Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Happy Endings in Cusco

15 October 2010

Happy Endings in Cusco

I had hoped to sleep in late on Friday morning back in Cusco, but it turns out that my body was getting used to the pre-sunrise waking time. It was nice to take my time in the morning and have a bit of relaxation time after all of the hiking we had done during the week. I went downstairs to breakfast and enjoyed about three rounds at the buffet breakfast, eating my fill of puffed cereals and yogurt.

As I was walking back to our room, I could tell that the sun was shining brightly and the air felt warmer. I quickly changed into a comfortable dress and decided to continue embracing this relaxed vacation feeling.

We got a late start out of the hotel that morning, but eventually Jaya, Helen, Dylan, Jonas Brian and I all decided we’d take a walk down to the large craft market in Cusco to get our last few gifts and souvenirs. As we all ambled down the cobblestone streets together, it did feel as if we had known each other for longer than a week. Camping with strangers will make you fast friends, or enemies, I suppose, but luckily we all got along quite well.

The craft market was on the outskirts of the main part of town and as we walked along, we all realized that we were hungry for lunch. It was finally time to try the Chicharrón! I had been eying this delicious looking food up since we had first seen it and smelled it on our very first day in Cusco. Chicharrón is deep-fried pork belly and pork rind. One street in Cusco has a whole line of these eateries, most not much more than a whole in the wall. We chose the one with the most tables so we could all fit inside. Everyone ordered Chicharrón, except vegetarian Jaya who was forced to watch us eat. In a few minutes out came plates filled with hot crispy pork, fried potatoes, and large pieces of corn kernels. This was topped with thinly sliced onions and limes. We could barely finish and it all cost less than 5 dollars. There’s nothing like eating where the locals eat!

At the large indoor craft market, we all split up and searched for our Peruvian treasures. I picked up a few more hand-woven woolen Peruvian caps and found a lovely stone and silver pendant. Jonas was searching for a woven in which to back to take his belongings back to Costa Rica. Dylan had his eye out for chess sets, of which they had many different types; my favorite was the one where the Incas play the Spanish Conquistadors. Helen seemed to be shopping for everything; she made her way through those stalls like a pro, bargaining her best deal.

For the past few days we had all talked about how great it would be to get massages when we returned to Cusco. After we had our fill of the market, we all headed back to the main square and Brian took us to a massage parlor where he’d enjoyed a massage earlier in the week. One of the masseuses was standing out on the corner, beckoning in the passersby, and she recognized Brian right away. We all went inside and decided that if six of us were getting massages, we’d better get a good deal. The managing lady quickly agreed to take 10 soles off the price of the massage for all of us. Some chose to do the Inca massage which consisted of full body massage and hot stone therapy, and us girls decided that we wanted to do two treatments: full body massage and foot reflexology. The price was equivalent to that of the Inca massage and would last an hour and a half.

The three guys stayed in the building where we negotiated price, but there wasn’t room for all of us there, so the manager walked us around the block to another place. We went up two flights of stairs through what seemed like a small inn. There were a few rooms with massage tables set-up. The three of us would share a room. There were three beds crammed into the tiny room with bright hunters orange colored fleece curtains separating the beds. We all got undressed and settled in to wait for our massages. I wasn’t quite sure how the masseuses would even fit into the room, but they did manage to squeeze in between the beds to do the massage. For the next hour we enjoyed a nice massage, however my girl left at one point to take a phone call from what seemed to be the boss lady and there was some sort of discussion about the price we were paying for the massage. The three ladies all finished massaging us at the same time and walked out. At this point, we realized that only one hour had passed. I turned to Helen and Jaya and said, “So does this mean they will come back and do the reflexology foot massage?” We were all confused as to what was going on as it was clear they were not going to return.

One of the girls finally came into the room again and together, the three of us, in our poor broken Spanish, tried to inquire about the situation. They were asserting that we had gotten all the treatments that we had asked for, but we maintained that if so, we still had another 30 minutes left of the massage. They were clearly confused, and we refused to pay the full price, so they got on the phone with the boss again. In a few minutes she popped in the room. She continued in telling us that we had gotten our full package. It took some persistence and pushing, but finally she realized she wasn’t going to pull the wool over the eyes of these gringas! At last she agreed to have the girls come back and finish the remaining thirty minutes of our massage. No hard feelings; we still enjoyed it.

By that time, it was around 4pm, and a perfect time for coffee. We all dropped our things at the hotel and met at a fancy little European style café down the street from our hotel. We enjoyed lattes, cakes, brownies and gelatos, chatted, and watched Jonas and Dylan play chess. Before long the sun was beginning to set and we realized we needed to head back to the hotel to get ready for our last night with the group.

For the final night in Cusco, Erik had arranged a group dinner at a Peruvian restaurant that included some kind of live performance. The sixteen of us plus Erik and a few of the guides convened in the lobby at 7pm and proceeded to walk to the restaurant together. On the way there, Jonas and I ran into no other than Elvis! This was the teenager that we had met the first day in Cusco who was trying to sell us his paintings. He knew us immediately and started walking with us. He smiled and sweetly said to me, “I have a feeling today I will make a sale with you!” How can a person say no to that? He worked the sale with Jonas as we continued our walk and they bargained outside the restaurant while the rest of us took our seats. When Jonas returned he said, “Elvis is waiting for you, Kate!” I knew it was my turn to give Elvis a sale. I went out and there he was. I told him that I only wanted to buy a painting that he had done himself. He flipped through his little portfolio and showed me about 30 oil and watercolor paintings that either he or his friends and family had done. These street vendors in Peru all sell very similar paintings, likely copies of more famous ones, but they were still hand done. After flipping through the options a few times I finally settled on a brightly colored painting of Peruvian women working in the field. Elvis assured me he was giving me a special price. I asked him to sign the painting and he wrote “With Love from Elvis.” After we finished our transaction he told me that I looked pretty tonight and gave me a kiss on the cheek.

Back inside the restaurant, we lined up behind other international tourists for the Peruvian buffet. This restaurant is clearly a place that caters to large tour groups. The food selection was broad and included most of the Peruvian delicacies like ceviche, potato salads, alpaca and even guinea pig. The guinea pig came deep-fried and was actually quite delicious. I would say it most closely reminded me of duck. While we ate multiple servings from the buffet, we sipped on Pisco Sours, the national drink of Peru, and watched a show on stage. First there was a Peruvian band, which performed some local music as well as a famous classical music medley complete with Mozart, Beethoven and music from the opera, Carmen. Sadly there were no amazing mullet-wearing in the band though. After the music performance, there were multiple dance numbers with the dancers wearing costumes that became more and more elaborate with each dance.

As we finished our desserts, Erik asked us who was feeling up to a continuation of the party. About half the group was either still sick or just exhausted, and so we said goodbye to them, as the rest of us would head out to the bar. Some people, including myself, were leaving the hotel at 5am to catch the early flight back to Lima and others would wait until the 11am flight. After we said all of our goodbyes, Erik walked us to one of the clubs he seems to frequent when he comes to Cusco.

The club was packed with tourists and locals alike. The night started out with salsa music and we all took turns dancing with each other, most of us clumsily stepping on each other’s feet. The Cusquena beers kept flowing and the lights were turned down as the music changed from salsa to everything from hip-hop, to techno, to an ABBA medleys. By the end of the week, I had started to develop some kind of upper respiratory infection and was beginning to cough a lot. I was having such a good time dancing and celebrating with everyone, that I was easily convinced to stay out later than I had planned. The bar was clearly not closing anytime soon, but around 3am we finally decided to head back to the hotel. As we walked back, I realized that I had nearly lost my voice at that point. All of that screaming to be heard in the loud bar on top of some kind of virus had really irritated my vocal cords. Nonetheless, it was worth it to stay out and live it up for one last night in Peru with these fun people I had met before I had to go back to the harsh reality of my residency lifestyle. Back at the hotel, I got ready for bed as quickly as I could and lied down for a short nap before wake up at 5am.

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