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Cusco, Perú - Observations & Revelations

or, better write this stuff down before we forget it... by Anne & Noah (team effort)

View World Trip 2012 on noahv's travel map.

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:

Adventurous Wandering

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!!!

Peruvian Idyosycracies

  • 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.

Posted by noahv 18:41 Archived in Peru Tagged children travel peru spanish cusco observations Comments (2)

Observations from Peru

Random thoughts from Perú:

  • There's always room for one more person on the bus (or combi, or collectivo). Seriously, it's hard to believe how many people can cram into a van.
  • It's very dusty.
  • Always hang on to your bag.
  • It's warmer inside when the door is open.
  • Every afternoon is windy.
  • Hand washing clothes is not fun. Drying clothes on the line gives you an appreciation for "quick dry" materials. Cotton is not your friend.
  • No one wears shorts, except for turistas.
  • Everywhere are new noises - the rooster in the morning, the donkey next door, the neighbors blaring Peruvian radio, the random fireworks and explosions, the kids playing in the street… ¡Loco!
  • There are dogs everywhere, and "ownership" is questionable. They're not in bad shape, so someone must be feeding them, but there is not a correo de perro (dog collar) or a leash in sight.
  • It gets muy frijo at night. When the sun goes down, it drops 10 degrees easy. We all sleep with 5 wool blankets on our bed, and our chullos (Peruvian hats).
  • It is very dry here. We are all slapping on moisturizer (and sunscreen) like it's going out of style, and it just gets sucked into our skin. Same with our lips - Chapstick is applied constantly.
  • It's a cash only society. It's a constant struggle to keep small denominations - most places can't change anything larger than a viente (20) sole note (about $8). The flip side is that ATMs only give you $100 and $200 sole notes, so you need to be looking all the time for ways to break those large bills.
  • We are all drinking a lot of maté de coca (coca tea). It's tasty, and has the beneficial side-effect of helping with the altitude (we are 8000+ feet up here in the Valle Sagrado - 11000 feet in Cusco). Thick café con leche is also delicious.
  • Bus stops are not marked, but the places that sell chicha (locally fermented corn booze) are. When you want to get off the bus, just shout ¡baja!.
  • Seatbelts and helmets are rare, and very optional. Babies are OK to ride on the front of motorcycle.
  • Every day is "bring your kid to work day " for Peruvian children. Up to kindergarten (jardin), kids go where their parents go, usually in a blanket tied over the mama's back. We have seen very few strollers in Perú.
  • No one wears sunglasses, except for los gringos.
  • Bread (pan) for breakfast everyday. With butter (mantequilla) and marmalade (marmeladé). You're lucky to get a huevo. No cereal or milk.
  • Local Peruvians wear long pants, sweaters (chompas) and wool hats all the time. Even when it feels like 90 degrees in the sun.
  • Internet bandwidth is painfully slow. WiFi is almost nonexistent. You can find a local Int@rnet place, but they won't let you use you own device (just their computers) -- this is regional, certainly the case in Urubamba, but maybe not so much in Cusco (let's hope…)
  • All kids must go to school (la escuela). You can not legally homeschool.
  • There seem to be two big groups of tourists here - backpackers and tour groups. Although we've met a couple of other traveling families, most other gringos fit into one of those groups. We don't - which is ok. We still feel very conspicuous - especially since our kids are SO LOUD!
  • When you buy a cerveza from the local tienda, you still need to put a $1 sole deposit down on it (botella retornables).
  • Do NOT put toilet paper in the toilet. After you use it, it gets folded up and put into a small trashcan next to the toilet. Verdad.
  • There are at least 10 ways to same the same thing. One way is the way you think it should work, and one way is the normal way of saying it.
  • We have yet to find a good Peruvian wine. However, the local cerveza (Cusqueño) is very good, if you can find a cold one.
  • We are all having fantastic dreams here. Maybe it's the cold weather, maybe it's the daily exercise (physical and mental), and maybe it's the fact that we're in "The Sacred Valley". Regardless, all of us are having very elaborate and detailed dreams, and remembering them in the morning. Alex says that "70% of people remember 1 of their dreams, and less than 15% remember more than 2." We remember about 3 per night. Very cool.

Amazingly, we are learning Español, slowly but surely. It's a noticeable benefit in learning to speak it all the time - much better than classroom learning. That said, the teachers at our school have been great. They have been patient with us, are good teachers, challenge us, help us outside of class, and have been very tolerant supportive of the kids. It's been a great experience so far, and we are looking forward to continuing it in Cusco when we return on Saturday. ¡Chau!

Posted by noahv 14:35 Archived in Peru Comments (11)

Welcome to Peru

from Noah

We've been in Lima, Peru for a little over 24 hours now, and we have already experienced and learned a lot.


  • Mental conversion is required for all purchases - luckily, the exchange rate is about 2.65 sol = 1 usd, which allows us to do a mental exchange rate of 2.5 sol = 1 usd.


  • Any painted lines on the road or signage are mostly for color, not necessarily to be followed.
  • Cars only need about 2 inches between them to avoid collisions. That seems to be the normal buffer on the roads - sometimes less. Our first taxi driver delighted in pulling up next to cars at stoplights, reaching his hand out and slapping the back of the car next to us, and then saying "Temblor!" with a surprised look on his face. Wish I had gotten a video of the look on their faces...
  • Electricity in Peru is 220v on 60Hz. Although the plug style is the same, if you plug your US stuff into a Peruvian outlet, bad things will happen. We have a great travel converter from Helen, but this has created a bottleneck for charging our devices.
  • WiFi exists, but the backhaul to the internet is much slower than what we see in the states (about 1.5Mpbs down). Alex is learning to dislike the "Buffering..." messages on YouTube.


  • Negotiate your taxi fare up front - taxis have no meters. Most rides around the city are about 10-15 soles.



  • Up until 1981, there was a huge pyramid covered by a hill in central Lima (in Distrito Miraflores). Now, it is a really cool archeological site that we visited yesterday - Huaca Pucllana.



  • We are white and tall. The average Peruvian is not. We draw a lot of stares, especially with our two (cute / loud) kids in tow.
  • There's a micro-culture here within the hostal (not to be confused with hostel - it means a smaller hotel or guesthouse, since hotel is used to refer to a large full-service hotel). The rooms and the people staying here are unique - Anne says it reminds her of "A Room with a View" by E.M. Forster. The fellow travelers are very enjoyable, and a great resource for advice, ideas, and storytelling.

Honestly, it's tough being here. Sure, it's cool to be somewhere else, and we embrace the adventure. But Day 1 in Lima was rough - our Spanish is poor, the city is big, we don't know our way around, we were all tired and stressed and crabby, and when we all got hungry around mid-day and couldn't find a place to eat, it was bad. But, it got better after we ate, and got better after we found our way around a bit and successfully bought dinner, and it will continue to get better as we go along and learn how to work together and deal with each other when we get crabby.

Now we're off for Day 2 in Lima, and then an early flight to Cusco tomorrow. We are telling ourselves to stay open in the moment. We can do this.

Posted by noahv 07:18 Archived in Peru Tagged lima lessons Comments (7)

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