As I sat in the airport in Lima at 4:30am, I had to wonder what on earth I was thinking to book a flight for 5am. I was headed to Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire, an ancient civilization that once dominated South America.
I adamantly believe that 3am – 5am is No Man’s Land. You should not still be awake from the night before and you should not be waking up to start your day. Everyone should be asleep during this time. I managed to stay conscious and drag myself up the steep streets of Cusco to my hostel at 7am. I collapsed on the bed ready to sleep until the afternoon. As sweet, sweet slumber came over me, I heaved a sigh of contentment.
And then… BOOM!
I groaned and rolled over to glare out the window. Just my luck. That week Cusco was celebrating a water festival with fireworks every morning at 7:30am and 10pm every night. After a four hour nap, I was ready to appreciate the charms of Cusco.
There were beautiful old buildings, with red roofs as far as the eye could see. Down the side alleys you could spot llamas and street markets of colourful textiles and food stalls.
I invested $2.50 in a pair of alpaca gloves to keep my hands warm in the cold mountain nights. I quickly learned to shower at mid-day, when the water and air temperature were at their warmest points.
I was impressed with the food in Cusco, and in Peru overall. I have to give a shout-out to the superb pumpkin soup and mind-blowing Ginger Lime Honey tea at Jack’s Cafe.
I also tried alpaca/llama for the first time at the Inka Panaka restaurant, which was delicious. The menu del dia at most restaurants were great. I usually ordered a tomato and garlic salad, soup, lomo saltado (roasted vegetables, grilled meat and rice) and a drink or dessert. I did not have the chance to try the cuy al horno (roasted guinea pig), but it smelled amazing.
The Plaza de Armas was lovely, an open square around a fountain surrounded by centuries-old churches and cathedrals. By night the buildings were lit up.
Wondering where you can see this from? Pick any street in Cusco ascending steeply uphill and start climbing. The altitude will have you out of breath in no time, but all the effort is well worth it for the view.
The only thing that bothered me about Cusco was the women and children begging for money, even at night time. At home, women and children are rarely seen on the street, as there are shelters that care for impoverished and homeless families. Canada’s beggars are usually men with addiction or mental health issues.
It is always a dilemma whether or not to give money. I try to give money to local charities that support the poor by creating work and educational opportunities instead, but I have a hard time saying no to a fellow human being in need. I was sad that these kids were not in school and at how skilled some of them were at pickpocketing.
Peru was not the only country I encountered this problem. It is an all too common sight in many developing countries and highlights the vast economic disparity between these nations and wealthier places in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Seeing this difference in lifestyle and financial means is humbling and certainly gives perspective when the little problems of travel are getting you down.
Seeing these levels of poverty makes me grateful to live in a prosperous country that embraces an ethic of care for all its citizens in providing welfare services, social housing, and universal health care.