There is a rhythm to the days here, an ebb and flow of quiet juxtaposed with flurried activity. We wake to the quiet of the morning (or, quite often, to the sound of fireworks going off). As the high altitude morning sun streams into our apartment, we pull on sweaters and jackets and head out for our daily walk in the morning cool. It’s quiet here around 7 am. We have slept through the first early morning rush of the day as minibuses travel the narrow roads of town in the early morning darkness, stopping to pick up backpackers on their way to start the Inca Trail or tourists on their way to Aguas Calientes to glimpse Machu Picchu. And those who are staying in town for shopping or a day tour won’t be out and about for another hour or two. So we have the town to ourselves.
We climb the nearly deserted streets heading up the hill to Saqsaywayman – an Incan site overlooking Cusco. Every day, we stop halfway up the steep street to catch our breath, right where a dog sleeps on the steps waiting for his owner to open the gate and let him in. We pass nobody but Cusqueños out walking their dogs or heading to work, stopping to chat with the ones we have come to know and recognize, petting their big dog and asking about their upcoming day. This is my favorite time to be out, before the tourists take over the streets.
At the top of the hill, the same old woman invites us into her shop for jugos or cafe. Some mornings we accept, sitting on her deck and enjoying the view. Other days, we stop to survey the town from above and then head back down the road. We try and take a different route back into town each morning, exploring deserted streets and narrow passages as we make our way back down the hill into town. We always end up in the Plaza de Armas just as it is starting to wake up, with locals leaving mass on their way to work, kids in uniforms heading off to school, and a few tourists out for a bit of early sightseeing. Most mornings we head home from here, but sometimes we head over to the San Pedro Market for breakfast. We go to our friends’ stand, where she prepares and sells frijoles and arroz, sopas, and amazing chicharrones. We are always the only gringos eating there, much to their delight, and we often have really great chats with them, in our growing Spanish, about our adventures and what their kids are doing.
In the mornings, after our walk and breakfast, we work for a few hours. I write articles and copy for the company I work for back in the US or for this blog, we edit photos, catch up on email, and work on other projects. Then we break for lunch, which we usually prepare in our little kitchen here at home. If we didn’t go to the mercado in the morning, we usually head over there after lunch, braving the afternoon rush of tour groups to do our shopping. We do almost all of our shopping in the market, and have our favorite stands and caseras (the word the locals use for shopkeepers).
I love shopping in the local markets, no matter where we are in the world. It’s so much more than simply running errands. It is always an event, something you take your time doing, savoring the sights and sounds, visiting with the people you come to know as a regular visitor. We always finish with a visit to our favorite casera, Vilma, the woman who makes us the most delicious fresh jugos. We dawdle at her stand, sitting on small stools, bags of that day’s purchases piled at our feet, drinking glass after glass of juice (she always makes us a full blender of juice), and watching all the tourists take photos of the line of caseras de jugos (they’re seldom brave enough to actually try any juice). We chat with Vilma about what we have been doing today and what our plans our. She tells us things like what fiestas patrias entails and the best places to go for fresh eggs or new socks. She is our resident expert on all the best local places to buy things and also what they should cost.
After the market, we head back home for a few more hours of work. In the late afternoon, we go for another walk about town, often stopping at one of our favorite cafes for some coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. Coffee is very popular here but most Peruvians don’t brew coffee at home. They go to cafes to drink it. Everyone has their favorite cafe or two and there always seems to be time to stop and meet up for coffee, no matter the time of day or what someone is up to. Our favorite place to go is a local cafe called Colca. It’s the cafe and storefront for a cooperative of coffee plantations in the valleys near Colca Canyon, not far from here. Often, we run into Luz & Raul, our first friends here in Cusco. They are the lovely couple who helped us find our apartment. We dawdle over our drinks and watch the world pass us by.
I always say that there is a parade here every day. And most days that is true. We often stumble across a parade or procession as we walk the streets of town, either on our way to run an errand or just out for a wander. I think we now know just about every marching band in town and can identify on sight many of the Saints and Virgins from the local churches. Quite often, we pause on a street corner to watch as dancers in colorful costumes, or strong men bracing under the heavy weight of a saint, pass us by followed by devotees with elaborately embroidered banners and the ever present marching band bringing up the rear. Cusco has a very festive, optimistic nature about her. There is always something to celebrate.
Evenings are a mixed bag for us. The nights here are cold, with clear starry skies. Sometimes we are exhausted and boring and we stay in, cook dinner at home, and then hang out on the couch, watch a movie, read, chat, or plan our world takeover. Other evenings we go out to our local bar, Cholos, for a few drinks and to catch up with Rodrigo, the owner. Sometimes we wander over to the plaza, do some people watching, or go in search of fresh hot churros. Many times in the evenings, we will walk up to San Blas and look out over the city from the mirador at the top of the hill. It’s a great place to sit and watch the fireworks (which happen somewhere in town most nights) with a hot beverage and some pastries from our favorite local bakery, Pantastico.
Our hostel is fairly lively in the evenings, with lots of music and people chatting and laughing. There is often someone traveling with a guitar or a drum, and occasionally that person actually knows how to play and sing, which is always a treat.
At the end of the day, we burrow into our bed under a heavy wool blanket and a down duvet. We fall asleep to the sound of backpacker guitars, fireworks, and the regular pulse of our hostel. Good thing we own industrial strength ear plugs.
And then we do it all again tomorrow…only a little bit different.