05/01/2010 70 °F
After hiking through the Colca Canyon and climbing Machu Picchu, I was ready for a nice, relaxing walk through a modern city. Unfortunately in Cuzco, it wasn't going to be that easy.
Here are a series of interactions between me and the local street walkers:
Vendor holding open a portfolio: "Painting? My work! 1 sol! Free to look!"
Me: "You are very talented, but no thank-you."
School age boy: "Postcard? 3 for 1!"
Me: "No thank-you."
Older woman: "Blanket? Alpaca wool, very soft!"
Me: "No thanks."
5 year-old boy: "Cigarettes? Cigarettes?"
Young woman: "Massage?"
Me: [Stares blankly past girl in attempt to ignore.]
Older woman: "You want bowls?" [clacks bowls together loudly in an attempt to catch my attention]
Me: [Scowl and shoot a dirty look.]
5 year-old boy's friend: "Shine shoes?"
Me: "Don't think of touching me with that nasty brush."
Woman in traditional get-up: "Picture? Picture?" [offers baby alpaca]
Me: D*mnit! NO! ARRRRGGHH! [Punches lady. Punches alpaca.]
Repeat each of the above 100 times. Cuzco is a beautiful city filled with many churches and pretty parks. However, it also filled with obnoxious street vendors that incessantly nag you to buy their worthless crap. At first I was polite in refusing, often offering a little smile while saying "No thank-you". It quickly turned to a desire to punch every street vendor in the face after having dirty, cheap souvenirs shoved in your face (saying no didn't always work, especially with the shoe shiners who would try to grab your foot and wipe it with the dingiest brush known to man). I began to feel like a giant $ sign walking around, and every person in the city was out to get their piece.
Not every vendor was an evil, blood-sucking, tourist leech. After politely refusing a man selling paintings (I hadn't reached punching women and children level yet), he showed us to a nice cafe to get brunch. One little boy sat down next to me on a bench after I refused to buy some cigarettes to practice his English and look at the pictures in my guidebook (his English phrases were "Washington is the capital", "Barack Obama is the president", "I am 7 years old", "give me money since you are a tourist"). Anyways, here is a picture of us eating breakfast.
Cuzco really is a pretty city. Houses climb the hills creating a nice backdrop. Buildings had a Spanish feel with white exteriors and red tile roofs. Fountains were in the middle of parks, often decorated with colorful displays or ornate statues. Churches were everywhere (4 in one corner of the main square alone)!
The cathedral sits just off the main square in Cuzco. There are also churches on either side of it. At some point after the cathedral was build, the Jesuits came in and decided to build the most grand church in Peru. The bishop thought that nothing should be more grand than the cathedral, and petitioned to have the church's building plan revised. The issue escalated all the way to the pope, who sided with the bishop. However, the Jesuits church, Iglesia La Compañía de Jesús, was already completed. Megan and I looked inside, and the entire area behind the alter was covered in gold. I'd say the Jesuits accomplished their goal. The first couple pictures are of me in front of the cathedral (and the two other churches).
And here are some pictures of the Jesuit church sitting not 50 yards away.
While standing in between the churches, a mini-parade came through carrying a large cross. I'm not sure what they were doing, but mass didn't start for another hour and a half. They were brave souls to be walking down the middle of the street.
We decided to hike up the hill to see the artistic area of San Blas, which supposedly offered great views of Cuzco.
After a leisurely 30 minute hike straight uphill, we ran out of road. Megan stopped to get a water, and when she was only charged S/.1, we realized we had wandered out of the tourist area. I walked up a side street to take in the view of Cuzco.
You can see the belltower of San Blas in the background of that picture, so we backtracked a couple of blocks. Several artists had set up in the courtyard, and we browsed through their paintings (it was nice not being hounded and badgered into buying something). San Blas looked nice, but I didn't quite see why it was such a large attraction (it had its own section in the guidebook).
We walked back down through the Plaza de Armas and made our way to the other side of Cuzco. We passed by several more churches and convents. I woudn't be surprised if there was more than 20 churches in a mile radius of the main square. I really wanted to go into one of the churches that was completely covered in mirrors on the inside, but the church wasn't open when we went by.
One thing that intrigued me about clothing stores in Peru is that they often had mannequins out front of their stores modeling their clothes. US stores do the same thing, but the US mannequins are often featureless and a single color. Mannequins in Peru are fully painted and posed, looking like giant Ken and Barbie dolls. One mannequin in particular caught my attention. I don't know what clientele the store was looking to attract, but it must be the mullet-sporting, gold-tooth, overbite plagued redneck market. Just look at the picture (with me doing my best impression, it's a shame you can't see the mullet or overbite).
Megan and I also took pictures with a baby alpaca, but immediately regretted it once the woman started complaining that S/.2 was not enough for two pictures.
To end our trip in Peru, Megan and I decided to get a nice dinner. Megan had claimed she was going to eat a guinea pig, but she ended up "chickening out", literally. It was actually a delicious meal. I ended the night with a "Choco Princess".
We made our way to the airport and prepared to say our farewells to Peru. I had saved some cash so that we could pay our airport taxes. Peru has this absurd policy of charging non-residents a tax for every airport they go through. For the domestic flight from Cuzco to Lima we had to pay $7 a piece. I knew we would have to pay the tax again when we got to Lima (and that it would likely be more expensive since we were leaving the country), so I had a cool $61 in my pocket. We get to the tax gate in Lima when I find out that the departure tax is $33 a person. I went up to the service window and tried to explain that I only had $61 to my name, and that I had no way of getting any more cash (since Peru does not accept credit cards). The woman at the window seemed sympathetic and called her supervisor over. The supervisor turned to me and said, "You can't leave, you are $5 short. Maybe you go beg, it is only $5." ARE YOU KIDDING ME! It's one thing to tell me that I don't have enough money, but you don't have to tell that I need to beg. We went back into the main terminal. My plan was to use my credit card to buy someone's souvenir in the gift shop in return for the cash. We found a nice British woman who gladly gave us $5 (it was a pretty humiliating experience). All the repressed frustration at being treated like an easy source of money while in Cuzco started resurfacing. I paid the $66, and without a cent to my name, made my way to customs. We were ushered to the front of the line and I presented our passports. The customs agent looked at me and asked for my "piece of paper". I had no clue what he was talking about, so I gave him the only paper I had, the crumpled receipt from dinner. He frowned at me and said, "No. Important piece of paper." I started to lose it, I had no clue what this man wanted from me. He kept repeating "important piece of paper" over and over again. Megan pulled out the stub from her customs form we had received 8 days ago, and his eyes lit up. He flipped it over, smugly presented it to me while pointing to the obscure fine print. "Please retain stub." Well, I didn't have it. I threw away the seemingly useless paper that had my name and job description (in my own writing) in the first available trashcan after entering Peru. Just as I was about to go to the back of the room and rip off the stub to a new customs form, he turned to me and said "You no leave." The supervisor came over, and she also tried to get me to read the fine print of Megan's stub. She then informed me a new policy, where $5 could clear me through customs. I absolutely lost it at this point, and I made a scene, full of desk-slapping and foot-stomping fury. I refused to pay another dime (one, because I didn't have any cash, and two, out of principal). As I was making it known to the entire airport that I was now a permanent resident of Peru, Megan ran to the only person waiting to clear customs to "borrow" five more dollars. Once the bribe was paid, I grabbed our passports and made the way to the gate.
Peru was a great country to visit, but thank goodness I could finally head home.