Background: This month I'm in Cusco, seeing the city and volunteering at a school project for underprivileged, impoverished kids. This is an almost verbatim entry from the diary I'm keeping while I'm out here.
Spent the plane flight absent minded. Bought a beer in the hope of enticing sleep but to little avail; three hours of shuteye achieved and the rest of the trip spent engrossed in Boris: The Rise of Boris Johnson. I suppose I’ve had worse flights.
Arrived in Lima with a few hours to kill before connection and walked into airport food court. Ahh, globalisation, you really want me to have an Egg McMuffin, don’t you? I resist my Western urges and approach the most Peruvian counter I can find. I ask for ‘un desayuno tradicional’ - a traditional breakfast - and get given a sandwich containing onions, an unidentifiable root vegetable and some very questionable beef. And a beer. For 5:30AM I’m doing rather well. I think I’m going to like this country.
From glimpses through plane windows and the vast, low panorama of the departure lounge, Lima seems to be a very industrial city. I can see towering mechanical structures off in the distance, reminiscent of Rockerfeller’s Standard Oil nodding donkeys. I don’t think it’s oil here in Peru but the structures are certainly significant; they’re essentially the only thing visible in the otherwise flat Lima skyline.
The airport itself offers no intrigue or cultural significance; it’s very much a normal airport, which I suppose is exactly what you want from an institution created to shuttle you across continents at 500mph and 30,000ft up. Still, it’d be nice to see some llamas or something.
It’s a balmy 19°C, which is keeping me happy. I won’t dwell on Lima or its airports any more. After all, it’s Cusco I’ve come here to see and Cusco I shall write more about. Back to Boris I go while I await the 09:20 to CUZ.
My flight to Lima lands in the early hours, while it’s still dark, so my first real glimpse of Peru while airborne is from the LIM -> CUZ flight. As the plan ascends into the clouds I see glimpses of an unimpressive city. It feels totally European, which is really not what I came here hoping to see. An hour later the plane descends, breaking through the thick cloud, and suddenly all my previous skepticism is put to rest.
We glide over mountains. It’s a totally unpredictable landscape: soaring rockfaces jutting out of the Earth, deep, dark canyons and dense forest covering a plateau, stretching out into the distance. The variety of terrain really is a remarkable sight. I can see a hundreds of tiny little pueblos dotted across the countryside.
It’s an experience like this that makes me think Peru was meant to be viewed by air. It is akin to the Grand Canyon with its heterogeneous landscape; while it looks amazing now, I’m sure from a helicopter it’d look fucking phenomenal.
As the plane draws closer to my destination the little pueblos out in the country begin to grow in number and increase in density until they morph into the unbroken urban sprawl of Cusco. It’s much bigger than Google Maps has lea me to believe. The airport is old, dusty and archaic (yes!). There is something disingenuous about overly modern and Westernised facilities in poor cities. I suppose it’s to attract tourism, but still, it saddens me to think of where that money could be put to much better use.
I’m picked up by the Mother of my host family, Doris, a delightful 57-year-old that speaks absolutely no English (or refuses to... I’ve not sussed her out properly yet). I rely on my poor Spanish to make it through several conversations, including one about how “las chicas de Cusco” are lovely and bountiful, but they may just want me for my money. Fantastic Doris, thanks.
After lunch - a potato soup followed by pollo with rice and marinaded-in-something veg - I decide to take a stroll around the town.
As far as I’m aware, Peru is a country in (what is known by pretentious middle-class white boys like me) the ‘developing world’. Whatever the ethics of the terminology, Peru definitely deserves to have its present tense nomenclature.
The entire city of Cusco feels like one giant work in progress. Street after street of empty concrete buildings, dozens of abandoned roadworks and unclosed sewers. The whole place screams unfinished. The road on which I’m staying, Avenue de la Cultura, is partitioned on the left (facing downhill) by tens of pieces of corrugated aluminium, bolted onto planks of wood to form a fence. A cycle bridge crosses over the busy road to a new roundabout, circling a fountain, while straight opposite is a new block of offices. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition, from the makeshift, shantytown fencing on my left to the modern, clean, contemporary design of the workspace to my right.
Poverty is not overtly apparent, but neither is wealth. Cultura is joined with its parallel road through a series of mini-markets. These bazaars are deceptively extensive, forming a labarinthine maze full of independent retailers trying to sell rip-off bags, boots and clothing, pirated CDs and DVDs, cheap plastic toys and local foods and drinks. I’ve been warned by various people, including my Mother, not to get food from street stalls lest I suffer from diarrhea. It’s very good advice, but the adventurer and rebel in me is tempted to try some of it out. I think I’ll play that one by ear.
I walk up to the more touristy area - a typical tourism scene, and fundamentally nothing too interesting to report - and sit myself in a posh bar overlooking a little piazza. I order a pisco sour (what else?!) and enjoy the last of the sub before the clouds consume it again. I pay the s/.25 (approximately $9, which isn’t that bad but still seems overpriced) and walk back down the hill to the house.
One thing I notice very quickly is the altitude and what effect it’s having on my body. I’m not exceptionally fit, but I’m not in terrible shape either, and after five minutes of walking up a slight fradient I am quite severly out of breath. It feels like adifferent out of breath, not the panting, sweaty faced out-of-breathness, such as one Eric Pickles might get after walking up the stairs, no, it’s an altogether different sensation, one of clawing at the oxygen in front of you, begging for it to enter your lungs. I’ve never experienced this kind of altitude before so I had no idea what it would be like. I assume my body will adjust to it.
I’m back at the house now. After a 23 hour trip, plus walking around, I really want a shower, but alas, the hot water is off until tomorrow morning. I’ll have to wait ‘till then. I’ve more or less unpacked, set up a desk with my laptop, notepad and camera, as well as the pile of books I hope to get through. There’s one power socket in my room and in order for any of my appliances to work I have to prop the plug up with my camera’s tripod. It’s hilarious.
Slightly annoyed I’ve forgotten my camera cable, but it’s not a huge worry as it’s a standard microUSB and I’m bound to find one in one of the phone shops I saw on my walk. Other than that, the room is homely and the family are hospitable. It’ll be dinner soon and I’m going to try to catch some sleep before I head off to the volunteering project welcome thing this evening. It would be nice if there are some younger people working with me. It’ll be even nicer if they speak English.
I suppose the perfect candidate would be a 5’5 redhead girl who’s into books, has strong political opinions and loves Pink Floyd. A guy can dream, right? Knowing me I’ll get a smelly, angry, perspiring, bulimic Czech with a bronchial infection and a habit of breaking down in tears of hysteria at the word “and”. I’ll report back as to the team members as the situation develops.
Now, it’s time for a 30 minute kip under the watchful eye of a Jesus Christ clock suspended over my bed. At least Jesus loves me, even if fate and cute redheads don’t.
Dinner was lovely. It’s 4AM English time so will write more in next entry.
P.S. I've not been able to get any photos onto my laptop yet, but I'll update this post with the pics when I can.