Out of bed early to catch a taxi to the airport. It’s a good half-hour or forty minutes from the hostel, plus a dude working at the hostel told us we should be there two hours before the flight (we semi-heeded this advice, figuring 90 minutes was sufficient), so we’re out the door at the crack of dawn.
The drive to the airport was nondescript but the drive into the airport parking lot was a shitshow. Almost every airport in the world has a pretty familiar system when it comes to getting dropped off at departures: a loop where taxis can swing in, drop you off at the right terminal in a minute or two, and get out. Lima is an exception. To make a few extra bucks they separated what could be four lanes into two sets of two lanes, two being “VIP lanes” that you have to pay extra for and two being traffic jams. The last 200 meters of our trip take us nearly 10 minutes.
The airport looks like another shitshow but our carrier had zero people in line ahead of us. Nice! Baggage checked and we’re onto security. About 10 minutes in line and we’re through. Nothing to it. Wait for the plane for a bit and then grab some zzz’s on the way to Cusco.
Grab the first cab we see and ask him to take us to a hostel in the Centro Historico. He takes us to an area that looks pretty sleepy and to a “guest house” without any real signage outside. Inside it’s pretty swank and it does turn out to be pretty expensive (albeit nice) but there’s literally no one else there. Lame. We decline and ask him for a hostel with “mas fiesta”. After giving us a few options he takes us to one called Pariwana and it was a sweet tip.
Walking in the double front doors of Pariwana there were dozens of people chilling in beanbag chairs around an open courtyard. No idea what it was before being a hostel, but it had the same old colonial feel we’ve come across in museums throughout Latin America. Notice boards were up in several places for organizing activities ranging from karaoke night to BBQ to horseback riding to a foot tour of Cusco. Next to the courtyard was a desk for booking multi-day trips to Machu Picchu, Inka Trail treks, ATV trips and other activities. Upstairs were a computer room, a TV room, a communal kitchen and a great bar with balconies overlooking the street. Our initial impression was that it would be one of the best places we’d stayed yet, and that impression turned out to be the case.
Wandering aimlessly one of the first things we found was the local’s market. There were definitely parts targeting tourists – selling the same kind of crafts and touristy t-shirts that we’ve seen everywhere – but most of the market was filled with meat, vegetables, textiles, regular day-to-day kind of stuff. Murphy and Drisdelle descended on a section selling bracelets and stocked up while I tried to find some t-shirts that would fit me. Wasn’t happening. I’m definitely bigger than the average Peruvian and bigger around than the average tourist for that matter. Next we investigated the coca-based products. Coca candy? Yes please. Coca chocolate bars? You bet! We didn’t wait long to get into them, tearing open the packages while waiting for change. Noms. Purely for the medicinal purpose of assisting with the symptoms of altitude sickness, of course.
Leaving the market we continued to roam aimlessly and were surprised by how few tourists were around, and how the city didn’t seem to be catering to tourists. Of course that’s completely wrong – the city is full of tourists and heavily caters to them – but we’d just randomly chosen a route that took us in the exact opposite direction of all the attractions.
Back at the ranch we signed up for BBQ night up at the bar and busted open a Connect 4 set we found on a shelf. Two years ago Murphy and I shut down one of the main Uzbek-Kazakh border crossings for a significant amount of time when we unleashed a travel-sized Connect 4 game on the Uzbek border guards and I thoroughly trounced the top officer of the border crossing, even with all of his fellow officers collaborating. Fortunately the Uzbeks were good losers and we weren’t beaten or detained for being awesome, and so far as I can tell that made me the reigning Uzbek Connect 4 Champion. Drisdelle wanted the crown so I stomped the shit out of him, crushing his soul. Murphy was up next and although he won a handful of games near the start it seemed like the throne was secure… until about a dozen games in, when he put together a six-game winning streak and proceeded to beat me 9-to-8 in a Best-of-17. Goddammit. My glory days are over but I guess I’ll always have that shitty border crossing outside of Tashkent.
We spent much of the afternoon consuming very generous portions of white wine and coca tea, alternating between the two. The mix ramped us up decently, a nice wine buzz with the surprisingly stimulating effects of the tea. Kind of liquored but bouncing off the walls at the same time. Strictly for medicinal purposes, of course. The scene was good until the bar put on the movie-of-the-night, Gigli. What the hell. Premises evacuated.
On our way out the front door to hit the town and there’s a ruckus. We’re in the middle of another parade, what a shocker! This one’s a doozy, some kind of once-a-year Catholic procession along our street, a bunch of dudes carrying a heavily-ornamented float with The Jesus on it. Solemn folks pacing alongside, packing the street to the brim. Drisdelle and Murphy squeeze against the wall and get some pics but I can’t deal with the crowd, jumping back inside the hostel. Phew. Wipe sweat from the brow. Not big on jam-packed crowds in any situation but being swept up in a heavy-duty Catholic ceremony is beyond my capabilities. I hang back an talk to an Aussie named Luke about Melbourne while the procession slowly plods by. Unfortunately it stops and completely blocks the street while a man of the cloth addresses the crowd. Not going to wait for this to play out, we head in the opposite direction, finding an alternate route out onto the town.
We’re not gone long before we return for the BBQ. We grab a seat with an Irish couple named Kiran (sp?) and Tracy, comparing travel notes and future plans. They’re hiking into Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail, doing the four-day option I believe. We’re going to be lazy but fast, busing and training it up so we can knock it off in a single day. As BBQ is wrapping up bingo cards are handed out and a game kicks off. First few people who with lines with shots and the first person to knock off their whole card wins a bottle of wine. Kiran lucks out with a line but the rest of us are shut out. We slam back several bottles of wine regardless, adding them to our tabs.
The Irish bounce and we start hanging out with a couple of Mexican girls, Barbara and Fatima. Really nice girls, they’re in Cusco for the same thing as everyone else, to scope out Machu Picchu. One of them eyes the Connect 4 set and they’re instantly game, even after we warn them about how badass we are. Fatima proves to be a lightweight but Barbara is a C-4 Monster, absolutely destroying us game after game after game. The Uzbek crown now resides in Mexico and I expect it’ll stay there for a long, long time.
We throw out the idea of hitting the town to the girls but they’re pretty wiped and decline. Drisdelle’s in the same boat and he Houdinis to bed. Despite not being game for a party the girls give us two bracelets for free entry into some club, so Murphy and I decide not to let them go to waste. We don’t find the club but we do find the main square and a bar with a balcony overlooking it (the Norton Bar, named after the motorcycle apparently). Kind of a chill scene around town it seems so after a few Jack & Cokes we saunter back toward the hostel, taking a brief detour into a shitty and empty nightclub and another into a casino where we win about $10 on the slots, then call her a night. Going to try to get a day of touristy stuff in tomorrow.