I returned to Lima for a few days which was relaxing as can be. I really needed it. It was the end of my first month abroad and time to take stock of all the whos, whats, whens, wheres, hows and whys. It was also time to steel myself for the next leg of the journey: Bolivia, Argentina, and Uruguay. I stayed with Tanalee at the SAE, which seems to be the only place in town that serves moderately good drip coffee. It was a healthy, lazy time spent almost entirely updating my blog and other dithering.
After a few days I left for Cusco, the tourist capital of South America. The journey was 24 hours by bus.
The bus first travelled straight south along the PanAmerican Highway along the coast. I had happily avoided this, the best road in Peru, for some time. But now I wanted to make good time and for speed and comfort the coast road was not to be beat.
The coast of Peru, from North to South, is essentially a desert. There is really nothing there except the shacks built by penniless folks with dreams of homeownership. The desert is free and anyone can build there if, for some reason, they would want to.
The only other buildings in the desert are chicken farms and there are a lot of them. These long tentlike buildings house thousands of chickens. They are in the middle of the desert and I have no idea how they get water.
Soon after we hit Nazca we picked up white tourists and headed inland towards Cusco. My luck for interesting developments struck with a vengance when a rock slide covered our roadway and we were waylaid for several hours waiting for a small and hopelessly outmatched tractor to clear the rubble.
I befriended a couple of Ecuadorian girls and when we arrived in Cusco that afternoon I went with them to find a hostal. I tried to call my SERVAS contact, named Yoyo, in Urubamba but his phone was disabled. I called many times and only found out the next day that the problems were caused by Telefonica’s purchase of BellSouth: apparently all the phone lines and connections were screwed up. The Spanish company Telefonica has enjoyed a monopoly here for a long time. Apparently the secret to being a Peruvian president is privatizing and granting monopolies in exchange for large contributions to your bank account. This happens a lot. I heard a story where one Peruvian president granted exclusive international flight privileges to American Airlines in exchange for a personal helicoptor effectively closing the national airline.
Throughout the day I explored Cusco with the with Maru and Cynthia indespersed with unsuccessful calls to Yoyo. Of all the cities I know, Cusco reminds me most of Florence. Both cities are cheerfully aware that while their many great deeds and accomplishents are far in the past, they are quite proud of their past and don’t feel a need to make cultural waves anymore. Instead both cities are quite content to polish and reconstruct their rich history for the tourists. Many times a day there are processions and dances for tourists. Locals dressed in traditional clothes beg to have you take a picture with them for a small price and street vendors sell the same artesenias for the same prices. Cusco is definately more tourist savvy than the rest of the country. Here vendors skip the hard sell (“You buy useless product now stupid gringo!”) and go straight to the more effective soft sell (“gee your feet look tired. i bet these authentic inca sandals will be comfy!”) They also have a one-ticket-for-all-the-sites dealie. and the like…
One funny thing here is that the Cusceño flag is the rainbow. Like the gay flag. The Cusceño flag is far older than the gay movement but the gay flag is far more famous. This is funny for tourists and irritating to the traditional Cusceños. I have heard that they are thinking of changing their flag.
The day was hot and the night a little chilly, but nothing like what people had warned me about. Lima is by far the coldest city in Peru but Limeños will do anything to convince you that the rest of the country is like the North Pole.
Not having heard from my SERVAS host I went shared the room with Cynthia and Maru. We only had to pay 15 soles extra but I had to leave before 8am because the guy working the night desk wanted to do it under the table and pocket the money.