Impressions of Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

I push through the crowd of Japanese tourists with their cameras all pointed at the one of them brave enough to stand next to the man dressed up as an Inca King for a quick photo op in front of original Inca wall stones.  Then wave my “no gracias”s and keep hustling past the attractive, smiling ladies standing in doorways, handing out fliers for questionable services.  After a few days of walking this same path it’s getting a bit annoying.  The only thing that changes are the tourists.  Including me.

It’s my third day in Cusco, Peru.  Once the capital city of the Inca Empire, the town now features scores of Catholic Churches and modern conveniences, such as a McDonalds smack dab in the middle of the Plaza de Armas or central town square.  I walk down to the Plaza from my hotel further up a hill most days as it’s a good place to start wandering the city.  But now it’s getting a bit old.

Day 1, everything is brilliantly new.  All the colors seem vibrant, all the voices so exciting and thick in foreign dialects.  It’s a tourist town for sure as the touts only beacon in English.  Spanish and Quechua swirl around the the tight avenues of shops when tourists aren’t in view.  I warm my hand on the ancient Inca stones in wonder of those who engineered a way to hoist stones as large as a VW Beetle on top of each other.  In amazement of those who actually had to toil with the hoisting.

Shops seem quaint. People, new, unfamiliar.  Streets a maze.

Day 2, some of the lustrous patina starts to wear away.  I notice the dirt and garbage in the gutters.  The distant smell of urine from an alley.  The disheveled character down the same alley offering me coke no longer seems cute and we don’t share a laugh when I wave him off, as when I did yesterday.  

This is the day I venture further into the rural areas trying to finding a trekking company’s office.  I chickened out and brought a map, not my normal M.O., but when I have a place to be at an appointed time I don’t leave my wanderings to chance.  Instead I make a beeline to the office and, having acquired its location, begin wandering for lunch.  Further down Avenue El Sol, this part of town is transformed from tourism into normal life.  Children, dressed in identical uniforms, swat each other with their ties as they wait for public transit.  The air is chocked with diesel smoke as most cars aren’t tuned properly to be run at 11,000 feet, our elevation in the city.  And I’ve never seen so many older style VW Beetles in my life, not a single one without a dent.  This is the working part of the city.

Day 3, it’s time to get more local.  After Day 2 I spent five days trekking on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.  Having just returned from the trek, this is my third and last day in the city.  And it’s time for a night excursion.  With the help of our trail guide, our group of trekkers finds our way to a local club.  Nary a gringo is spotted and after a drink or two, we hit the dance floor.  The food is cheap, the drinks flow and the night moves on, picking up speed around 11pm when more of the city outside dances through the doors.  Heavy beats.  Dim lights and laughter from our table.  On the dance floor we mix sometimes, but still not completely comfortable to become part of the city.  Still, we remain visitors.

Wandering back to my hotel at 4:30am the city still moves.  The streets are not empty and the downbeats from dance floors in this maze fill the night air.  Finding my room I have two hours to pack and catch my flight and I choose not to sleep.

It’s quiet now.  Just me and all my stuff being forced into one carryon bag.  Quickly. 

I rush outside and down the street.  I notice the dirt and garbage in the gutters.  But the touts aren’t up yet, nor the tourists or the man dressed as an Inca King.  Not even the sun is up but it has colored the high clouds a deep violet marking its approach.  Friendly shouts from shop keepers opening from the day no longer have to compete with the constant car horns as it’s too early.  The city has shifted on me again.

Or perhaps it’s me who is shifting as I spend more time in the city.  A city and a person, both seemingly different from the day I arrived.  I want more than three days next time.

2 Replies to “Impressions of Cusco, Peru”

  1. Amy @ The Q Family

    I love this post! It’s so true about your perception might change after you spent a little more time than just passing through.

    My friend is leaving for the trekking trip this week and I couldn’t join her. 🙁 But I will make it there one day. 🙂

  2. pwc Post author

    Thanks, Amy! It’s funny, there never is ‘enough’ time to get to know a place. Just think of where you live and how much it changes over time. It seems a lot of people are always trying to get more. I’m usually happy with some place between a few hours and a few lifetimes. 🙂

    When (note the lack of the word ‘if’) you make it to Peru, I’d suggest checking out Andean Treks . Great people and I really liked that they offered a 5 day trek, which gave us a full day at Machu Picchu. Other trekkers at our last camp got up at 2:30am so they could get to MP and spend time! While it works, I loved our pace more. Try to get Rene as your guide, he loves his work and the trail.


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