or, better write this stuff down before we forget it... by Anne & Noah (team effort)
07/21/2012 - 07/31/2012
Since our last post on our initial observations from Peru, we've left Yanahuara in the Sacred Valley and settled into Cusco. To save you the hassle of pulling up the details, Cusco is the seventh largest city in Perú with a little over 400K people, well behind Lima's 9.5M. Better to think of it as the center of the Inca empire, and the hub for exploring the numerous Inca ruins in the area, including Machu Picchu.
But enough of the history lesson - here's what we've been doing and noticed in the 10 days that we've been in Cusco:
We spend a great deal of time unofficially lost. We must be getting the lay of the land a bit since Leah remarked gleefully just yesterday "hey, this is the street we were lost on before!" We are happy to wander as long as there is no exhaustion and starvation involved. So far we have had excellent luck stumbling upon cafes we like and we have explored parts of the city tourist feet rarely tread. Maps and guide books have not been especially helpful so far.
The Two Hour Lunch
Our host family provides breakfast and dinner while we are on our own for lunch. Turns out, lunch is a slow meal. We have waited at cafes for 45 plus minutes for sandwiches. We are cool with this now and don't expect prompt service. We come prepared with a deck of cards. Last week we decided to try a local Chinese Restaurant (Chifa) and were unnerved by the speed at which the food arrived. The kids talk about it like that lunch was some sort of circus act.
It is not as easy to be connected as we imagined. Access to the Internet is sketchy. We are lucky to have reasonable reliable service in our family stay (casa familia), but it's not unusual to see notices like this:
Cafés and bars that advertise "free wi-fi" don't always deliver. We found it often takes 5 or more minutes for a single picture to upload -- so we are encouraged to be selective. Apple products are not mainstream - so we have to hope that our collection of ipod, ipad, and macbook air don't require parts or servicing. Skype is great but our contacts never seem to be online!!!
- Peruvians dress modestly, but advertising takes full advantage of "sex sells" - even for green tea:
- Wine is expensive, compared to beer and rum. S/25 (about $10) for a bottle of wine, compared to S/15 (~$4) for a bottle of ron (rum).
- Cusco is a tourist-centered city, so restaurants are very split between tourist and local, with tourist places charging 3x + more than the local spots
- Many restaurants have a printed menu, which is usually different from what the actual menu is. You also need to ask if there is a menu del dia (menu of the day - a choice of appetizer or soup, main course, and drink) - typically much less than a la carte off the menu.
- There are a ton of stray/loose/homeless dogs in the city (perros vagabundos), necessitating a certain amount of vigilance while walking down the sidewalk (and I don't just mean because they sleep there...)
- Typical toilets do not include toilet paper or toilet seats. And no, you still can't flush paper down the toilet.
- Electricity and gasoline are very expensive (about $18/gal according to our highly scientific calculations), but labor is cheap.
- We've gotten pretty good at understanding Spanish, but there are always a few signs that we just can't figure out. This one was alongside the walking path to Tambomachay (ruins just outside Cusco city).
- Brand names still make us laugh
What We are Living Without -- and REALLY Miss!
- The people we love
- Our dog Zillah, but we are glad she's being loved by her foster family in Seattle
- Sriracha sauce -- we HAVE scoured the markets to no avail!
- Showers with more hot water and fewer electrical currents
- Room temperature to mean warm, and not "barely above freezing"
Our Favorite Things About Perú (specifically Cusco) So Far
- Peruvians have been friendly, patient, and kind - They are OK with our "learners Spanish".
- Children and Families are treasured here, so traveling with ours gives us an immediate starting point for conversation and shared experiences.
- The Food is Delicious!
- Ease and Economy of Transportation - a 20-30 min taxi ride costs about $1 for the 4 of us and busses are about 40 cents. Our 2 hour long bus ride from Urubamba to Cusco was a mere $1 each.
- Peru is a deeply spiritual, traditional, and culturally rich place. We have been moved by the intensity with which Peruvians embrace their history and national identity. They seem to live it.
- There are llamas here!!!
What We Have Learned About Ourselves
- We get stared at all the time. At first this was really unnerving. Then, it became only mostly unnerving. It still feels a bit weird. Probably because we're tall and white. Or perhaps because Leah has BIG BLUE EYES. Guess we should get used to it...I don't think SEAsia or China are going to be much different. We are learning to live with the fact that we will stick out as we travel for the next year.
- Leah can make friends with anyone (especially little girls and animals).
- We make a thousand mistakes a day - the key seems to be staying positive and patient. As a family we've been trying to exist in the new normal of 24/7 togetherness.
So far, we love it. It's not easy, being somewhere that is different from what we're used to, and where we are (quite obviously) the "foreigners". Although we're learning - the language, the city, the culture - we're still the strangers in town. However, we're doing it, and we're doing it as a team.