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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hold on to me as we go down this unfamilliar road...

I woke feeling some altitude sickness again. It reminded me sharply of morning sickness, the same nausea and annoyingly helpless sensation of being waylaid by forces completely beyond our control.
Which was lousy. The Quinua staff soon knocked on the door to lay out breakfast for us in our room. A beautiful private breakfast, and I could barely look at it.

waiting in the morning light

I forced myself to drink two cups of Coca tea, averted my face from Mike's usual breakfast. of coffee. The eggs, thinly sliced hams, abundant cascades of fruit, basket of fresh, warm bread, yogurts and cereals went unloved. Mike drank several glasses of freshly squeezed juice to make up for me.
It is a tenant of travel, however, that even if you feel lousy, heck, you're still on vacation and there are things to do and places to see, or is that the other way around. Regardless, you must move your tuchas out of bed.  And it felt better to be out in the clean air of morning, picking our way over the cobblestones, sunshine streaming down from the terraces into the central square below us.
The sky was blue, blue, blue, the blue you can only experience in the mountains where the air thins and heaven is closer. If there is one thing I will remember about Cusco, it is the sapphire blue of the sky, echoed in the paint on shutters and balconies and doors throughout the city.
We were headed for the San Pedro Market, needing gifts to take home, alpaca sweaters and scarves, leather goods and the like. Nora had told us that this was a place to see regardless, and that most tourists never make it there.
Ah, those magic words.
We found the the San Pedro Market  spread out within a spacious, open sort of warehouse, tumbling out the sides, a place where you can get a meal, sort through tables and tables of produce, look over endless varieties of potatoes heaped onto colorful blankets on the cement,
 bring home your daily bread. Enormous rounds of bread. I was tempted to buy one just to see how they were packaged for transport. This was no slim baguette to be slipped into a tote bag along with Hemingway's Movable Feast and some leeks.
Nor was this a sterile supermarket. Mike and I we have always enjoyed going food shopping to see, well, what the locals are actually eating, which gives us a much clearer idea of what a place is really like. Here were fresh foods, and meats as well, lots of meat; every part was for sale and there was none of the coy disguising of more recognisable bits. Nicely, there wasn't too much of an odor accompanying the graphic displays, which made me wonder; however did they have fresh seafood to offer? Cusco is nowhere near the ocean.

There was a Shaman booth, buckets of live frogs (apparently to eat, not for magical or medicinal purposes, but what do I know?) and plenty of things that we simply couldn't identify. Which is part of the fun of travel, now, isn't it?

The finest discovery, however, was a new nominee for "Worst Bathrooms Ever."

Now, you all know that we've been in some interesting excuses for toilets. And that, frankly, we're none too picky. But the public toilets at the San Pedro Markets were truly outstanding in the YE-GODS-did-I-just-catch-a-disease?! department.

We'd hunted them down, those baños, and coughed up our soles for the privilege. The fellow at the door tried to trick me into paying extra, but I politely demurred, having already observed how much the locals paid to enter the facilities. It stank, and the floor was wet, at least an inch deep in places. My already unsettled and mostly empty stomach lurched a little.

There was one big room for all, a channel drain down the center, stalls behind thin wooden doors on either side. Opening a random door revealed a hole in the tiled floor large enough  to do what needed to be done. A sort of bathroom attendant gestured us to free stalls, and flushed the toilets for us first.

Wait, you say, there weren't any toilets.


You are quite correct. The bano attendant fellow "flushed" out the holes by splashing a plastic container of water into them with a flourish, which sloshed some of the contents down. The rest surged out straight at us, down the slant down to the drain, when it pooled and foamed menacingly.

Holy crap! Why had I worn soft leather shoes with openings?! What the hell was I thinking? This is South America for cripe's sake.

Fast footwork saved us, partially, but my feet were soaked. Mike fared a little better in his sneakers.

I was going to burn those shoes, not to mention the socks, as soon as I could get out of them, and disinfect my feet with alcohol. Or bleach. Maybe formaldehyde. That might do it.


Copious amounts of hand sanitizer later we were squelching back to pick up our bags at the hotel and be driven to our plane.

For our final act in Cusco, we forgot to turn in our hotel key to those nice people, resulting in a frantic and apologetic call from us at the Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport, which is smaller than it's name implies. We left the key, with more apologies, at the mostrador de información. The two manning the desk looked confused as all get-out. We hoped the hotel driver would show up shortly and explain what the turistas had done this time. Then they could all have a good laugh, no real harm done.

Just enough time for a bracing coffee before we borded, thank God.

Except that our flight wasn't listed at any of the gates. What on Earth....?

1 comment:

  1. EWWWW! Yucky yuck squelch. Bleh.
    But now I need to know about the flight! (sorry I've been so absent btw, I've been swamped with work and am digging my way back, catch up with stuff)