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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Day 3 - Cuzco

Day 3

Having showered and packed last night, I knew that I could wake up at 2:30 and be ready to go by 3. Mauricio and Jake, however, had not showered so they planned to wake up at 2 in order to be ready in time. When my quacking alarm went off, I knew I was the only one awake because the place was totally silent. I walked into Maury’s room and woke them up, so they would have 20 minutes to get ready before the taxi arrived (which is only 40 soles or 15 bucks for the relatively long trip). Maury’s parents managed to wake up as well and say goodbye which was completely unnecessary because it was 3am, but we appreciated it nonetheless.

We all stayed awake the whole ride, and it only took us 30 minutes to get there which must be some sort of record. It took forever to check our bags, but I assume any 30 minute wait seems like forever at 3:45 in the morning. After we checked our bags, we had just under an hour an a half before the plane arrived. I don’t mean to be too critical, but I really don’t understand this need to be well over an hour early. I understand we don’t want to miss our flight, and that shit happens, but, seriously, waiting in airports seems like such a waste of time. On the plus side, this gave me more time to read the book about the guy living strictly by biblical law for a year. It isn’t even that interesting of a book, but it is more engaging than trying to look for attractive Peruvian girls or making fun of Mauricio for the same things we always do.

Our wait went by at a mediocre pace, and we took a bus to the plane where we climbed up stairs to board it. I don’t know why, but we all pictured a small Cessna or something of that sort; surprisingly to us, the plane was quite large, and we figured it would be comfortable. It wasn’t a packed flight, however, so maury and I shared a row, jake had his own, and Austin conversed with Americans from Delaware. Austin really is the most lovable dude, and he carried on a light, casual conversation with ease. I was jealous of his social interaction, but the landscape from my window seat was incredible enough to assuage jealousy of any sort. We flew over the Andes the whole trip, and we saw mountains and hills of all sizes. Some of the most beautiful landscapes were those that had lakes which formed in the mountain valleys. I actually got to see the sun rise over a mountain which was quite the view, and no words in my vocabulary can do it justice. I like to imagine a young Incan climbing these mountains, perching himself at the highest point, watching the sun set over the mountains as he sees the snowy peak and orange sky reflect off of the water in front of him. Oddly enough, the Incan in mind resembles me in more ways than one. With dark, non-balding hair, I might make a good Incan. My favorite part of the flight was the landing. The pilot curled us around this hill, and it seemed like we were a mere 100 feet away from touching the trees that reached out to us. The single air strip made its way into view as we finished our curl, and the pilot landed us smoothly in the ancient city of cuzco.

We grabbed our checked baggage and made our way outside to find our taxi driver, Rolando, who is the nicest Cuzcodude I have met since arriving here. There are few things more satisfying than a foreign guy holding a whiteboard with your party’s name on it, and I love every minute of it. He explained to us our options as we made our way to our fancy hotel. Apparently we received an upgrade because of some mix up regarding the number of beds and adjacent rooms – nice, I know. Upon arrival to the hotel, we snagged ourselves some Mate de Coca which is a popular tea seemingly available at every establishment in Cuzco. It smells and tastes like cocoa tea, and it is supposed to help with the altitude. Honestly, I think all that herbal stuff is bullshit and employs a seemingly successful placebo effect. Perhaps the end result of feeling better is what matters, and I am glad people can take solace in aesthetics that I simply disregard as BS. Our rooms are nice by any standard, but I suspect especially so here in peru. We have fridges, a safe, travelers bottles of shampoo and soap, but most importantly, mine and Austin’s room has a balcony fit for the four of us. It overlooks the main tourist street in Cuzco, Avenida Del Sol, and the cool, 13,000 feet air, the bustle of natives and tourists, and the safety of my 4 Star hotel make the experience worth whatever extra we are paying for it.

The guys were tired, so Austin and Mauricio quickly hit the soft, single beds and I decided to catch up on yesterday’s journal and then explore the town myself a bit. It was honestly scary going out by myself because I still don’t have tremendous faith in my Spanish, and I am afraid of being abducted for my welll-working kidneys. I toured around a couple blocks and bought a giant piece of apple pie for what equaled a dollar. I would have liked something more substantial, but I felt bad eating a meal when I knew we had a big lunch planned, and, secondly, just buying pie was a feat I was proud of. I made my way back to the room, expecting to find Jake sleeping as well, but he was nowhere to be seen and he left me a note that said: fue de pescar which may or may not correctly translate as gone fishing. I figured I had an hour before we would wake up and meet Rolando for lunch ideas, so I took a much-needed nap before the real day began.

I think we disappointed Rolando a lot by deciding not to partake in the $90 tour, but we figured we would have more fun conquering the city ourselves – that, and we are jews. Despite this let down, he still gave us some good ideas for food places, and he even walked us to Paititi which means El Dorado. This place was way too nice for us, but we made it this far, and not spending the money on the tour meant we had some cash to blow here. My meal was amazing and included complimentary Pisco Sours (the native alcoholic drink of choice as far as I can tell), Cusqueno Negro (a dark, delicious beer), garlic bread, and Aji Gallena. It basically reminded me of Indian curry with chicken and rice, and it was perfectly done. Honestly, I wish it would have been a little more exciting or spicy, but it tasted fantastic, and the entire meal only ended up costing me $14. I had a couple bites of the alpaca that Maury and Austin got, and Jake gave me some of his noodles. I think I actually liked all of their food better, but I could not complain at all – typical me, if I think I am getting a deal, I am ecstatic. The undersung highlight of the meal was Jake feeling sick because of the altitude and deciding to step outside. Our waiter and the hostess went outside with him and performed the emergency treatment which consisted of rubbing alcohol on his face and hair. If it would have happened to any of us we would have taken it in stride, but I worry Jake’s pride covered up how sick he actually felt. Anyways, I don’t think he is actually totally recovered even now at 6pm, but he was well enough to go out and about with us after the meal.

We briefly went back to the hotel to make sure things were locked and to drop off Jake’s food, and then we headed to the town square to take some pictures and hang out. The square has to be one of the most beautiful places in Peru. The landscape is beautiful, the fountains are extravagant and running well, and scenic architecture in the form of cathedrals, shops and other building surround it. It is no surprise that there are an equal number, if not more, locals as tourists just sitting around and enjoying the atmosphere as much as we do. The only bad thing, if it can be considered a bad thing, is that we were continually accosted by the local youth to buy their wares. I suffered my first scam and bought a pair of Ray Ban’s for $20. He originally was asking for 80 soles, which is like $30, so I could have bargained him down more. To be honest, I didn’t really have the denominations that I needed to bargain well, but, nevertheless, I still fell for it and bought the Ray Ban aviators which may or may not be real. Also, I honestly think I would pay the $20 to have them anyways and to have the toolish look. I just wanted to clear that up.

We wondered around town for a couple hours and actually covered a lot of ground. We really didn’t purchase that much, but we had a lot of fun. I picked up a couple necklaces for AJ and Joe, and I bought some tea leaves for Allison’s dad. My mom wants me to pick her up an Alpaca sweater, but the real ones are kindof expensive, and I am having trouble finding an extra large. I think this problems actually stems from the people in Lima all being 4 foot tall, so the idea of an extra large woman’s alpaca coat is ridiculous I guess. We even wondered into the not touristy party of Cuzco, and I really want to eat at those restaurants which seem locally authentic and cheap. Also, the bread stores smell life-changing, and I definitely need to invest in some various breads before I leave here.

After wandering our way back, we chilled for about an hour and a half. Jake and Austin took little baby naps because Jake still wasn’t feeling in top shape and Austin had a pounding headache. Mauri and I caught up on our journals, and just relaxed until 6 which is when happy hour started at the hotel bar. We bought a couple of pisco sours for $3 each, and then we headed out to Bembo’s which is Peru’s fast food equivalent to McDonalds. I ended up getting kind of screwed on my meal. Turns out I could have had a delicious full meal with soda and fries for like $3.50, but I wanted to biggy size it (typical American) which costs 2 extra dollars! Also, I ordered a Franca, which is the Peruvian equivalent to Natty Light, because I love the idea of getting beer at a fast food place like McDonalds (which also happens to sell beer here). I got el solterito which I thought was going to have peppers and garlic and onions, but it actually had corn and beans on it. It didn’t taste as bad as it sounds once I added some Ahi, well a lot of ahi, to the burger to spice it up a bit. Overall, it was a cool experience, but I really don’t want to eat there again while I am in Peru.

After Bembo’s we went to get something to drink for the night. After about an hour of searching and becoming lost among the foreign alcohol choices, we decided to split a fifth of Pisco and mix it with orange juice. It is a completely different alcohol, and I am not completely sure how I feel about it, but at 84 proof it gets the job done. I made myself a drink and talked to Allison on facebook for around 20 minutes. As you can see, I had a lot to talk about so it was impossible to fit it all in a short facebook conversation, but it is nice to have any sort of communication. We couldn’t get Maury’s T-mobile Hot Spot at Home feature to work, so we cant use his phone for US calls like we could at his house. At least we have internet connection, though, so we can keep the girlfriends and families reasonably updated; however, it is important and funny to note that Jake has not had any communication with anyone back home, and I think he wants to keep it that way. We got ready to go the clubs by finishing the fifth, listening to music and taking group shots. I think Maury and I were the only fans of the Pisco, but everyone drank it nevertheless. We all felt a little buzzed, and the added energy gave us inspiration to go out and find a bar/club/discoteca to socialize at.

The going out experience was a blast because there are tons of youth out recruiting passersby to go to their parties. It definitely made me feel important and desired even if they only wanted my American dollar. We stopped by once place, didn’t get a great vibe, the drinks were a little pricey and it was really smoky (although there was a good live band there which would have been fun to enjoy), so we decided to leave. The second place we went to was alright and we got a special corner section with U shaped couch arrangement. We settled on the 2 drinks for 20 soles deal, and Austin and I got the Machu Picchu which started out delicious and then tasted like minty shit by the end. The other guys got a Algarobina which I don’t know what it is, and I don’t care to explain it because it was probably better than what we got. After finishing our drinks, we went upstairs to the dance floor to indulge Jacob’s need to dance. The whole dancing experience was super awkward because Austin, Maury and I all feel bad about dancing with girls given our cute commitments back home. We basically ended up dancing on each other and being gay most of the night, but it was still fun, just not totally fulfilling.

We left that club to go find a final place to spend the evening, which was a difficult decision because we were being pulled in multiple directions by the 5 foot party recruiters. The whole thing is confusing because you half-heartedly commit to a cool little dudes party, and then you want to go somewhere else for various reasons… anyways it was a lot of fun. At one point, we turned a corner and a dude that was totally high, stoned or something offered us cocaine. Unfortunately for me, I was the last one to turn the corner and as I did Austin pointed to me and said “he’s your man.” At this point I agreed whole-heartedly and said “Si, soy tu hombre” and then he asked me if I wanted cocaine. Awkward situation all around, and I can add that experience to my all time list of first time experiences.

The final club we went to had this African, club vibe and there were laser lights and intense, remix music playing. It was actually a really cool vibe, so we jumped right in and recommenced the gay dance while Jake had a couple failed attempts to maintain a local dance partner. Ideally, it would have been nice to find some other Americans or something to hang out with and dance, but, honestly, it felt like a 98% local population. Though the dancing, for us, wasn’t all it could have been, we had a blast. We burnt out pretty quickly, or I should say Austin and Maury were ready to go, I was mostly ready to go and Jake could have stayed all night. We had a fun, buzzed walk back reminiscing on the guys offering us cocaine, marijuana and party invites. We talked about Street Justice, or Justicio del Pueblo which basically means that the street vendors can beat our ass with sticks if they catch us stealing or anything. We fell in love with the idea, because imagining me getting beat up by locals is kind of hilarious. Anyways, it was a good walk back and a nice way to settle down after the clubbing experience. Perhaps clubbing in the US is like this ( I wouldn’t really know), but it is definitely a good time here, and I think we plan on going again the day after we go to Machu Picchu.

I fell asleep pretty fast once we got back, because I had barely got any sleep the previous couple days, and I was a little drunk on top of that. We had no plans for the next day, so it was nice to know we would be able to sleep in as long as we didn’t miss breakfast. Needless to say, it was a hell of a first day in Cuzco. It feels like we have been in Peru for at least a week already, because we have been so busy, done so much and had so little downtime. I hope this pace continues, and that everything continues to progress swimmingly… I am sure it will.

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