julio 08, 2004


greetings from the most expensive city in the hemisphere!

so, we were too late in trying to book a ticket from la paz to cusco on wednesday. fortunately, as anything is possible in latin america, we were able to persuade the ticket person that we were in a hurry, so she found us "seats" on an already full bus. The bus was taking 50 or so peruvian delegates back to their country, and was a big bus, with plenty of room up in the cab. so we got to wedge ourselves in between the two drivers where there were actually no seats but plenty of leg room and a great view. it was really more like being on a road trip with friends than a bus ride, sharing stories and drinking coffee. the drivers were kind of like tour guides, pointing things out to us, and would even pull over if we needed to buy things (i got a paper). The best part is that you don´t have to watch the movies, and instead have a stunning 180 degree view coming down out of the mountains to lake titicaca, and then up again into the highlands, in hills soaring above the deep blue lake below. At one point we had to cross the lake-a hands on operation- with the bus bobbing up and down in one little barge and all of us in another.

well after nightfall (four hours late) we arrived in disneyland...er...cusco. Cusco is a sprawling city, but tourist maps only show one barrio, san blas, while pretending that the rest of the city simply doesn´t exist. it seems that tourists never leave this part of the city. Arriving after dark, one notices that on every block stands a discreet security guard, watching the peaceful night. During the day the "city" is perfect. There are just the right number of colorful, interesting "locals" who all speak english, and just the right number of colorful, unobtrusive bums so as to make it seem "authentic" without actually being as annoying as really living in a city like this. prices are mostly in US dollars and things cost what they would in the states. Granted the city has more than its share of inca ruins and beautiful colonial architecture. Also fascinating blends of the two on top of each other. its really exactly what a rich, cautious north american or european would love to write home about, but its a far cry from the peru that we saw from the bus window, with wide open spaces dotted with thatched-roof mud huts and happy if sometimes ragged shepherds guarding their llamas.

Machu Picchu seems the same kind of tourist money-trap, but by all accounts is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, so we´re going to go anyway. This is our Big Treat since...::horns and thunder:: we actually got our ticket refund! Besides, in ten years machu picchu will probably be covered in a huge glass bubble visible from two kilometers away for $500 a pop. It's sinking -- better get while the gettin's good.

oh, one omission in the last email. i did, in fact, get puked on in the bus.