THE worklife has been consuming. And I don’t mind that so much at all, because when it is consuming, life seems to go by faster. I have a Spanish lesson every weekend, I clean, cook, and maybe buy some collectible cards from the local hobby shop.
But in 27 days, give or take a day, I will be on my way to Peru. Assuming that the agent I bought my tickets from isn’t dodgy, because they’ve changed the time of my tickets so many times.
I’ve calculated I will be in Trujillo for a few days, where I lived, and while there I want to catch up with friends and visit the school and visit the students I work with. That’s why I made the trip! I will see my goddaughter and her family, the people that let me rent with them. I will see my ex’s mother. But who knows who else.
Then I will fly to Cusco, and the plan had been to stay a few days, stock up, and then head east over to Bolivia. But I had planned to leave on Easter Saturday. Now I think I will have to stay the day after Easter because travel will be a nightmare on the buses!
I’m not sure how many friends I will see when I return, and in the last few days it has started to sink in. I would love to of course. But in truth I wasn’t happy with the person I was when I lived there. I was tense, stressed, focused on work, and trying to control everything around me.
And I can’t say, as a person now, that I’ve changed too much at all.
Tarapoto was a small city in a cleared valley, nestled in by the mountain jungles. It’s the first place from the coast I really notice the motos. There are thousands of them zooming through the narrow one-way streets.
The hostel was great value and the people were friendly, more-or-less. The tourist police had a big building next to the plaza and although the officer who helped me couldn’t speak English, was patient and considerate. We had a small mix-up when he thought I asked if I could take a photo of him, and he had to say no because he was a police officer.
He suggested a zoo when I asked for places to see, but it was really a rescue centre. I went to visit for animal photos but the pens and fences made it hard to do that. They showed a hidden pen with the most ‘dangerous’ animal, and the visitors were taken in one-by-one to see it. The pen was empty, except for a mirror.
There are plenty of waterfalls, a lake, and a small town with a colonial castle, but I continued by mini-bus to Yurimaguas. I sat squeezed among locals and realised it might be a rough ride when everyone grabbed a small garbage bag for themselves. One small girl around 10-years or so, needed it a few times even after we made it through the mountainous jungle route. It felt cold there, almost misty, as if numerous waterfalls and springs weren’t too far away.
During the drive we crossed over into the Loreto Region, easily the biggest of all the 25 regions of Peru, and one that includes the upper Amazon and its jungle basin.
Yurimaguas felt rougher. A moto driver immediately approached me as I got off the bus, and stopped the moto halfway on the journey just to let me know it was better if I was stocked up at the market first. I went to buy a hammock, and the guy offered to sell it for 36 soles until I walked out. He was offended when he agreed on 30 Soles, and while it was still a high price, it was a good hammock.
It was a dock town, one where money was made by trade and the transport of it, and not by tourism. My hostel was near the plaza right on the bank of the river. I nearly walked away because it was a shack on stilts, but when I was inside I saw the charm. It was run by a Frenchman, and he was friendly enough.
I bought my boat ticket to Lagunas at the dock. It was sold by a woman with the hardest eyes I have seen. They weren’t just cold, or angry. These were intense, as if she would fuck up anyone who fucked with her, and she would do it without feeling bad about it. She would put some thought into it.
I nearly walked away with my ticket, forgetting to pay for it. She wasn’t amused when I apologised.
As night fell, engines revved and smoke clouded the riverbank. At first I thought it was a stupid time to whipper-snipper the grass, but then the haze spread through the markets as I searched for a general store. The haze was a repellent for the mosquitoes, and it worked well. My hostel was open out to the water, a patio that was also the lounge room and dining room, and the rest of the shack but the bedrooms. The mosquitoes barely touched me. We watched the boats pass us on the river.
The trouble with travelling without knowing the local language is not knowing what is happening as things are going on. You can only sense and adjust to the reaction.
I always hate stopping in Chiclayo (770 km north of Lima). I haven’t been there, really, except for at the bus station. The bus needs to refill and this one took almost 90 minutes and I kept feeling I must have missed the call to get back on.
I thought the bus to Tarapoto would take 24 hours from Trujillo. When we stopped after 21 hours, in the early afternoon, and when everyone left, I had to ask in clumsy Spanish if we were in Tarapoto. We were.
Moto drivers wouldn’t give me time to breathe. They offered a ride but I needed to think up my plan. I finally took a ride to the Plaza De Armas (town centre) and walked from there to my hostel El Mural. For 35 Soles a night I had a private ensuite with a desk, which was good value for what I later received in my travels.
*This blog is the beginning of a collection of journal entries of my three week trip through the north east of Peru.
THERE is a suburb at the far end of the northern Peruvian city of Trujillo. It is the “posh” suburb, the one that is said with a tone of quiet respect, or with bragging, of with a way of defining someone’s measurement of success, when mentioned. This suburb is called ‘El Golf.’
It is called ‘El Golf’ because it is built around the country club, which is called the ‘Golf y Country Club de Trujillo.’ Businesses from a 10 minute walk away are willing to label itself as ‘El Golf’ in its title, but it’s not until you get close to the club that the streets are clean and open, with the houses more spacious, neat, and tidy from the front. There are plenty of leafy parks in the side streets, and a fair imitation of architecture from the colonial Spanish days that don’t quite seem to be covered elsewhere. The buildings are built with care, unlike in many other places where there appears to be shortcuts in the incomplete works.
I never thought I could get into the club itself, but thanks to my girlfriend’s family I was able to do so today. It was nice! There’s a golf course but I couldn’t determine if it was nine holes or 18. There were at least six tennis courts, an indoor volleyball court, an indoor basketball court, a professional Olympic pool, an outdoor recreational pool, and a gym. There was also a karaoke bar, and several restaurants.
I was awkward when I came through the doors, mainly because I wasn’t a member myself and I felt like I stood out (white man feeling like a minority and prepared to be challenged and turned away. That’s ironic!), and I felt so self-conscious that everyone was staring at me, more than usual. I think they were, but my girlfriend and I had a wonderful conversation with the tennis instructor (in Spanish), and exchanged a few ‘hellos’ with shy youngsters in the pool who were telling each other to talk to me.
The club has copied the westernised (and American) style very well, to the point that it’s authentic. It’s unlike anywhere else I’ve been here in Peru, but it helps me to understand some of my students that might actually belong to the club. It does feel a bit insulated, especially if they live at the club on their holidays.
The club’s website says, after translation, “Today we are the most exclusive club in the city of Trujillo, but above all we are the second home of more than two thousand families, who come to these facilities to practice sports, share with their friends and spend unforgettable moments like a big family, the Country Club family.”
It’s been a year since I moved to Peru. Seeing the Facebook memories from November, 2017, is giving me perspective. This helps give me confidence. A year ago in Mancoura, I was wrestling with the pronunciation of ‘Gracias’, ‘aqui’, and ‘pan’. Today, I wrestle with the usage of ‘estaba’ and ‘estare’.
The dogs here are surprisingly very well behaved.
It was easy a year ago to think about coming to Peru and the adventure and escape that awaited. But at some point I have to return, and I have no way to do so easily. If you sell everything including your car, and leave your job, and go overseas, it seems romantic, but at some point in time you will have to begin again when you return.
The best cakes I have ever eaten were in Peru. Peruvians know how to eat sweet foods.
Intention is always misunderstood in a foreign country, no matter what you do and how hard you try. This is the part where loneliness really affects you.
Manners are important. The worst thing you can do to block yourself from the surrounding Spanish world is to respond with ‘no entiendo’ when people attempt to explain something to you. And people don’t really know how to respond when you cannot speak enough words.
The same issues of bigotry, hatred, racism, xenophobia, and even nationalistic pride exists on both sides of the world. But even ignorance of the countries surrounding your borders also exist. I couldn’t believe it when a few people asked me if I was Venezuelan. My first reaction was shock. “How could you think I am Venezuelan?” That was bigotry. Then I realised that people really don’t know the countries outside of their borders. Then I realised that I am the same when it comes to countries outside of Australia. I guess I just assumed that in South America everyone was more interconnected. So I started researching on BBC the countries outside of Australia. I began with New Zealand, where I learned there is a river that legally has the same rights as a living person, and then the island nations that made it very clear to me how much the Americans during the Pacific War influenced the emergence and awareness of such places.
It’s easier to see the faults of a system when you’re the outsider, the stranger. But then you realise those faults exist at home too.
Today my students asked me questions about where I lived, and somehow I googled myself in class, and showed them either photos of myself, or photos I have taken. Then they saw a Youtube video of me boxing a Pacific Islander 40 kgs above my weight. This man ended up becoming my housemate. Then I showed the students a video of camel racing. They loved it. And that’s when I realised, I have lived a full life. I knew that already. I guess it’s just that I desperately want others to recognise that. For a moment, these kids did. And it made me happy, and made me feel respected, and made me feel that these kids were seeing a new exciting world beyond the one they had been taught about (the United States!).
The more you learn, and the more you want to learn, and the more enthusiastic you are about what you learn, the more you want to express yourself. I’ve tried to do it on social media but people don’t seem to like it so much. Self-expression is important but if you are learning far more than you are used to in a short space of time, maybe self-expression should be private for a little while until you’ve truly developed.
MY landlord asked in Spanish if my girlfriend and I could be the godparents of his six-year-old daughter. I guess I didn’t really consider the responsibility. I only saw it as an adventure.
I said yes.
It wasn’t until we were on the way to the church for the baptism on Saturday night that I really even got to speak to my goddaughter. She stared out the window at the traffic pushing its way on-and-off through the narrow Trujillo laneways, in the backseat with my girlfriend Tiffany and I.
I remember how formal it looked, how nervous or vulnerable she was pretending not to be, in a white baptism dress and a garland of pink flowers on her head.
She spoke few words in English, maybe a ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’, but when we first met she did recite the Lord’s Prayer, at the request of her mother. But somehow, I began talking in Spanish. It was broken and clumsy and needed some work, but slowly the conversation became less awkward between an Australian and his goddaughter.
“Cuantos anos tienes?” she asked Tiffany and I. How many years do you have.
At first I didn’t understand, but it clicked in my mind, and with a proud ‘ohh. Entiendo!’ I said, happily, “Tengo Veintiocho anos.” I have twenty eight years. (In Spanish, think of external forces like cold and warmth, hunger and thirst, and the years you have as a possession, and not a statement of who you are).
“Te ves mas de treinta,” she said. I knew enough to know this meant, You look more than 30.
It was the first time I have been considered looking older than I am, but she was six, and I wore a tie, and had grown a beard. And my beard was showing the occasional gray hair.
There was another moment that really stood out to me in that taxi ride, during which the car continued to stop and start and push its way ahead of the disorder through the laneways. We were talking about kangaroos and koalas and crocodiles, although she only reacted to the kangaroos.
I said that I needed to learn Spanish.
“Por Que?” she asked. Why?
And maybe I was over examining the basic question from a young girl, but in that ‘Por Que’ I saw a girl in her own world that had continually been taught that English was the important language, that Spanish wasn’t as necessary, and that as a foreigner who already had mastered the one language, didn’t need Spanish. It made me sad.
“Porque todos aqui hablan en Espanol,” I said. Because everone here speaks in Spanish.
‘Ah,’ she said, and accepted the answer.
And that’s when we arrived at the Santa Rosa Church.
I have these doubts and wonder what it is I can do for a godchild when I return to live a world away. At the very least, presents for Christmas and birthdays are important, and so I think are the occasional letters.
By this action alone it is clear to me that I cannot just return to Australia with some happy memories and some stories to tell. I am collecting knowledge, but responsibilities too.
I have rarely been in a catholic church, but the last time would have been in visiting the second floor of the Church of Francisco in Cusco, with giant pillars and gold chandeliers, and wooden carvings that took decades for slaves to craft. Compared to that church, or even to the one on the hilltop of Huanchaco, this was a humble building. It was old, with remnants of the original painting on the walls, with the elaborate designs of the Mother Mary and of Santa Rosa and crosses in various shapes and forms around the building.
We stood at the front at the baptism bowl with the padre leading the service. Eight family members stood by the two pews recording the event on their phones. The padre spoke in Spanish and everyone repeated, knowing exactly what to say, and moved their hands to the signs of the cross in a specific order.
It was then clear to me that nobody had really considered the ignorance of a foreigner, standing at the front with everyone. It wasn’t only just the lack of Spanish. The family knew that. What they hadn’t considered, perhaps, was a foreigner who didn’t know how the structure of catholic ceremony worked. I hadn’t been actively involved since I was expelled from my catholic school in grade 4. These aren’t things you tell the parents and grandparents of your goddaughter.
But there was a powerful moment. It felt like it had meaning, the sort of intensity in which I now try to reach for my phone to collect it. My goddaughter stood at the bowl and the padre poured water down her forehead. I stood less than a metre away. She didn’t shy from the water. Her face was calm. It barely dripped. She stepped back, as did the rest of us, and then we held lit candles as the padre read to us in Spanish.
I’ve been thinking about my own baptism since Saturday night. It was a different sort of event. My family didn’t celebrate it, that’s for sure. They treated it like a 15-year-old getting a tattoo. Well, no, with a tattoo there would have been a reaction, and that is not the same as indifference.
There’s a church in Perth designed for suburbanite snobs to keep walls up and pretend they are better than everyone else around them, and my uncle and aunt took me there. I am glad they encouraged it because I wanted to do it for some time, but I sat in a bathtub full of water and in front of everyone in the church in swim shorts, and the pastor pulled my head into the water carefully. When I emerged the room cheered like I had done something great, and I suppose I wanted that feeling of acceptance from the crowd to last, like with my friends who sang with the band every Sunday.
WHO is Gypsy Amy, and why should you have to listen to what she has to say?
Amy is the friend I’ve known the longest in Peru. One of my first memories of her was after a night at a party hostel in Mancora, in northern Peru. Three of us who had been doing a TEFL course together in a nearby fishing village woke groggily as she said quite firmly, “I am never going to do anything, ever again.”
Amy and I moved south to work at a school in Trujillo after completing the course. We became housemates for seven months, and colleagues at the same time, along with others who did the same course as us.
Amy’s read my cards with a turban on her head. We’ve had many drinks and danced with elderly Peruvians. We have been on the hunt for the perfect pizza in Peru. We have fought each other many times, often after a few beers. We’ve argued over dishes, I’ve cleaned her room and used her Netflix, and sworn at her for waking me up at midnight. We’ve procrastinated so much together, which means there’s a hell of a lot more we could have done. We’ve been to the movies to watch something in Spanish and didn’t even understand it. She dropped the popcorn.
Once we refused to speak to each other for more than a week, and we never even told each other we weren’t talking. It was only when I was drunk on a bottle of wine late one night that I forgot we weren’t talking, and the ice was broken. She is one of the bravest and gutsiest people that I know, and has in 10 months become a sister (but doesn’t replace my real and only sister). She will tell you exactly what she thinks, even if you’re not going to like it. And, so, this blog post is long overdue.
I’ve wanted Amy to give her advice about living in Peru for some time, and here it is. Amy’s exclusive voice:
1) BE EXTRAORDINARY
Actually, you know what, my advice to people who come to Peru is to go do something out of the ordinary. Do something you haven’t done before.
There are so many things here in Peru that you can do, that you can never ever be able to do anywhere else you live (well, it depends where you live).
Go to the jungle, go to a spiritual retreat, try surfing.
I have had a couple of beers, because it’s my last night I can drink for a couple of weeks. In two weeks I’m going to do Ayahuasca.
My advice to you is if you do go to Peru, try Ayahuasca for the first time because it’s legal here. Anywhere else it’s highly illegal. Go to the jungle, go to some Ayahuasca. Go to Cusco, go to some Ayahuasca.
I’ve done it six times. It’s my last day I can eat meat. No eggs, no coffee, no citrus. Life is going to be horrible.
3) TAKE ON YOUR FEAR
Get out of your f–king comfort zone and do your greatest fear.
My fear when I went to Bali was the ocean, and I tried surfing. Coming here, I was terrified of Ayahuasca, and I did it.
Do something that you’re not comfortable with doing because there’s so many things you can do in Peru that a lot of people aren’t comfortable with. Go and f–king do it.
That’s my rant.
That’s my advice. Do Ayahuasca, or do something you have never done before, or do your greatest fear.
The paperwork, the marking, the lesson planning, the outside-of-work requirements, the discipline restrictions, the limitations to resources. It all adds up to become a job you aren’t really paid to deal with.
Teaching English overseas seemed like the novelty I needed, a line on my bucket list I wanted to resolve instead of wondering about. I typed on Google about teaching and found a rip-off company dealing with high pressure tactics to get me to commit thousands of dollars for a TEFL course. I was interested in teaching in China but the company didn’t seem to think that was an option for me. It was basically the south east asian countries, or Peru.
I always wanted to learn Spanish.
I try to reach out to people in this culture, but all that does is give you the chance to be misunderstood or misinterpreted. I am surrounded by different cultures and I have been in the middle of all this for 10 months. It has weighed me down for a while but I only realised yesterday.
My students are among the best English speakers I know, and so, I think in a way they have become my friends. Or I really want them to like me enough. I realised that today.
I had to go to a school function yesterday where at the end we were asked to dance. And honestly, I didn’t feel like it. I was tired, and sunburned, and embarrassed by the competitive volleyball game I had tried to compete in, and I didn’t feel like dancing even though I was pushed to do so. I wasn’t in the mood to dance surrounded by latinos, my students and their parents.
Today my students asked me three questions:
Why weren’t you wearing a suit? All the other teachers were.
Why weren’t you dancing yesterday?
When were you going to upload that information about the dictator president, Luis Sanchez Cerro, who was assassinated in 1933? I need to study for my exam.
My replies to that were:
I want to be different to everyone else. I want my inner light to shine. No, actually, I didn’t know. Nobody told me we had to wear suits to work today. I was very embarrassed.
In my culture, if you don’t feel like dancing, then you don’t dance.
I’m sorry. I meant to do that this weekend. I will do that tonight. Thank you for reminding me!
My internal reaction to my replies were:
I imagine this student trying to justify why she no longer wears a school uniform or future work uniform by saying “I want my inner light to shine.” Smart one, dumb one.
Oh fuck! I have to do that.
Now I assume what you might be thinking. “Relax. Calm down. It will sort itself out.” But the more I try to let things go the worse things seem to be. The ex-pat life, especially in the professional work environment, can really burn you out.
I am lucky in that I have a girlfriend here. She’s very supportive. Today she wrote “I am only a call away…or a taxi.”
I wonder how I got to be so lucky. I didn’t come here for a girlfriend. In fact, somehow I found myself in a relationship and was even disappointed that I couldn’t explore and use Tinder and take advantage of my strangeness here.
But now that seems like doing so would have wrecked me faster. We met through Tinder underneath the statue at the Plaza de Armas. A bunch of clowns (literally, clowns) were singing me a very belated happy birthday when she arrived. We walked to a pizza restaurant and I soon felt a refreshing feeling. We connected. She was Peruvian, but we connected. We loved or would love the same TV series, music, books. I had been on dates where they understood limited English, and here was this woman who had been been made to practice it since she was four. We understood each other.
Lately, the most normal (happy) I feel is when we’re with each other. We are watching LOST on Netflix. I’ve already seen it four times and she flinches heavily when she is shocked. She doesn’t like watching physical injuries or pain. She almost always predicts correctly what’s going to happen, but now it’s in the third season she is getting confused. She always asks me what’s going to happen next. I don’t tell her, but to throw her off the correct guesses I’ve started lying.
In the room I rent, with my Netflix, and with a Papa John’s pizza we get by delivery on cheap Thursday night deals, I feel at my most normal.
My waistline was almost 34 inches at the end of my last relationship. Six months later, when going through a modelling phases, I was 32 inches. That was just before I left Mount Isa, Queensland, 10 months ago. Then at the beginning of the year I was 30 inches, and a couple of weeks ago I realised I had been 28 inches for some time. I had to buy new pants.
When I’m stressed I forget to eat.
After skipping so many meals and when my gums started bleeding too often I knew I needed to eat properly, and eat more vegetables. I bought a lunchbox and packed the fruits, and vegetables, and sandwiches, and biscuits, every day. On Sunday evenings I would cook enough spaghetti to last four days and overload it with about five or six different types of vegetables. I would try to drink more water. I would prepare my oats, yogurt and bananas, and let it soak in the fridge overnight so I could quickly eat it for breakfast.
I feel much better for it. And I was probably saving a little bit of money.
I’ve always been a writer. It is my identity. It’s literally my reason to exist. I will write a book. It used to be about fame. Now it’s about identity, but I’m not quite sure it’s of anything specific, about actually being fucking understood. When people read ‘me’, it’s like I have been adjusted; revalued; subjectified. Until then there’s a disengagement. Then there’s a respect. They’ve seen my heart. It’s not a bad one.
Lately I have wondered about the book I will write. In my mind it was going to be a work of genius and now I think I will compromise with a self-published version of something that nobody will read.
I barely have a following on social media, which means these days I don’t have the message or voice to appeal to a million readers.
Yet it didn’t matter. I always had a fundamental belief in my words. And soon others felt that too.
A strange thing has happened recently. I have felt insecure about my writing. It’s happening while surrounded by Spanish speakers, by well educated students who know English as a second language. I am conscious of how I say my words, and using conjunctions at the beginning of the sentences. And as it continues I feel my voice is slowly being choked shut, my accent slowing down just so I can be understood barely.
10 years ago I could only write in a notebook. Now I think with the computer keys. Two months ago I ran out of my Microsoft Word subscription. I can’t afford to renew it. I get paid in Soles. The American dollar is worth 3.3 times the Soles.
“That’s it,” I finally thought. “You can’t go on like this. You need your typing fix. You need to vent.” But for some reason, even though I was saying “shut up and take my money” to Microsoft by continuously offering my credit card details, the company continually rejected it. I’m not sure if it was because my new location doesn’t fit in with the company’s knowledge of me.
“Yo Vivo en Peru ahora.”
We are only interested in our surroundings. Our surroundings affect us. Your mental horizon stretches to places that directly affect you. We can ignore globalisation if we don’t know what lies on the other end. That’s why we care about Hollywood. That’s why we don’t focus on train crash deaths in India.
Latin America. I didn’t know much about it to be honest. To be honest I still don’t. I only know a portion and it’s called Peru. Within months I have learned that the greatly outnumbered Francisco Pizarro conquered the mighty Incan empire with roughly 200 men in 1532. He brought along four brothers (there was a fourth brother that didn’t carry the ‘Pizarro’ name), and with their help he abducted the Inca Atahualpa, who had just won a civil war against his brother Huascar.
I have learned of Argentine protector Jose de San Martin and Venezuelan liberator Simon Bolivar and their separate pushes to make South America independent from Portugal and Spain.
Chile defeated Peru in the War of the Pacific, and took the resource rich territory to the south, therefore landlocking Bolivia. Countries like Great Britain greatly benefited from this, and a few rich Peruvian families also became rich from the foreign investment. Those rich families controlled all of politics, including Manuel Candamo, who died while president in 1904. Then in order, the Peruvian presidents were Jose Pardo Y Barreda (1904-1908 and from a rich family), and Augusto Leguia (1908-1912 and also from a rich family), who became a dictator for 11 years from 1919, and extended the presidential terms to five years so he could be in legitimate power for longer. I did not check any of these names or dates, and I believe I can list the next eight presidents, or even more (except the short term acting ones) without checking.
I know more Peruvian history than I know Australian history. But every time I get asked by colleagues if I am taking Spanish lessons, or how the Spanish is going, I feel a squirm in the guts. I spend so much time being surrounded by Spanish and a world that is not my own, that I don’t have the mental energy to give any more than I already do.
People here are like that. They live in their world and all they see is a stranger who cannot speak their language. It doesn’t matter that I am learning their history. It’s a lonely feeling. I feel that I can’t talk about anything except work with colleagues, and I find it hard to connect with people without fucking it up or without it feeling awkward. My colleagues make plans to do things together, to have ice-cream or beer, and I feel continuously left out. It feels the same with home, in Australia, where I catch up with everything that is going on on Facebook, because that’s part of my world too. But the longer I go living here, the harder it is to connect with my family and old friends. And maybe they find it harder to connect too.
People are fine to like things or publicly comment on Facebook, but find it harder to message privately one on one. It feels people subconsciously require more of an audience. Does a message really exist if only one other is able to read it?
We broadcast now.
Last week in Australia it was ‘R U OK Day’ and I didn’t realise. A friend I hadn’t heard of for yonks sent me a message asking how I was, and I was stoked. I replied eagerly checking how he was too. And then about an hour later I learned it was ‘R U OK Day’ and I was deflated. It was like getting a letter as a kid and finding out it was really only an overdue library bill (remember those?).
“That’s not a real letter!” I’d think.
I’m sure I convey a message that things are great living as an ex-pat in Peru. My most popular blogs are when I visit the places that you have heard of, like Machu Picchu. When I post filtered photos exploring jungles and markets in Cusco and colonial houses in Lima and Incan ruins I seem to get a reaction. Yet there’s more to life living as an expat than seeing the exotic locations. I could have just travelled across South America for six weeks, and maybe in hindsight I should have done that. It would have been easier. The novelty always would have existed day-to-day.
I’ve reached the stage where I don’t exactly miss Australia. Sure, I would like Mum to send me some canned beetroot and Tim Tams and even Vegemite. I don’t even like Vegemite. I just want my colleagues and students to taste it. I want another sense as evidence to say “hey! This is where I’m from. This is what I connect to. This is my identity.”
But other than that I don’t miss the land down under. This place has become my home. I walked pass the statue in the Plaza De Armas in Trujillo and it was such a recognised subject in my mind that I wondered what I would do without seeing it once a week.
This place has become mi casa. It’s just I haven’t received a sense of ownership, and I probably never will. That’s fair enough. I’m a guest here, but while this is the case it means I’m second-rate. I just don’t want to lose myself being so.
The challenge with visiting Machu Picchu in high season is trying to book the ticket. It’s not just the ticket to get onto the site which is the drama, although that is painful enough. You also need to figure out how you are going to get there.
As far as I am aware there are four ways you can get to Machu Picchu.
Walking the Inca trail.
Take the tourists’ train.
Take the residents’ train.
Take a bus to Hydro Electric Station. Then walk about two hours to the Aguas Calientes (the tourist trap you need to pass through to get to Machu Picchu).
Option 1 is not an option if you have a budget, time constraints, and booked last minute. Option 2 is the way most of us seem to travel but you are being ripped off. Tickets are about $55 USD (at least) and you travel 40 kilometres. I tried to do option 3 as I technically am a resident but in high season I needed to book my ticket from Cusco’s San Pedro station in person, and tickets were booked a week in advance.
I now wish I had taken option 4 but I didn’t know enough about this alternative route last minute and I preferred to guarantee making it to Machu Picchu instead. I have heard stories that this is a frightening route through the Andes.
I tried option 3. Failed. So I went with option 2.
To get to Aguas Calientes by the tourist train you can travel from either Poroy (about 15 kilometres from Cusco), or from Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. I decided to go from Ollantaytambo even though it was about an hour and a half from Cusco.
I am glad I did it because Ollantaytambo was majestic and a great warm-up to the world wonder itself.
Okay, so I was anxious about how I was going to get to Ollantaytambo. I didn’t need to be. If you go to Calle Pavitos in Cusco (near San Pedro markets) you can take a bus. The tourist guide and the owner of the hostel I was staying at claim 120 Soles a taxi. But the moment I reached Pavitos and was walking to where I thought the bus was, a taxi driver stopped and offered me a shared ride for 15 soles.
We drove through the sacred valley as he picked up hitchhikers, including a Quechua man who played a pipe from the back seat. We picked him up from Urumbamba, and we had a limited conversation in Spanish while driving along roads with snow caps glaring from the horizon.
(*It has since come to my attention, from travelers from Manchester, that there is a much easier and even cheaper fifth option. If I remember correctly, if you pay 120 Soles to the right tourist guide, you can get a ride to Hydro Electric Station. From there you can walk to Aguas Calientes. The price also includes a night (or two?) at a hostel, and the ticket price into Machu Picchu. This seems too good to be true for me, but if it’s the case, this is by far the easiest and cheapest option for a foreigner on a budget).
There have been two reliable resources for me to navigate Peru. The first I use is Hostel World, a website and app which helps me decide the hostels I want to stay in.
It doesn’t often fail me.
The second resource is Lonely Planet’s Peru tourist guide which cost me $35 Australian. In the Lima airport it’s about 120 Soles. While visiting Cusco I decided to take the tourist guide’s City Walk. It begins at Plaza De Armas and has 16 stops. It says it is a four kilometre walk and a three hour journey, but in reality it took me much longer and about four attempts to complete. But here we go….
The guide book advises beginning at the Plaza De Armas (1), which is always a natural starting point. I arrived here directly in a taxi from the airport at 6am. I paid 25 soles to get here but if you walk outside then 25 soles is reasonable. It’s beautiful for the old church and the fountain.
I was supposed to walk through the Plaza Regocijo (2) to see some nice boutiques and shops (3) along the way, but I walked on the wrong street! And because there were so many cafes and shops and parks it took a long time before I realised my mistake! I ended up skipping a few stops to have a juice at the market. But anyway…
The Museo Historico Regional used to be the house of a historian Garcilaso de la Vega, who has recorded many of the stories his family told him about the Incas. He was born several years after the Spanish conquest, and eventually moved to Spain. I haven’t read his work but have read some history books that have relied on his work (although they acknowledge his writing as creative). The museum is interesting and supplies exhibits of the Incas and other Peruvian civilizations such as the Moche and the Chimu. There is also information on de la Vega, and of revolter Tupac Amaru II.
To see many of these museums and the ruins you will need a entry pass called the Boletico Turistico, which only lasts 10 days. It costs about 130 Soles if you’re a tourist and 70 Soles if you can prove you are a resident.
4) The Plaza San Francisco is nice, sure, but I am uncertain whether it was worth paying 15 Soles to enter the museum and church of San Francisco. Well, maybe. Some of the painting were extraordinary and the library is filled with about 10,000 books. There is a small catacomb with bones and skeletons. The church itself is grande, but all I can think when I examined the handcrafted figures within is how much exploitation was necessary to create such beauty. There is a tower but it cost an additional 5 soles and I didn’t have the money.
I suppose it is worth it but there are many churches and buildings that will distract you.
5)If I had done this in order I would already be exhausted. But keep going! Walk along Marquez street through the huge colonial archway (which you can’t miss) past the Santa Clara church. The guide recommends trying to peek through the doors to the mirrors inside, but unfortunately the door was closed. I continued on…
6) The Mercado San Pedro is almost like any typical market to be found in tourist sections of Peru. There’s the tourist products, the clothes and the bags, there’s the fruits, the juice bars, the butchers, and the construction happening in between the stalls. To the back left and outside is a bathroom which costs 50 centimos to squat over a hole, but it may come in use if you need a public toilet and can’t afford a restaurant.
The guide book recommended drinking a juice. This was convenient because the lady at the juice bar saw me coming and called out ‘amigo!’ I paid seven soles for a orange, strawberry, and pineapple juice. It was delicious! She gave me seconds but I’m not sure if that’s part of the regular deal.
Regardless, I had this after 18 hours recovering from altitude sickness and it was the best pick-up.
7) The guide book recommends turning around at the back of the market, roughly turning in the direction of the Plaza De Armas. There’s nothing much more to see except the Palacio de Justicia. The building is grand and it’s the one where police holding riot shields stand at the front. You continue walking past Av Sol and walk into an old lane called Loreto which leads directly to the plaza.
The walls along Loreto lane is layered with old Inca built bricks. The guide book doesn’t mention that in the lane there is a gate into a courtyard filled with old market shops and alpacas.
It’s a nice surprise. I believe that out of all the stores I saw in Cusco the prices here are more reasonable. And there is variety when it comes to the ponchos and scarves and sweaters. The ladies working at the stores here are friendly too.
8) Due to a series of errors involving train tickets, altitude sickness, and a journey to Machu Picchu, I had long failed to reach this point of the guide until my third attempt. If you continued walking along Loreto you would reach the plaza again. From there you would turn right past the Starbucks, the Irish Pub, and the persistent ladies encouraging massages for 20 Soles. The guide says you continue walking past the old palace of the sixth Inca Roca (one I never heard of) which is now a museum. From there I walked to what is described as “the bohemian suburb” which includes a fountain, a market, and nice cafes.
9) The laneways become steep and quirky. The laneways are cobbled and windy and it’s worth exploring these at some point. There are also nice views of the central part of the city from within the alleyways. There are hidden gems among the shops too.
10) The last step in the guide book recommends walking up the steep hill to the ruins of Sacsaywaman on the hill overlooking Cusco. The entry fee is covered by the Boleto Turistico. The view of the city is extraordinary and shows a clear view of the plaza. You can also visit the Christi Blanco, which is a much smaller scale of the Christ Redeemer.
The ruins and the cobblestones is easily worth more than an hour’s exploration, but it’s a wide, clear and green place to play and stretch your legs away from city streets. There’s a good atmosphere here.