first thoughts on Cusco

Cusco was a place that I was really excited about.  I had some warm memories of the city from my previous visit 6 years ago, but I guess I’m dealing with a little bit of reality spoiling things… Firstly, it’s pretty cold here.  We’re staying on the ground floor of the South American Explorer’s (SAE) Clubhouse, and are told that Cusco has a lot of underground springs which tend to make the ground temperature quite uncomfortable at night.  We did purchase a gas canister today for $40 soles, which should make things a bit less depressing.

Secondly, it seems that we got here at the start of the tourist season.  We heard that a month ago there was next to nobody here, and that the temperatures were unseasonably high… bummer.  The streets are packed with cusqueños hawking massages, photos and tours to the hoards of gringos.  Sheena overheard a foreigner ask his companion if massages had some kind of cultural significance to the city…

Cusco’s Plaza de Armas – it doesn’t seem that crowded in this photo…

On the positive side, the SAE is providing us with quite a bit of entertainment.  For some background: SAE is a non-profit, membership-based organization that mostly provides information on nearby treks, with an emphasis on DIY/economic travel options.  They have a nice office with great topo maps, a lending library, guidebooks and really knowledgeable staff.  They host lectures, pub quizzes, curry nights, and guided day hikes (all of which we are helping organize).  And they are overwhelmingly British… I actually think they are connected with British Exploring Society.

The clubhouse has four different rooms available for long-term rent, and this is where the entertainment comes in… Currently, these rooms are occupied by: a cross-dresser who told us this morning that he was fasting today; an overweight women who informed us last night that she only eats Inca Kola and Skittles for breakfast, and Kraft Mac & Cheese for dinner (seriously, everyday); an Alaskan native who has been studying Machu Picchu since the 70’s and managed to piss off most of the Peruvians with his (possibly controversial) research; and an older lady who is actually very kind and nice, but just a little bit batty.  We all share the kitchen, so I’m looking forward to finding out more about all of these characters during the coming week.

Possibly controversial Machu Picchu ideas? We’ll find out next week at Paolo’s talk.

[On a side note, we are seeing some similarities in personality between different expats we have met.  Mostly, expats who are running businesses tend to have questionable time management and organizational skills.  They have pretty broad skill sets (outdoor activity knowledge, mechanical and electrical skills, cooking, languages, extensively read), but their typical day seems to be mildly chaotic at best.  We often think that these people would make a killing, or at least have a pretty cushy existence, if they could operate a to-do list.  I wonder if this has contributed to them leaving their native countries?  Was their lack of organization too much of a hindrance back home?]

Sometimes traveling takes a toll, and we’re definitely in a small funk at the moment.  Again, the cold weather and tourist factor are probably to blame, but we also left a city that we loved (Arequipa) and replaced it with one that we haven’t quite figured out.  The good news is that we expect to meet up with some friends soon.  We have kept in touch with some of the travelers we met along the way, and staying in Cusco for ten days will allow us to catch up with them.  There are few things more uplifting than seeing a familiar face.

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