Few tourists can say that they visited Peru and that they missed Cusco. With more tour agencies, Internet cafés, and falafel joints than anywhere else in the country — and with close proximity to the world-famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu — Cusco is the tourist Mecca of South America. I spent a few days here before my Salkantay hike, and I'm spending one month more here, to study some Spanish.
Juan Carlos is a young guy who really has a right to be proud of himself. He's the "director of activities" — basically the second-in-command — at Amigos. He was one of the first kids who went through the community English-learning program, which the school runs for disadvantaged kids in the local area. Now, he's a fluent English-speaker, he's an important part of the school's administration, and he's a great guy and a friend to everyone around him.
Straight after finishing my first classes at Amigos today, I got picked up by Flora and Mario Polar Covarrubias, the mother and father of the family that I'm staying with, for the duration of my four weeks of study. It seems that, as with the school, I've hit the jackpot with a great host family. They're very warm people; they live in a nice, safe area in Cusco; they only speak Spanish; and judging by today, I'd say they're going to be feeding me very well indeed.
Cusco is a great place to learn Spanish, and it has about 20 schools for the aspiring student to choose from. Today was my first day of classes at the Amigos Spanish school, where I'll be having classes from 8am-12pm, Monday to Friday, for the next four weeks. After today's lessons, I'm really looking forward to the rest.
I don't know what it was that we put in our home-made pasta tonight that was bad. But whatever it was, it was real bad. Jack and myself cooked up some quick pasta napolitana at Loki tonight, using ingredients that we'd bought at the San Pedro market. Pasta, tomatoes, packet sauce, cheese, avocado, onion, spinach, etc. A few minutes after finishing it, I felt sick. Then, later, I vomited it all right back up. Then, I had diarrhoea for two days. Talk about food poisoning. Something from that market was deadly.
After getting lost yesterday, Jack and I woke up this morning in Juan's house, feeling very grateful to have found a bed to sleep in, but also very eager to get back to Cusco. And, thankfully, after a bit of breakfast and a morning walk, make it back we did. Civilisation never smelt so good.
Yes, it was very stupid. Yes, we really were completely lost. Yes, we were lucky it didn't turn out very bad. Yes, it was fun and it was a good experience. And no, actually, we don't regret doing it one little bit.
Today, Jack and myself decided to explore some of the ruins north of Cusco. We made it (on the bus) to the first one; but we never reached any of the others. Instead, we became two Aussie bogans, lost in the mountains; and we had a grand adventure — one that we hadn't planned or anticipated at all.
It's great to catch up with people after not having seen them for a whole day. To see how they've aged, what they've done with their lives, how many children they've had, etc. :P Tonight, the Salkantay hike's Team Feliz (and some of Team Wilson) met up at the Mama Africa disco club here in Cusco, for something different. A bit of a change. Drinking!
Of all the faces from back home, Mitchell's was about the last I expected to see. I've known Mitchell for literally my entire life: he was born one day before me, in the hospital bed next to mine. And tonight, 21 years later, I bumped into him in the bar at Loki, here in Cusco. Actually, it was he that recognised me. Anyway, he's almost at the end of his trip: he's already been here for a while, and he was in Europe and North America for a while too; and soon he's going back home.
Jack and I met each other briefly at Loki last week, and then we both went on a hike (on different ones) to Machu Picchu. Now, we're both back. By amazing coincidence, we're also both away for roughly the same 12-month period, we both have similar trip plans (or lack thereof), and we both get along really well. I've been hanging out with Jack this weekend, post-Salkantay; and I'm sure it's not the last time we'll see each other on this trip. Because Jack's a champion.
After just three days here, I've decided that it's official: Cusco has been pwned by tourists. Pommies, Swedes, Aussies, and (most especially) Israelis, say it loud and proud to the Cusqueñans: all your base are belong to us. Seriously, the centre of Cusco has been utterly taken over. There's just nothing left there except tour agencies, massage parlours, Internet cafés, souvenir shops, and overpriced restaurants. I've seen some badly overtouristed places before, but nothing else even comes close to the centre of Cusco. The locals here have been wiped out.