Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Our trip began in Cusco. That is, it began in Cusco twenty hours, four airports, one lost bag and our first cup of coca tea after we left home. So thus we stumbled out of the airport a bit sleep deprived, a bit culture shocked, and a bit short of breath due to Cusco's 11,000 foot altitude.


We proceeded without pause to the waiting taxis where we were promptly ripped off, paying thirty nuevo soles for a ride I later learned should cost no more than eight. But this was our first driving adventure in Cusco so I was happy to pay anything to get there in one piece. I've used taxis in Rome, which was exciting, and Rio, which is an even higher level of urban rally racing enjoyment. Peruvian driving is like Brazilian driving times three, with cliffs and narrow streets, nary a seatbelt to be found, and always partaken of while in the back of stripped down secondhand Daewoo Tico.

I think we counted three streetlights in Cusco, one or two lane markers, and no stop signs. The number of lanes is determined by dividing the width of the road by the width of the cars on it at any given moment. The right of way is apparently negotiated solely on the basis of who has more speed and less to live for. And a curve without squealing tires, well, that's no kind of curve at all! These rules held everywhere we went in Cusco and even applied to our sixteen passenger tour bus later in the trip. But I must compliment them on their use of the car horn - it is truly a device for amicable communications rather than an outlet for aggression.



The old section of Cusco dates back hundreds of years. This lends it a great deal of character as well as steep, narrow streets. The photo above is the intersection nearest our hotel, Hostal Amaru. The hotel is up the hill, just past the blue window boxes. Having climbed those stairs a few times, I can tell you that it's far steeper than it looks, but far from the steepest in the area. Also notice that the street is just wide enough for a car, and the sidewalks aren't quite wide enough for two people. That's fairly common - you get very used to looking both ways before steeping into the street to pass another pedestrian. What you can't see is that those cobblestones are very, very old. So old that they are worn smooth enough to be reflective, smooth enough that my sticky hiking boots would slip on them even when dry.


But Cusco is not all near-death automotive adventures. The downtown has a lot of character, and we took a number of walks to explore it.


These ladies are pretty much everywhere. I'll talk more about them later.


There was some sort of parade going on in the town square, complete with crazy costumes. I'm not really sure what the reason was, but it was entertaining.


Many doors are brightly painted. Balconies are usually brightly painted or very elaborately carved. This also shows the lax attitude towards construction -- notice the stairs leading up to the door are only half width, and curve significantly despite their limited height.


Walking the stairs at night.

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