Thursday, January 11, 2007

Day 2: Getting High in Cusco, Llamas, And Carne Corazon


We spent the next day walking around Lima. Saw the changing of the guard (i swear, its the same boring ceremony everywhere). Drank Pisco Sours at the Gran Hotel Bolivar (best drink in town). Lost some money in the Hotel Sheraton casino (and smoked some Cubans). At night, we met up with Mabel and her other friend and went Salsa dancing again, this time until 2:30. Then we slept about a half hour before getting picked up by the taxi driver for the ride back to the airport (not only did he show up, but he slept in his car outside our hostel to make sure he'd be on time-- great service for $20).

I passed out before the plane took off. Next thing I knew, we were landing in Cuzco, (elevation 11,150 ft), former capital of the Incan Empire. The second we got off the plane, I was suffocating. The air up there is so thin, you have to remind yourself to breathe twice as deep or you start getting a pounding headache. Even walking a couple steps makes you feel tired and nauseous. You feel bloated and gassy. Now I know how Rosie O'Donnell feels everyday (I'm trying to get this blog sponsored by Trump).

We get to our hostel and the woman who works there tries to get us to fill out forms, but realizes we're too tired and lets us pass out in our room. We wake up around noon, still not feeling that refreshed. The woman, who introduces herself as Vicki, gives us Coca Tea, made from the same leaves as cocaine. Despite fearing that I'll start becoming really annoying and talkative (seriously, does coke make anybody NOT act like an asshole?), I drink the tea because it's supposed to help with altitude sickness. It just makes me tired, but Jay immediately perks up (later he'd be offering strangers massages in Cuzco's central square).

Traveler's Tip: Coca Tea does not cure altitude sickness ("soroche" in spanish). It may however, make you tired and/or loopy.

Beggars are everywhere in Cuzco. Ranging from those simply standing with their hands out to those wearing traditional outfits and charging for photographs. There are also people everywhere offering massages, selling watercolor paintings and postcards.

You can also buy some pretty cheap mittens, scarves and hats... useful at Cuzco's altitude. Less useful? A shoeshine, offered by several local boys.

Kid: "Sir, I shine your shoes?"

Me: "I'm wearing sneakers."

Kid: "International Suede, we shine"

Me: "Um... these are New Balances"

Kid: "Si, International Suede. Yes, yes. I shine."

Me: "Um... No, Gracias."

Ah yes. Those two magic words. No, Gracias. The first Spanish phrase we said with any conviction. If you go to Peru, you'll probably be saying it alot. So practice!

Travelers Tip: "No, Gracias" is good, but there are other ways of politely refusing the services and/or good of a Peruvian street peddler:

"No para mi, gracias" - the addition of "For me" is a classy, more Spanish way of saying No thank you.

"Tengo" or "Tenemos" - These came in real handy for us. Literally "I have" and "We have." Like when someone offers you the same gray alpaca sweater you've seen in 3 cities, you can say "Tengo. No gracias." Overuse, though, of this verb will lead people to call you a liar (the verb "miente.")

"No Me Gusta" or "No quiero" - A little less polite, but somewhat effective. Means "I don't like it." and "I don't want it," respectively.

Finally, there's "No entiendo," which means "I don't understand." For this to work, you usually need to pretend you don't understand Spanish or English, and you're blind.

We get some lunch at Patiti, a nice enough place on the Plaza De Armas. We order llama steak. It tastes like really lean beef, by which I mean, is not as good as real steak. We then step outside and take a picture with a woman holding a baby llama.

Como Se... 'Llama'

I give the woman two soles. But as Jay takes the picture of me, a woman sneaks up behind and gets in the photo too. She wants two soles too. Now, she wasn't the one with the llama, but I'm not about to argue over 66 cents. But I only have a 5 sole coin. "Tiene cambio?" I ask. I assume that means "Do you have change?"


So I give her the five sole. She fishes around, gives me two sole back. I look at her. She looks at me.

Fine. Take the damn extra sole. I feel bad though that I didn't give an extra sole to the llama lady, who's gone off somewhere else.

We walk around a bit more... catch some of a Cuzco basketball game (basketball, from what I can tell, seems to be the second most popular sport after soccer in Peru). Visit the office of the group we'd be trekking with, Jay makes a friend with one of the local boys by giving him cream filled cookies he bought earlier at a bakery in town.

Something else we see people selling on the street are tickets. Curious, we ask what they're for. Turns out, tonight, in Cuzco, is the national championship soccer game between Cuzco and Lima. After checking with our hostel that the tickets sold on the street are legit, we purchase a pair. I never went to a soccer game in the States, or anywhere else, so I'm really excited. We buy Cuzco soccer jerseys for about $4.50 each.

That night, we go to the stadium. The streets around are filled with people. Lines snake into the stadium from everywhere. We have no idea where to go. Luckily, we spot the only other foreigners in the crowd, and they direct us where to go. We're practically pushed into the stadium by security, and as we enter through the gate, the roar of the crowd gets louder and louder. We emerge into the glow of the stadium lights, and the scene is wild. People jumping up and down everywhere. Red flares being set off. A brass band is playing a marching song. The concrete stands seem to have no order, people are jammed in everywhere. We see an open space and sit down, but are immediately yelled at in Spanish by everyone behind us. Fortunately, a kind Peruvian man takes pity on us, and, without a word, guides us to the foot of the concrete bleachers, where he sits us down. Every so often, someone would try and sit down in the space in front of us, and people would go crazy-- because, as we saw now, they'd be blocking the view of the field. Eventually, we join in, yelling nonsense at whoever tries to creep in front.

Some action here:

At halftime, a woman comes around with a white bucket full of beef skewers w/ a potato speared on top. They're sellin like hotcakes. People are throwing money at her. Jay and I decide--sure, why not? When in Peru...

We start chowing down. It's pretty good! A little tough, but grilled in a spicy sauce. Well worth the 3 soles (1 buck) we spent.

So innocent...

It was to be, possibly, the worst mistake we made all trip.

As the woman walks away, she starts shouting, hawking her food. "Beef Corazon! Beef Corazon!!!"

The word "corazon" strikes me. In my head, my brain digs through several drawers of dusty files before it locates the one bearing the manila folder from high school spanish class. Slowly the folder opens, and it takes only a few pages to thumb through before the word "corazon" is found, emblazoned in bold letters...


We were eating beef hearts. Cow heart to be exact.

"Hmm," I said. "Well, when in Peru..."

Somewhere inside my stomach, alarms began to blare. It wouldn't be long before Peruvian Food-Bourne Bacteria had its way with both of us. For the next week of the trip.

The Cusquenos won, 1-0, setting themselves up nicely for the second part of the championship match, which would take place in Lima two days later. The mood outside the stadium was celebratory. The streets were lined with people making soup, cooking chicken and selling team merchandise. It was a Peruvian tailgate party.

We went to bed that night feeling pretty good. The next day, we planned to take a tour of the Sacred Valley around Cuzco (only 19 bucks each). Little did we know, that as we slept, the Osama Bin beef corazon was already beginning its campaign of terror...

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