July 25, 2009
My first night in Cusco was the coldest night of my life. Before you arrive, it’s really hard to understand just how chilly Andean winter nights can be. With uncarpeted floors (and in that particular room, a stone floor), no heating, and a lack of warm bedding, night time temperatures can be hard to handle. I tossed and turned until the sun came up and provided some heat so I could sleep for a few hours. When I got out of bed, I made stocking up on wool clothing my main goal for the day.
At breakfast I conversed with another Californian and a couple of the Australian girls I met the night before. It was a beautiful and clear day so I decided I needed to get out of the hostel. With my little hostel map, I found the tour agency I had booked my Machu Picchu tour with and went to check in. Afterward, I went back to Plaza San Francisco to listen to the entrancing live music I heard there on my way to the tour agency office. From what I could find online, I think the genre of music is Huayño. Whatever type of music it was, I heard it a lot during my trip. It turned out to be the perfect accompaniment for many long drives viewing the harshness of life in the Andes in contrast to the beauty of the bright blue sky, fluffy white clouds that were at times close enough to touch, and the barren mountainous terrain.
I spent the rest of the day wandering and getting lost and finding that Cusco was in fact a lovely city, even if a bit touristy. The locals were friendly and there were many pleasant squares to have a rest and people watch in the center of town. Because Fiestas Patrias (Independence Day) was coming up, there were many performances to stumble upon. In the main square, Plaza de Armas, I asked for directions to a market where I could buy wool clothing, my one requirement for the day.
In the market I stocked up on the ubiquitous and wonderfully unattractive gringo alpaca/llama gear. I say it’s for gringos because you very rarely see local people adorned in wool clothing covered with a llama design, unless they are babies. It seems to be almost exclusively for tourists. And it’s practically the Andean backpacker’s uniform. I’m all about individuality, but I was happy to buy cheap local stuff that could keep me warm on my trip! Among my purchases were a zip up llama hoodie, two pairs of llama socks, llama gloves, and a scarf which was the only thing that didn’t have a llama design.
After a sufficient amount of wandering, making my purchases, and a phone call home, I decided to head back to the hostel. Earlier I signed up for the hostel dinner. They have a dinner menu, but every night they have a special dinner you can sign up for before a certain time. If I remember correctly, it’s 10 soles (about $3.30). I grabbed my dinner and joined a few of the Aussies I met the previous night.
It was a Saturday so the bar was full, and a few people were clearly on the path to getting the party started. I saw one of the hostel bartenders dressed in a really random outfit; he was decked out in safari gear, or at least the cliche of safari gear, complete with binoculars. I wondered why until I remembered that there was a “Jungle Party” that night. I had to get up really early to leave on my Machu Picchu tour, but I decided I would stop by the party for a bit to see what it would be like.
I didn’t really participate in the party, I was sufficiently amused by sitting on sidelines and watching the scene unfold around me. Most of the people who dressed in a “jungle” theme were hostel employees and long term hostel stayers and there was definitely a strange dynamic between that crowd. The one comparison I can think of is the movie “The Beach” if it instead of an island, it was set at a party hostel in the Andes.
I thought the Loki was a fun place to stay for a few days, but I didn’t quite understand the appeal of staying for an extended period of time and doing the same thing night after night. As I looked around around at the wild and crazy, something a guy said to me at dinner (with slurred speech and while hunched over the table) came to mind: “Cusco is like Vegas– what happens here, stays here.” I stayed through the thoroughly entertaining limbo competition, avoided being sprayed by the limbo winner’s celebratory champagne, and went off to bed.