I’m in Peru!

The streets of Cusco!
Or, if you prefer Cuzco. I haven’t decided on a spelling yet.

The transition was rough. I was alone (Craig is in the States), and the day I had to pack up to leave one of my favorite places in the world was also my mother’s birthday (she died three years ago). The generalized sense of loss was crushing.

I got up at 3am to head to the airport, spent the morning  standing in long immigration lines, slept through breakfast on the plane, and arrived in Cuzco around 1pm – exhausted, dehydrated, and starving. Landing here is spectacular though — like landing a plane in Mister Rogers Neighborhood.

I could feel the altitude immediately, and I know I’m susceptible to altitude sickness.  I knew I should rest, but there was no food or drinking water in the apartment, and I needed both desperately. I went out to stock up on groceries and coffee, and carried the heavy bag of groceries home, uphill, for over a mile. I was too stubborn to take a cab, like my landlord suggested. By that evening, I had no appetite, a splitting headache, nausea, chills, the shakes, and couldn’t breathe well, even while resting.

It’s taken me a couple of days (and the help of my wonderful landlord, Javier) to recover. But today I finally made it out into the city.

The San Blas neighborhood, a haven for artists and tourists, is an easy walk from my front door. There’s a  produce market right at the entrance, and a vegetarian restaurant that ranks highly on Tripadvisor a few doors down from there.

Photos of Natural: vegetarian food and wine, Cusco
This closeup of the salad bar of Natural: vegetarian food and wine is courtesy of TripAdvisor

I stopped in for lunch. Immaculate, charming little place with a very friendly server who even brought me a magazine to look at because I was alone. Salad bar (passionfruit vinaigrette!), soup, spaghetti and a dessert of soy milk with coca cost me $3.50 (I had the deluxe, gourmet lunch. The other version would have only been $2.50). I brought half the spaghetti home for dinner.

Photos of Natural: vegetarian food and wine, Cusco
I sat at that table in the corner. This photo of Natural: vegetarian food and wine is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The cobblestone streets in San Blas are supernarrow, and the sidewalk is teeny. When two pedestrians meet, one has to step off into the narrow street and risk getting hit by a car. I was the stepper-offer at first, but then I decided that gentlemen and teenagers should step off for me, and I will step off for my elders and women carrying babies or escorting small children. Those are my rules for the game of Pedestrian Chicken, so if a gentleman is walking toward me, I just keep walking at him until he steps off. It’s working!

And that’s a tiny car! You’re always in danger of being struck on the elbow by a mirror. How do you suppose those two pedestrians will pass each other?

The narrow steep streets and tiled rooftops of Cusco are just as I remembered them, and the city is ringed by mountains. Spectacular.

The tiled roofs and mountaintops of Cuzco, as seen from the sidewalk a block from my apartment.

I usually try to learn whatever vocabulary words I think I’ll need for the day before going out, but today my brain was busy mapping territory and memorizing street names so I wouldn’t get lost. I stopped in a store and asked the woman for ‘paper of the bath’ which got me the toilet paper I wanted. Then I told her “I don’t have the words” and mimicked dishwashing, saying “I need…cleaning..for plates…and cups” and she handed me a sponge. I shook my head and wished I knew the word for ‘soap,’ but she figured it out & got me some dish soap. Whew. Thank you, nice lady.

Cuzco is the most “third-world” feeling place I’ve lived so far. Grafitti, litter, rubble, poverty are everywhere, and there are as many dogs as people on the street. It’s really necessary to believe that people can be both poor and happy in order to not be depressed here. Luckily, I’ve been very poor and very happy, and I know that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. (To a point, anyway.  Starvation precludes happiness.) Plus, poverty is a cultural concept, and the standard here is very different.

Still, I carry small coins for beggars and tend to overtip, and I’m glad that I’m giving all my business to local Peruvians and not to American hotel chains. Soon I’ll be doing some fundraising for a remarkable orphanage nearby that takes in abandoned street children. I’m going to take the orphans shopping for new clothes and shoes, 4 or 5 at a time. SO excited!

Published by Lauren

I'm a nomadic freelance writer, out enjoying the world!

1 Comment

  • Cookie Shaw

    September 4, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    Lauren you are truly an amazing lady..I remember when your mom passed ..but always remember that she is always with you in your heart and mind….I really love reading about your adventures ..Right now I am seeing the world through your eyes and it is truly truly awesome.One day my husband and I will embark on a adventurous trip..but until then i will hitch a ride with you and Craig through your post…

    Love Ya