I met a British ex-pat who’s lived Cusco for seven years and has never to been to the nearby famous Macchu Picchu. “The more time you spend in a place, the less you see” a fellow traveler told me. We have spent the last two weeks in Cusco, Peru, and I´ve found this statement to be very true. We didn´t do any tours, I visited one church on Christmas, and the Cacao Museum was the only museum we saw (because the admission is free and there are free samples, duh). Instead, we spent a lot of time simply wandering the winding, cobbled, hilly streets of this small city. We have favorite restaurants and look-outs, we know where all the grocery stores and markets are, and we can tell you the price of a movie ticket to see Star Wars (17.50 nuevos soles).
Cusco is magical. The first few days after arriving I was giddy. Houses and buildings are made of white stucco mostly, with red shingled roofs and blue painted doors and balconies off the second floors. Nothing is taller than two stories. Every street is a side street. Roads don’t connect after more than five or so blocks, sometimes a particular street is only one block. The whole city is surrounded by mountains, and the way they frame the sky makes it appear huge, especially on days with blue skies and billowing white clouds.
On my first full day in Cusco, I wandered up to the San Blas neighborhood to find a yoga studio. After finding the Healing House and picking up the class schedule, I strolled around the Plaza San Blas. A “volunteers wanted!” sign through the doorway of a small cafe caught my eye. The Meeting Place cafe. I talked to the owner, ran back to the hostel to grab Willie, and we came right back for a cup of coffee and to talk about volunteering. A half days work in exchange for 50% off all food and drinks, Monday thru Wednesday for the next two weeks. We were sold.
The ten days between leaving Neverland farm in Ecuador and arriving in Cusco were not my best. I was feeling antsy and anxious and uptight. I am pretty terrible at not having things to do. Give me too much free time and I will go a little crazy. Thus, finding yoga and volunteer work in Cusco was my perfect cure. Routines and activity did wonders for me. It felt great to do yoga and have sore muscles and feel my mind quieted for a bit. It was fun to work the cafe and meet other travelers and do mundane tasks like wash dishes.
We decided to spend two weeks in Cusco because we wanted to be in one place for the holidays. Although celebrating away from home made us miss our family and friends, it was fascinating and exciting to experience holiday traditions in a new place. Christmas Eve is a major celebration in Cusco. The entire Plaza de Armas (main square) and surrounding streets fill with a market. That night the streets were buzzing with people. There was music and street performers and a small carnival with rides and fireworks and food stands. The next day, most shops open late or not at all. Willie and I exchanged small gifts with a friend we met, watched Home Alone, skyped in to our family parties, and enjoyed a Christmas dinner hosted by our hostel. New Years Eve in Cusco did not disappoint, either. The main part of town was decorated with yellow balloons, and yellow hats, glasses, necklaces, and flowers were sold everywhere. Around 10 PM we met up with some new friends and drank beers and lit fireworks in the streets. By midnight, the main square was completely crowded with people. As clock struck 12, everyone paraded around the square. In traditional South American fashion we stayed out dancing until 4 AM. My favorite part of the night was the confetti; my friend had a bag of yellow confetti and we would each take huge handfuls and toss it in to the air. Clearly this is a common tradition, because the following day the streets were littered in confetti and you could spot lots of people with leftover confetti they didn’t get out of the hair yet.
We have been in Peru for almost a month; it is the country we have spent the most time in so far on our trip. It has turned out to be a great place to travel. First, it is by far the cheapest country we have visited. Today at the market we bought four eggs, two beers, a cup of sugar, and three cups of flour for only $3USD. (Don’t worry, that was the first shopping stop, we followed that with purchasing a myriad of vegetables, fruit, and garlic.) A daily lunch that includes soup, rice, vegetables, meat, a drink, and a dessert costs less than $2USD. Second, there is tons of hiking and beautiful mountainous places to see. I am looking forward to seeing lots of these places while our parents (!!!!) are here for the next two weeks!
Now, for Willie’s Critical Corner:
Hi, I’ve discovered that writing blog posts is not something I enjoy doing. I’ve always been terrible at reflecting on situations and this blog has just made that readily apparent to me. Every blog post I’ve written has been basically a factual account of what has happened, with very little interesting commentary. Henceforth, Jayne shall be writing the blog posts, and I’ll have an addendum on every one. This addendum is addressing the issue of fireworks. Over the past two weeks, I’ve become immune to the noise of fireworks. They are quite literally always going off in Cusco. At midnight of Christmas Eve, every single plaza in the city of Cusco lit up with fireworks and every street did too. Now that sounds cool, but these weren’t professional pyrotechnic shows. There were some official fireworks, but every kid and their mother apparently bought fireworks too and just set them off in the street. This continued until we left today. It’s probably still going on. You can buy fireworks off the street. For less than $3USD you can get an actual firework(not just a little shower of sparks). Now I can’t be completely critical of these, because I did partake in the pyrotechnical festivities on NYE. To be clear, I’m pro fireworks, and not pro Cusco fireworks. Thank you. Good night, and good luck.