The best souvenirs in Cusco, Peru

Trip Start Jul 19, 2006
Trip End Sep 19, 2006

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Flag of Peru  ,
Friday, August 18, 2006

The flight to Cusco afforded some nice views of the Peruvian Cordillera. I think I was surprised to find that Peru was mostly desert and arid mountains. For some reason the image I had of Peru was just jungle and tribesmen, not sandboarding on dunes (a popular thing to do in Ica, a place that I didn't have time to visit). You have to go farther east into the Amazon to find the stereotypical image of Peru.

Upon arrival at the airport, we got our first taste of what Cusco would be like. We were immediately hounded by brochure pitcher after brochure pitcher. "Buscas un Hostal? Hablas Ingles? You_need_hotel?" After making it through the crowd, we were met with a number of cab drivers. We eventually found one who would take us to the Plaza de Armas for the right price.

Cusco was beautiful. The Plaza de Armas has a rich colonial feel, yet it is surrounded by spectacular mountain landscapes. The only problem is that it is filled with gringos, and somehow manages to have way too many vendors for us all. This is where supply and demand come into play. I never took an economics class, but I think it goes something like this:

Lots of Gringos
About a million more restaurants/bars/vendors than those gringos could ever use
= Desperation for business

Here's an example: You walk down a street and have people coming up to you throwing menus in your face. You say "No queremos pagar 15soles. Pagaríamos 10." ("We don't want to pay 15 soles/$5, we'll pay 10soles/$3." You can name your price.

Soon upon arrival into Cusco, Brett and I did what has become a custom for us to do...we saught the highest point we could find. It was a strenuous hike up the narrow stone roads to a point beside a church that overlooked the entire city, just before sunset. It was no Cotopaxi, but then there aren't very many highest active volcanoes in the world.

We ended up staying at a nice place called Torcasa, a few blocks off the Plaza de Armas. It cost us 20 soles (about $6) per night. It had a shared bath with hot water, and the staff was very friendly. It had no sign on the outside of its door, though.

If you remember, we were hijacked in northern Ecuador and my camera was one of the items taken from us by the armed Colombians. After searching through Ecuador for another camera only to find a similar model to my previous camera (but older, and of less quality) for about twice the price, I decided it was better to have a camera shipped from the US. So my dad bought the camera and Cusco was the decided destination via DHL service. It was supposed to arrive a couple of days before us. After much hassle and arguing with DHL, it ended up coming an entire week late.

Touring the Area, Hating DHL
During the time while we were waiting for the camera to come (because you can't go to Machu Picchu without a camera), we would visit various historic places in-between lies and misinformation that we received from various DHL officials.

We did a City Tour, which was fairly nice and cheap. It was a half-day excursion that took us to a number of important buildings and ruins in the Cusco area. However, I'd say the Sacred Valley Tour was much better, and a much better value. A bus drives you to a number of towns around Cusco, with a guide describing the various ruins that you go through. Some of the places have ruins that are on par with those found at Machu Picchu.

On the Sacred Valley Tour, we met Carmen and her friend (forgot the name, sorry!) who were planning on heading to Machu Picchu on a train that evening. One of the options for the Sacred Valley Tour is to remain at Ollantaytambo, the last stop, and take a train from there to Aguas Calientes (the entry to Machu Picchu). The train ride is then shorter, and ends up being cheaper. Carmen had opted for that. They were both from Lima, Peru, and were traveling to see the same ruins that we would see. They even were using Lonely Planet as their immutable guide (that book is amazing). Carmen's friend was also very useful as she was able to talk down prices quite well. The tour bus dropped us off at an isolated buffet restaurant for lunch (as tour buses tend to do), where we would each have to pay 24soles ($8) for a buffet meal. Carmen's friend said we only wanted to pay 8 soles. Somehow that actually worked, and the four of us had the exact same meal for only 12 soles ($4). Wow.

Looking for a wife? Go to Cusco.
I will be very brief on this part of the story, because it really isn't my story to tell. No, this is Brett's story to tell. However, I was there for parts of it, so I will give you some of the more interesting anecdotes.

So the bar scene in Cusco is quite interesting, there are callers in the street who run up to you and shove fliers for their bars in your face. "Hahppeee Hour! Freee Dreenks!" Anyway, we had a situation earlier in the night where Brett needed to be rescued from a British girl who was overenthusiastically pursuing him and I played the role of lame anti-wingman who had to go back and Brett felt bad leaving me alone since I have a girlfriend. After losing that girl, we went to another bar where I really had to use the restroom. Brett went first.

When I came out of the restroom, Brett was already gone. I walked around the dance floor, and he was nowhere. Then I spotted him, over in the corner of the room, sitting and talking with a very attractive latina. Wow, he works fast.

As it turns out, she's the one who works fast. Over the next several nights, Brett would meet her in bars and she would be extremely persistent and conspicuous in her motives. For example, one night we were sitting at dinner and Brett asked her to pass the napkins please. She pointed at her ring finger and said "Dónde está mi anillo?" ("Where is my ring?") Another example: we were sitting in the Plaza de Armas talking about our plans to go see Machu Picchu. She said she would be interested in going with us (although apparently the main purpose of their trip to Cusco was just to go to bars and look for husbands). A little later in the conversation, she said that she had been to Machu Picchu once before when she was younger and she promised herself she would not return unless it was with her husband or boyfriend. Damn.

She also explained to us the qualities of a "good peruvian wife":
1. Smile a lot. You have to look happy.
2. Be really good in bed.
3. Maintain the house.

If you do those three things, you will be likely to have a good peruvian husband (one who doesn't cheat on you). Whoa, I think we just slipped backwards about 50 years somewhere.

All in all, Lucia (that's her name) was very nice and I actually really enjoyed talking with her. She had travelled through much of the world and had interesting stories to tell. Of course, I had the shield of a girlfriend to protect me (sorry to use you again, Jamie!). Brett seemed less interested in talking with her, sometimes using "poor spanish" as an excuse. I think I'll keep in touch, since I genuinely think she's an interesting person (aside from the marriage complex). She said she's going to be visiting Vegas in the coming year. If she doesn't find a husband there, she should just give up.

Brett left before me for Machu Picchu, as I was still having issues with DHL and my camera. It did arrive eventually, with a $92 hidden fee tacked on. Thanks, DHL. I left for Aguas Calientes the day after Brett. Time to see the most touristy thing in the world...

Quantifiable Summary
Flight from Lima to Cusco, Peru: $105, about an hour.
Hostal Torcasa: 20 soles ($6) per night, nice place, hot water, nice staff.
City Tour: $10, but we went with an expensive company.
Sacred Valley Tour: 20 soles ($6).
Tourist Ticket (to get into ruins on Sacred Valley/City Tours): 35 soles ($11) for students, twice as much for non-students.
DHL sucks.
Still alive.
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