Bummin’ Around Cusco

Our hostel room in CuscoWe didn’t sleep well that first night in the hostel. At first we thought it would be too cold, but the heavy blankets on the bed kept us warm while we slept. The problem was the traffic coming in and out of the hostel. Guests aren’t able to come in the front door without buzzing the doorbell – the front door is kept locked with a bar on the inside. Keep in mind that it was Saturday – there were probably a lot of people who went out to discos.

Finally in the wee hours of the morning it got quiet again, but not for too long, because once the breakfast hour began at 7 am, there was the usual hostel noise of people getting up, going down to breakfast, etc.

I finally gave up on sleep and got up at quarter to 9. The shower was dicey – the flow was okay, and the showerhead was high, but it wasn’t very warm. It finally warmed up a bit, but then the power went out. Since the hot water was powered by electricity (and I found myself in a dark bathroom), I figured that was the time to get out.

I got dressed and woke up Dave, and the power came back on right about the time he was ready to get out of bed.

We went downstairs for breakfast and had mate de coca, bread, and eggs for breakfast. We were about halfway through our breakfast when two women came in for breakfast as well. They greeted us with “Buenos dias” but you could tell they were from Europe. They spoke to each other in German. They did speak English, so we talked to them for a bit. We learned that one was from Switzerland and the other from Austria. It seemed like they had joined forces when they were in Ecuador and decided to hang out while in Cusco, but they had different travel plans afterwards.

We went upstairs and got ready, and then walked back down to the church. It was called “Iglesia Evangelica Maranata”. We got there about 15 minutes early, but we didn’t know what else to do with ourselves, so we had a seat on one of the benches in the sanctuary. When the band took a break from their rehearsing and warming up, a few of them came by and greeted us and welcomed us. They didn’t talk to us much, though – maybe they didn’t think we spoke enough Spanish, and clearly we were tourists visiting rather than potential members.

The musical worship was very good, and it was also very long (probably longer than an hour). Only one of the songs was a translation of a song we knew in English; the rest could have been Peruvian songs or were maybe songs written in Spanish by songwriters in other parts of the hemisphere. They were pretty easy to follow, and they were good songs.

After that there was a woman who preached; I got the impression that she wasn’t one of the pastors at this church, but rather an itinerant prophet who has been spending a couple of months at this church. She looked like an American but her Spanish seemed native. I couldn’t quite figure it out. The sermon was good, though – about why we should seek God. It was topical rather than based on a particular passage, so it kept me on my toes trying to look up each of the passages as she read from different places. It was particularly hard because the Bible I brought was in English, and sometimes the names of the books aren’t easily recognizable from Spanish to English.

The sermon was fairly long as well, and Dave and I were pretty sleepy. It was better for us when the sermon came to an end and we were asked to stand again. They spent some time doing prayers for healing, asking the sick to come forward so everyone could pray for them. Then there were two offerings, and then a bit more singing.

Afterwards, we talked to a couple of the members of the band, to ask them if they could recommend a store where we could buy some of the music that they sang that morning. They told us of a couple of nearby bookstores (which were of course closed that day, because it was Sunday) that we thought we’d be able to find later.

The guys who had told us about the schedule were 100% correct about the duration of the service – we ended up leaving the church around 1:30 pm.

We were SO tired, we dragged ourselves (uphill) to the hostel. We laid down for a quick rest and ended up taking a nap for an hour.

We finally got ourselves up and moving around and went out again at 3 pm. We got about one block and then, as we were going down the street from the hostel, there were some parades (still celebrating the Inti Raymi) coming up the street. We stopped to take some photos, and suddenly Dave started having problems with his camera. We were standing on the sidewalk juggling various sets of batteries, and an old woman came up and started talking to me. She told me I was young and lovely asked me why I looked so solemn when I should be happy and dancing (because of the festivals). I tried to explain to her that we were having some problems with the camera. The conversation went on in a very odd way for a while, and finally she came out and asked if she could have a little money to feed herself. I had Dave dig a 1 sol coin out of his pocket and I gave it to her and told her “God bless you”. She was happy and told me to go and have a good time laughing and dancing.

We shook our heads and went back to the hostel to try to sort out the camera problems in peace. After about 10 minutes, Dave decided that he knew what he needed to do, so we went back out again. There were still plenty of parades going on, so we stopped and watched a bit and took some more photos.

Our main task for the day was to go to the office of the tour company through which we had booked the Inca Trail trek. We had already paid a deposit, but we had to pay the balance. According to the confirmation e-mail we’d received, we were supposed to pay no later than 2 days before the trek is to start. We were slightly nervous because technically it was sooner than 2 days (it was now Sunday afternoon and we were to start on Tuesday morning).

We got to SAS Travel (the name of the company) and the door was locked. There was a sign that said, “Back at 4:00”. Just at that moment, a guy opened the door. Apparently it was now 4 pm. We checked in with him, and signed a few things. Then we went a few doors down to get cash out of the ATM, and came back and gave him the rest of the money we owed. He told us when and where to go for the orientation meeting, and then we were all set.

After that we had some time to kill, but little energy to do much. In the guidebook we had, it recommended a place called Granja Heidi (Heidi’s Farm) – apparently a Swiss cafe that serves the best hot chocolate in Cusco. We walked up to the address given in the book, and it was nowhere to be found. The address was a closed door. We wondered if the place still existed at all, or if it was merely closed that afternoon.

We had no energy for creativity, and one of the places we passed was also in the guidebook – an Irish pub (one of only two in Cusco) called Paddy O’Flaherty’s. Although in general we had been wanting to avoid places that were touristy and magnets for Americans, we were tired, hadn’t had lunch, and just needed to chill for a bit.

So we went into Paddy O’Flaherty’s, which was (as expected) packed full of foreign tourists, though I must say it seemed to be majority European rather than American. We greeted our waitress in English. She responded with an unidentifiable accent that told me she wasn’t a native English speaker, but she didn’t seem to be South American either. Dave asked about the Guinness, which turned out to be available in cans only. He opted for the local beer – Cusqueña – while I had a Jack and coke. We also shared a huge plate of fries, which came with three different sauces – vinegar, garlic mayonnaise, and ketchup (something for everyone, regardless of country of origin). We sat at the bar and watched a replay of one of the World Cup games. I finally asked the waitress where she was from, and she said she was from Slovakia. She had been traveling around South America, and stopped for a month or two in Cusco. She was working on making some money to start traveling again. She seemed to be having a good time of it.

After finishing our fries and drinks, we went out from Paddy O’Flaherty’s and wandered aimlessly around Cusco. Finally we ended up back at the hostel around 6 pm and rested for a while. There weren’t any World Cup games to watch; and besides it was too cold in the little dining room to sit and watch TV. We used the internet a bit and tried to figure out what to do for dinner. Dave looked through the guidebook and zeroed in on some of the recommended pizza places. I was pretty skeptical – I had few illusions that the pizza would resemble what I consider to be good pizza. But I was too tired to suggest anything else, so we headed out in the general area of the various pizza places recommended by the book.

We walked by a couple of them, and Dave decided we should try the one called Urqi’s pizza. It was a typical basic place. The pizza wasn’t great, but it was edible. Apparently that is par for the course in Cusco. (The guy Chris we met in Lima when we went out to Brisas del Titicaca had already been to Cusco, and this is what he had to say about the resemblance of Cusco’s pizza to NYC pizza: “It has dough, sauce, and cheese, in that order.” I have to agree with him.)

We weren’t quite ready to call it a night, so we thought we’d try once more to see if Granja Heidi existed. To get to that particular street we had to go uphill (there were actually stairs at one point), so it required some effort, but hot chocolate sounded really good – especially if it was as good as the book said. Unfortunately we walked up there and still no sign of any cafe at that location. Disappointed, we wandered a bit more in that part of Cusco, then headed back toward the neighborhood we were more familiar with.

We finally ended up at a place called La Trattoria. It was a restaurant as well as a cafe. They had a good selection of desserts, and they also had hot chocolate. Unfortunately the bill here turned out to be more expensive than that evening’s dinner, but oh well. Dave ordered chocolate cake again, and I ordered a pancake with ice cream. The hot chocolate was delicious and very filling. The pancake took forever to arrive. It was rolled like a crepe, with fruit sorbet as filling. It was yummy, but by this time I was so full I couldn’t eat more than a few bites. The restaurant was interesting people-watching – the clientele were from all kinds of different places. There was also a middle-aged Peruvian man who came up to the door and just stood there, with a humble demeanor, until the manager went out and talked to him. I got the impression that the man was begging food. It looked like the manager went and got a handful of dry pasta and gave it to the guy. He was very grateful; I thought it was touching.

When we were done, we walked a block to where there was a market off the Plaza de Armas. In general, in order to buy anything in Cusco, you go to a tiny convenience store that sells snacks and beverages, or to a pharmacy that sells toiletries, etc. At these places you have to ask the person running the store for the items you want, rather than browsing and picking out things for yourself. This market, called Gatos Market, was amazing in that it had a wide array of items (food, snacks, deli, liquor, cleaning supplies, toiletries, etc) and for almost everything you could just pick it out yourself. Much easier for those who don’t speak Spanish. We bought some water and then went back to our hostel, and fell into bed.

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