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Cancun to Cusco

August 9th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

After the wedding Tracy and I laid low a little in our swanky condo 3 stories up from the beach, where we enjoyed meal after meal of simple and fantastic local flavor from the nearby grocery store: rice, black beans (prepared from dry as opposed to canned), slices of avocado, spritzes of fresh lime, Cholula hot sauce, and (for me) carved off slices of rotisserie chicken, all wrapped up in fresh flour tortillas.  We had essentially this meal eight times in our 3 days, with zero qualms about its repetition.

One afternoon while returning from a walk on the beach and washing the sand off our feet in one of those cool little outdoor shower spigots, a native-looking fellow called down to us from the second floor balcony of one of the units.  “Are you guys on your honeymoon?”1  A few more moments of our exchange and he invited us up: “We’re having a party, would you like to come in?”

Brief flashback: before leaving the states, a friend challenged me to, in his words, “Not exactly ‘put yourself in danger’, but say yes to- and go along with situations when you don’t know how they’re going to turn out.  I’d like to see you go through your travels with this sort of measured recklessness, and for it have a lot of cool experiences you might have otherwise missed.”

There on the beach that afternoon my friend’s words popped right into my head.  With half a moment’s consideration I replied “Sure, unit 5?  We’ll be right up.”

Our measured recklessness was immediately rewarded by a welcoming gang of gringos gathered ’round a dining room table, whereat we were quickly offered sangria or beer, and chips & guacamole.  We were in the vacation condo of a lovely couple from Berkley.  We had been invited on up by Chino, an artist of the Mayan carving tradition who was in from his village to showcase a bunch of his work to one of his patrons.

It was way cool to see his work, including a carving-in-progress that had been commissioned by our hosts.  His pieces were of a caliber and consistency to look right out of the pages of National Geographic.  Tracy and I each independently had a pang of concern that we’d been roped in to buy something, but nothing of the sort came up.  Just a bunch of travel savvy ex-pats plus Chino and his wife, just hanging out, swapping stories, and talking art.

Thanks Chino, I hope your fab pieces constitute a career-making find for an archaeologist in 500 years (and, of course, that your art career continues to go swimmingly in this era).

One night we spent enjoying the better part of a bottle of Havana Club Cuban white rum.  I mention this not because getting blitzed on rum is a particularly intriguing or impressive tale of travel, but just to reiterate and remember how uncannily good that stuff is.  I hope to enjoy it again in other countries that are willing to import and sell Cuban goods.

Oddly enough our lay low time would have been more relaxing had we not had such a primo view of the bay, for that gave us a front row seat to the developing weather patterns of what would become hurricane Ernesto.  As winds, clouds, rain, and choppy waves all picked up I’ve never refreshed a page on weather.com so frequently, concerned to be stuck in a tropical storm and concerned for how our flight out might be impacted.

In hindsight I worried about it much more than was due.  After a restless night of sleeping to on and off howling winds, we awoke to howling winds that were then decidedly off.  Our drive to the airport saw roads that were clear and already nearly dry.  The only strife that morning was a stop at a gas station where a number 2 was of imminent importance and then stupidly leaving my credit card behind with the attendant (ugh!).

And then we flew to Peru.  Business class.  During our 4 hour layover in Houston I had the thought whilst walking through the terminal: hey, we’re probably entitled to go hang out in the United lounge, right?  Like a kid who’d just rifled through his father’s wallet and was now reservedly brandishing his ill-gotten credentials, I asked the lady bouncer perched behind the desk outside the doors to the luxury lounge.  “That’s only if you’re flying internationally.” came back the answer with slight reproach, as if speaking to some rube who has clearly no business in high society2.

“Ooh, yes, that’s us!  We’re going to Peru this afternoon.”  I replied like a kid who was too proud to have succeeded in his effort to sneak some free drinks and snacks.

We were welcomed in and on our way.  The funny thing is we found it hard to shake the feeling that we were just two punk kids who weaseled our way in among the business folk.  After all we hadn’t paid 2-5x for our ticket, it was a trade in for frequent flyer miles.  And our attire was, unsurprisingly, a lot more backpacker than business suit.  I even felt like I pulled one over on the bartender when I asked for a beer and he actually served me.

Fortunately we had a much easier time settling in to our business class status during our 6-hour flight.  Ample wine, great food, and spacious seating all had me better understand the allure.  I even got a kick out of hearing “Thank you for flying with us tonight, Mr. and Mrs. Larson.” at the end.  I don’t know if we’ll ever be ballin’ enough to want to splurge on business class with real cash in the future, but the experience taught me that investing in a few glasses of wine is probably good for reliving about 60% of the upgrade experience.

In Lima we were slightly crestfallen to see the customs agent write “30” next to our passport stamp (meaning we had 30 days to be in Peru), and then happy again to hear our hostess’s assurance that extensions are available at $1US per day.  Our hostess was a USA’ian woman3 married to a Peruvian fellow, and together they run a top-rated AirBNB place complete with optional service to pick you up from the airport4.

The next day we flew to Cusco.  The Andes is a good lookin’ mountain range for sure, and stellar views thereof made our 2 hour flight pleasant and memorable.  Like a highschooler cramming for 5th period test during lunch hour, I spent most of the flight skimming Lonely Planet’s Cusco entry off of Tracy’s Kindle.  Apparently, I read, it should cost 5 Peruvian Soles for a cab to the city center.  I was quoted S./20, and reluctantly went along when I got the driver down to S./15, which despite S./5 savings was not a very satisfying bargaining outcome.  However at S./2.6 to the US dollar it wasn’t worth losing sleep over.

What was worth losing sleep over was the cold: our room at the Hospedaje we chose for the night had fab views of the main city plaza, but it was merely wood shutters that constituted the closing of those windows.  Year round, Cusco, with its 11,000 foot elevation, gets up to the 70s during the day, but down to the 30s at night.

Before turning in that night we did our homework.  Seven soles worth of phone calls and internet access got us in touch with Javier of the Condor Lodge, a purveyor of fully furnished apartments quite close to central Cusco.  “We’d love to see the apartment tonight, if possible.”  30 minutes hence Javier would pick us up from the steps in the main plaza.  30 minutes more and we were handing over $100US for the deposit with both keys and a plan to return the next day to move in.  “This was just vacated this morning, I need to clean it tonight and you guys can come back whenever tomorrow and settle in.”

Beautiful.  A chilly night in our Hospedaje was all that separated us from our new home in Cusco for the month.


  1. Do we still give that vibe whilst walking hand in hand on a beach?  Sweet!
  2. To be fair, she was simply addressing the very tone of voice that had originally inquired.
  3. Now that we’re in South America, it’s really kind of gauche and literally vague and/or incorrect to call someone from the US an “American”.  I still haven’t worked out a succinct replacement for the term, so USA’ian, even though my spellchecker decries it, will have to do.
  4. That’s right: after flying business class we rounded out the experience by having a guy holding a sign with our names on it as we exited the airport.
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