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...

Monday, January 08, 2007

Night 1: Lima

And the trip begins. Jay and I meet at Penn Station and catch the NJ Transit train to Newark Airport. When we get to the terminal, we're directed to a long line leading up to a row of about 10 check-in desks. Number of people staffing the desks? Two.

It doesn't help that at one of the desks, a family decides now is the perfect time to repack their suitcase. We all wait while they move socks from one bag to another.

Traveler's Tip: Arrive 2 hours before your flight when traveling internationally, because other people are slow idiots and the airport is ridiculously understaffed

Meanwhile, Jay comments on the absurdity of the woman "sweeping up" the terminal floor. She's got a little dustpan and a broom, and appears to be sweeping up absolutely nothing. Geez. Promote the woman and put her behind one of the check-in desks so we can get to our gate already!

Turns out we had no need to rush. We sit on the plane for over an hour before it takes off. We were supposed to get into Lima around 11 PM. Now its looking like midnight. Well, straight to bed for us when we get to Peru... right??

Flight's pretty uneventful. We arrive, take some pictures in front of the "Welcome To Peru" sign. None of which later come out.

We've read all the warnings in the guidebook about not trusting cabs that pick you up outside the airport in Peru. So when we're approached by an official looking person in the terminal who asks if we have a hotel and if need a cab, we follow them. They set us up with a nice cabbie, who offers to drive us to our hostel for the discount price of $20. He'll even pick us up for our flight to Cusco the next day, at 3:30 am! What a nice guy!

Traveler's Tip: Cabs from the Lima Airport to the Inka Lodge Hostel cost 35 soles (peruvian currency)... about $11.75.

We get to our hostel at 1 am. It looks a little sketchy from the outside, and we wonder how it could have been rated #2 hostel in South America. There's no sign, and you need to hit the doorbell and be buzzed in. But then we're greeted warmly by the owner, a nice little gray haired man who looks as if he's in his mid-sixties. The place is clean, we have a huge private double room, cable TV and air conditioning. Internet is free. Not too shabby for $12 dollars each a night.

I go online briefly, and write the following entry:

Jay and I have arrived safely in our hostel in Lima, Peru. We have a day here, manana, and then we fly to Cusco. We either booked a taxi for Saturday´s return to the airport, or agreed to have our organs removed. We think (hope) it´s the first thing. Our Spanish is improving with every minute (¨minuto¨ in espanol).

More to come. Stay tuned
Immediately after... me and Jay decide, "What the hell, its our first night in Peru... lets get a drink." We ask the man at the hostel where to go. We vaguely understand his instructions and head off.

That's when things get interesting...

We walk a few blocks and spy the Hotel Doubletree. Through the windows we can see a bunch of Peruvians dancing and drinking, looks like a fun party. We figure it's a wedding celebration or something. We decide to go in.

We head up to the bar on the balcony overlooking the party, order some cervesas and some appetizers, fried yucca (a type of potato) and some fried cheese. Just as we're stuffing our faces, one of the girls on the floor below starts looking up at Jay. Jay gives her a little wave. She motions for him to come down. Another girl comes over and waves at us too.

Me: "Jay, we should go down there."

Jay: "You think?"

Me: "We're on vacation, we're in Peru, anything goes."

Jay: "Ok, but lets finish the yucca first."

We head down, and the girls introduce themselves as Mabel and Daniella. Mabel speaks great English, and explains that this is her company Christmas party. She works for a large international phone company, fielding customer calls from Spanish speaking countries. Mabel and Daniella then proceed to introduce us to every single one of their coworkers.

"Can you imagine if you're at your company Christmas party, and these girls you work with introduce these strange foreigners to everybody?" Jay says.

I agree it's a little odd. But, as we came to find out, Peru is a very friendly country.

"Would you like to dance?" Mabel asks me.


We all head out to the dance floor, which plays about half a song before the DJ calls it quits for the night. "We could go somewhere else to dance," Mabel says.

"Why not," me and Jay say, almost simultaneously.

After saying goodbye to everyone we just met, we follow Daniella and Mabel out. They just have to call their parents first. We stand on the street by a pay phone. Given the stereotypes of South America, me and Jay are pretty sure things can't possibly be going this well, and that we're certain to be drugged and kidnapped, only to wake up hours later in an icy bathtub with missing kidneys. But, fortunately for us, the girls lead us to a busy bar and club lined street and take us into a salsa club. We order some beer, dance some salsa, and eventually leave only when the music stops around 4 am. We kiss the girls goodnight, me and Jay stumble back to the hostel,
hit the doorbell, wake up the poor old hostel manager at 4:15 am, and collapse into bed.

It's only night one, and me and Jay already have Peruvian girlfriends.

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What a country!!
I'm Back

Hello loyal readers! (and you other guys who stumbled over here from MSN or MSNBC or from internet porn searches). I'm back from Peru! (and, unexpectedly, from Bolivia)

Here's how this blog is going to work for the next few days. I'm going to tell the story of me and my friend Jay's trip to Peru. There's going to be pictures, there's going to be stories, and there's going to be very useful "Traveler's Tips" sprinkled about. It's going to be educational, It's going to be sensational, I swear, it won't be like watching your Aunt Enid's slide show from her trip to Branson, Missouri. Then we'll get back to the usual discussion, like, how the hell did the U.S. allow somebody to camera-phone Saddam's execution??? And how the hell did the Giants blow that freaking playoff game??? And how the hell is it January 8th and there's still no new episodes of Lost????

Speaking of TV, goodbye "OC." We'll miss... well... we'll miss seasons one and two.

Ok, so back to Peru. Tonight, Day 1: Lima. Stay tuned.

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