed around 7:30 am. I had been looking forward to waking up feeling and looking refreshed, but instead my whole face was puffy (to the point that I thought I was having an allergic reaction to something), especially my eyes. Well, at least my completion of the Inca Trail officially marks the end of the planned portion of my trip, so I can hide out in Cusco or wherever else I choose for however long I please...at least until I look semi-human again and get my clean clothes back.

I rolled into Victor Victoria a little after 8 am, dressed in an odd compilation of the only relatively (key word) clean clothes that I had left behind in my hostel (skirt, halter top, flip flops--essentially my going-out outfit) that were not at all appropriate for wandering around chilly (and slippery) Cusco. Gary and Eric, who is a fire-fighter from D.C., were sitting down so I joined them. I love trying new things, but sometimes when you are far away from home it is nice to have a favorite spot that you visit each day, especially if you do so with friends.

After breakfast, I went back to the hostel to talk to the owner, an older man, about getting a discount since I will have stayed here a full week by the time I leave Cusco for Arequipa or wherever I choose to go to next. I managed to talk him down to 25 soles a night from 30, and somewhat regretted it afterwards. I had already paid for my first three nights and he of course would not reimburse me, so that is why I asked for 25 rather than 27 soles for my remaining four nights. He asked me where I was from and what my profession was (Don't really have one yet, so I just said that I was a student), and then lectured me about how bad it was for a person from a first world country to ask for a discount in a poor, third world country and somehow dragged President Bush into the whole thing. Bush somehow always makes it into conversations down here when America is mentioned in any way, shape or form. I felt bad afterwards, but at the same time, EVERYONE bargains. Bargaining is a way of life down here! Whatever, alls well that ends well.

I met up with Gary and Eric again in Plaza de Armas and we grabbed coffee (or a chocolate banana smoothie, in my case) at Cafe Muse, this adorable, cozy little place overlooking one of the plazas in San Blas. We made it just in time to catch a practice session of some sort of international dirt-bike competition that was taking place the next morning. I have no clue what it was called, but it involved an elaborate ramp over the plaza, fancy jumps, tons of camera men and groupies, and far too many HOT Latino men for me to handle so early in the morning in all of my puffy glory. I haven't been too into the Ecuadorian and Peruvian men I have seen so far, but these guys were hot. Maybe it was their outfits, their bikes, or the fact that they looked like they were from other South American countries (Argentina or Brazil perhaps?). We chatted with another American girl in the cafe, and she told us that most of them are staying with her at Loci, the infamous party hostel. Damn, I knew I should have done a couple nights over there! I contemplated it before, but I am spoiling myself and avoiding the whole dorm-room thing while I can (ie before I hit Argentina and can't afford to room alone), even though I know that really is the best way to meet people...

I hung out at the SAE office for the rest of the afternoon, researching a bit and putting in mucho internet time, since I had been off-line for almost a week. I was extremely conflicted between going down to Arequipa and then doing a tour of Colca Canyon, both of which I have heard are amazing, or going straight to Puno and then into Bolivia. The former would set me back at least four days, and the bus ride to Arequipa is LONG. I have the time to do whatever I want, so that is not an issue, and I really feel like I "should not" miss Arequipa since everyone always raves about how great it is. At the same time, though, I really do not feel like going there for whatever reason (laziness, eagerness to get to Bolivia, just having completed a tour, I have no idea). Perhaps I will regret it later, but I have decided to respect that feeling.

I met Justin (the Aussie) for dinner around 6:45 pm at my hostal. As we wandered around in search of a restaurant, we ran into our guide, Jubinal, who was acting very suspect and half invited us out to party with him but wouldn't really reveal where he was going. Very strange. Cusco seriously is a small city! We settled on a touristy place right on the plaza, which is really not my type of thing (the place was empty, I wasn't a fan of the menu, and I HATE touristy restaurants), but it was raining and we were both hungry. I decided to tempt fate and eat some food from the buffet (another no-no according to my doctor)...and am still alive, although I admit my stomach was not feeling fabulous afterwards (nor was Justin's). As it was Friday night and I sadly had not yet gone out in Cusco, we proceeded to spend much of the evening going back and forth between Mama Africa's, Mythology, Ukuku's, and some other random and fairly empty bars. It was at this point that I finally couldn't handle Plaza de Armas anymore. We were harassed beyond belief by all the people trying to lure us into their bars, speaking to us in English as if we were old buddies and following us until we ducked into a store or somewhere else. It was incredibly annoying. We finally settled on Mythology around 11 pm, which was pretty busy, was playing decent dance music and where I ran into Gary and Eric and this HUGE, very diverse crew of people they had picked up throughout the day. It was pretty fun--we danced for a couple of hours and then moved on to Mama Africa, which was also quite crowded. I finally went home around 1:30 am, sleepy and reeking of smoke (I miss no-smoking laws!). Everyone made me feel bad for going home so early, especially Justin's Israeli friend. I told him I had just finished the Inca Trail and was tired, and he started going off about how when he was in the army he still went out every night. Well, GOOD FOR YOU. Justin walked me home the three blocks to my hostel, and I was happily in bed by 2 am.

I tried to sleep in on Saturday morning, and managed to stay in bed until 9:30. Yippee! I got my usual "tropical" breakfast at V.V. (missed Gary by a couple hours), and then headed up to San Blas to try to catch the bike competition. Unfortunately, I was an hour too late, so I went to the SAE office instead to get my valuables out of storage (since they are closed on Sundays), do some more email, and catch their BBQ/Sapo competition on the roof terrace. It turned out to be a gorgeous day, and the food was really tasty. Tons of grilled meats, veggies, salads, and FINALLY for the first time in two months REAL BREAD, as in bread with a real crust and doughy center. I was so psyched.

I ran around town frantically searching for shoes and a day pack before meeting up with Gary at 7 pm for dinner, empty handed. Neither one of us was hungry yet, so we continued shopping and I got a decent, big day pack for about 25 bucks. We had a nice dinner at Govinda again, and after some thought I decided to catch the 9 am bus to Puno on Monday morning, do the 2-day tour of the floating islands on Wednesday and Thursday, and then head to Copacabana on Thursday morning. Gary is on the same schedule (although he is taking the train to Puno), so I will have a border-crossing buddy, which is somewhat comforting as I have heard sketchy things about the Peruvian-Bolivian border. After dinner, Gary and I parted ways and I popped into a few clubs. They were all busy, but I felt a little strange going out by myself and kind of just wanted to chill in my room anyway so I did some more email and then headed back to my hostel.

I woke up at 6 am like clockwork on Sunday morning. I cleaned and packed before meeting Gary at V.V. for my usual breakfast at 8 am. It was gorgeous out, which made for a perfect market day. Other than that one rainy Friday night, the weather has been perfect. I
think Mother Nature got all the rain out of her system while I was on
the trail! After breakfast, I wandered down Ave. del Sol in search of all the massive artisanal markets. On my way down, I encountered a political protest (a daily occurrence down here, especially since elections are approaching) and just had to take this picture. Cusco's flag just so happens to resemble the Gay Pride flag, which caught me off guard a bit when I first arrived down here. But, as any proud Peruvian will tell you, it is VERY different. Clearly.

Anyway, I wanted to buy an alpaca blanket and settled on a nice one for 57 soles, which was a bit pricey and bulky but which I am hoping will serve me well on long bus rides and cold Bolivian nights. I also got a pair of mittens, and the most gorgeous hat for my sister at the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to uphold the traditions of weaving. Their stuff was really pricey (for Peru at least--a hat cost 36 bucks rather than 3) but the quality was incredible and over 50% of the profits go straight to the weaver, so I figured it was worth it. If Anna doesn't like it, I definitely will take it! As usual, I only buy gifts that I really like and thus want to keep for myself. I think it is perfect for her though--she likes green organizations. We are from Santa Cruz after all! :)

After having bought plenty of alpaca goods, I wandered towards the Santa Ana Market. I needed to buy snacks for my 6 hour bus ride tomorrow morning and wanted to get a look at the market when there was a bit more going on. This time, however, I went there via a bunch of back roads and ended up in a number of different, huge local markets nearby and various other places where there were zero tourists. It was awesome. I was dying to get off the beaten path for a bit. There were streets with store after store of shoes, then another street of just clothes, then bulk foods, home supplies, used clothing, you name it. And then of course surrounding the market were countless other non-touristy markets selling fish, fruit, bread, veggies, cheese, etc. There were SO many people running around, and again, all locals. I felt a bit out of place and people were looking at me a little funny, but I think it was more because they were surprised to see me. It is REALLY easy to just stick to the central area around Plaza de Armas, and sadly many tourists seem to do just that.

I finally wandered into Santa Ana, bought a few things, and then dropped by my room before catching a cab to El Molino, the black market about twenty minutes away. It was MASSIVE--so much so that the market was broken down into I, II, and III. Number 1 was the most crowded and mainly sold shoes, clothing, CDs, DVDs, backpacks, electronics, random beauty, office, and household items, and contained a few little restaurant stands. I saw a small group of Israelis, but mainly locals were running about doing their Sunday shopping.

The market was VERY overwhelming. I was looking for shoes--something to replace the sandals that had given me blisters and the huge clown sneakers I have had to wear every day--but I didn't have much luck. I don't understand how I literally went to over 100 shoe stands and did not see anything I liked. Granted, they did all have the same stuff and not too many places carry my size (I seem to be a 40 down here), but still. It was pretty ridiculous. I really should have shopped for hiking boots, but I was in sensory overload and couldn't handle it after a certain point. As in after thirty minutes. I also checked out some tiny digital cameras (I wish I had bought a tiny one back home to bring out at night!), but they were all going for $250 and up. Not only did I not have that kind of money on me, but I was a bit sketched out spending it on a camera that may or may not work. After an hour, I couldn't handle Molino I anymore so I checked out II, which had some stores but mainly consisted of tailor stands and tons of food way in the back. Molino III was all food I think, but I didn't go in.

I got back to Plaza de Armas around 2:45 (I had another lunch of ice cream, bread, chocolate, fruit and nuts) and decided to treat myself to a much-deserved massage. Big spending day, I know! I had seen a ton of places offering an hour massage for 35 soles, but opted for Yin-Yang massage because of my SAE discount there (assuming for some reason that it would be better, even if more expensive). It ended up costing 60 soles, and was a bit of a disappointment. Ok, so I am very spoiled by my masseuse back at home! Nevertheless, it was still nice to lie down and relax.

When I emerged, it was still gorgeous out and I felt guilty for staying inside, but I had things to do. I packed up and did internet for an hour before Gary happened to walk by and tapped me on the shoulder. We grabbed dinner at Jack's cafe, which was pricey but tasty, and then I did some more internet before heading to bed at 10 pm. Off to Puno tomorrow morning!
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