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Tales of Peru (Part 2)

Day 2 (Friday)

Awake, 9am, finally feeling rested. Breakfast in the hostel. Simple. Scrambled eggs. Overcooked, but comfortably satisfying. Bread. Slathered with jam. Coffee. Bananas. Tiny, tiny bananas. We continue our exploration of Cusco. First, El Mercado Centrál. The central market. Where all the locals shop. Walking in overloads the senses. Smells of fresh meat and produce mix with the rotting remains of the product unsold from last week. Tourists are common, but still hassled. Do I want a smoothie? No. A doll? No. Flour? Fish? A trinket? A sweater? A dried and skinned baby llama? Lo siento, pero no. I ask a women selling pan flutes if I can take a picture. Claro que sí. Of course, of course. The apothecary is more reluctant.

They hope I'll buy something. But it doesn't feel like desperation, or need, or poverty. It feels like business. A healthy economy with winners and losers. The first glimpse of a town that's self-sufficient. They'll be more of that to come, but for now, we continue to explore the touristy areas. These areas feel unnatural because, well, they are. They're built to entrap, entice, and entertain the dollars flowing from overseas. Great rivers of money from the US, Australia, and Western Europe. As we walk around the Plaza de Armas, everything feels a bit off. Like it does in Vegas. How can this town survive? Old, inefficient traditions are preserved for show. Women pretending to hand sew clothes that all look identical - even between stores. It's all a show. 100% alpaca! Real alpaca! Suave. Warm. ¡Que bonita! Except the mannequins. Those are hella creepy.

We shop for souvenirs and clothes to bring back. The prices seem cheap to our American earning power. Everything feels like it's on clearance - how can we not buy it? We're all terrible at haggling. We almost certainly overpay. But it's ok. It feels like charity. Like we owe them, somehow. Like, tourism is their livelihood, and if we don't buy anything, they starve. We buy some 100% real alpaca hats and gloves to stay warm on the trek. They're an acrylic blend. Whatever, they're warm.

We visit the Inca Museum. It's nice. Lots of history. Annie and Laura are really good at museums. Alan and I discuss meta-musueming. We talk about talking about museums. This is a common theme.

We inquire about a tour of the city by bus. It's leaving in 3 minutes. We hop on. It's dusk. We drive around Cusco - perched above the city on our double decker monstrosity. It feels claustrophobic between the buildings. The buildings that were built before cars. Some on Incan foundations. The streets can't be widened now. And even if they could, it would break the illusion for the tourists. It's a beautiful city. Very brown. But what an interesting brown. Small balconies overlook the narrow streets. People press themselves into doorways to avoid being hit by the busses mirrors. The street's so narrow they nearly scape the buildings on both sides. People, going about their lives. Just people. Trying to survive. To work. To raise a family.

We drive up and out of Cusco. To the area around Sacsqwhamec. To the Cristo Blanco. White Jesus. You can see him from the center of town. Looking over the city. Omnipresent. Watching. Proselytizing. We watch sunset over the city of Cusco. Twinkling humanity spilling out of the valley below. It's beautiful and serene and lovely.

We head to the travel office to check in for our Trek. It's 7:20pm and they close at 8pm. But it's Peru. No one's there. We told them we were coming. Minor setback. We can't check in tomorrow, because we're doing an all day tour of the Sacred Valley. We'll miss our Trek. We have to skip the tour tomorrow. Resigned, we head to dinner.

That night we have the best hot chocolate of the whole trip. Hot chocolate in Peru is a thing of beauty. So simple. Just milk and chocolate. No sugar. The lack of sweetness lets you taste the depth. The complexity. I'm definitely going to start making it this way.

Sleep.

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Andrew Carman