by Maureen Zupan '72, P'09
Our last day in Peru! Kate and I got up early to wander through the streets of Cusco, to enjoy it in the early morning as people were on their way to work, and the few tourists weren't yet on the street. We stopped at La Bondiet for breakfast, and had the "Americana Breakfast" which was advertised as being scrambled eggs and bacon. What we got was scrambled eggs with pieces of bacon mixed in. It was delicious! There were slices of tomatoes on the plate too…with the skin peeled off...and we were also given a large glass of what they call orange juice, but which is actually from a fruit that tastes like a combination of an orange and a tangerine.
We were cautioned early on to avoid using any of the water…and to not eat any raw fruit or vegetables that we weren't able to peel. This was all to prevent any intestinal problems. That meant that we relied heavily on bottled water (and examined the bottles we purchased to make sure they hadn't been refilled from the tap), even for brushing teeth. Early on, our guide had told us to drink SIX bottles of that water a day to help counteract the impact of the altitude! I don't think any of us succeeding at meeting that goal.
And one other habit we had to develop (and will happily undo at home) is that NO paper can be put in the toilets. Every bathroom has a small covered container next to it for "receipt" of the toilet paper. Nearly everyone said that they violated that rule at least a few times (although not deliberately…just out of lifelong habit).
After breakfast, Kate and I continued our wandering, and came upon a market that essentially acted as a supermarket for the locals. It was huge, covered with a roof, but open on all sides. The aisles were marked with what was available, just as in the US. But in each aisle, individual vendors had set up shop…so each purchase was made to specific vendors. We saw butchers cutting meat to order; flowers of bright colors being wrapped into bouquets; bolts of textiles and balls of ribbons for making the local costumes; and rounds of cheese being cut into smaller pieces. In the back of the market we came across a "food court". Long U shaped counters surrounded people making big pots of some sort of chicken soup that was being served to customers as they sat watching. Along the sides there were "fast food" type vendors selling other types of food. A group of five performers played instruments and sang in the middle of the food court.
All too soon, it was time to go back to the hotel to pack up and check out. As we waited to board the bus, a handful of street vendors again descended, likely sensing that there were soles still left in our pockets that we would be willing to spend…and we did.
On the bus to the Cusco Airport, we "formally" thanked Scott for putting the trip together and for being such a great guide of the country in which he grew up. We had heard (via his family) that he had hoped to buy an Alpaca sweater before he left…so we told him to buy one as a gift from us…and that any "left over" would end up as a gift certificate for wine from a Rochester wine merchant. He brought us to places he loves in Peru…he was patient with us…he was always available to help get us through whatever issue(s) we had ("How many soles to a dollar, Scott?")…he was knowledgeable…he made it all fun.
The Cusco Airport was teeming with people. We first had to go through a hand search of our luggage as we waited at the ticket counter to get boarding passes. I can't figure out how they decided what to search and how much to search. Only one of my various bags and carryons were searched…and even that search didn't amount to more than sticking his hands around the inside walls of my suitcase. He quickly stopped when some of my "stuff" fell to the floor; he'd had enough of searching me!
At the gate itself, there was a more intense search, closer to what we get in the US…but just as happened on the trip TO Cusco, this search was also much looser than what we are used to in the US. Liquids were allowed…any size. All bags went through a scanner (but we noticed that sometimes no one was watching the images on the display). We could leave our shoes on. I didn't need to take my laptop out of my carryon for separate scanning. We also were able to check our luggage without cost (even if we had two pieces!). The only requirement was to have the total weight be under 20 kg.
The plane ride itself was only about an hour, and the plane was nearly full, yet we still had "full service:" a muffin, a turkey and cheese sandwich, and a drink.
As we left the plane, we all immediately felt the difference in the lower altitude: the air was definitely easier to breath! And we ran into the two guys some of us had met on the trail several days earlier in the Botanical Gardens, no longer sweaty and sunburned!
Our plane wasn't for about eight hours, so Scott had arranged for a bus ride to a shopping mall/entertainment complex in Monteflores in Lima (where we stayed the first two nights). It ended up being a great way to spend a few hours. Nearly all the shops were local Peruvian shops. The only US chains we saw were food outlets like Burger King, Tony Roma's, KFC, and Pizza Hut. Scott was able to shop for his sweater, and more than several of us bought Alpaca shawls, jewelry and other trinkets for gifts (and for ourselves, I'll admit!).
A group of us had an extended mid afternoon lunch at a Chinese restaurant in the complex. Apparently, there is a large Chinese population in Lima, and they have put a Peruvian slant on their traditional Chinese food. So, our last meal in Peru was at a Chinese restaurant, reading a Spanish menu. We sat at a big round table, shared the family style food, and laughed and laughed about our adventures this past week.
And WAY too soon, it was time to go back to the airport in Lima for our all night flight back to Newark. All except Scott were on the same flight…he was leaving two hours after us.
Our adventure was over. I think it would be silly to say it was the best vacation I've ever had…or that it was a life changing experience…or that nothing went wrong…but if it isn't all of that, then it's as close as it could be to that. New friendships were made among the people in the group…old friendships were renewed…we've now had a common experience that will stay with us forever. It was the "bestest"!!
I can't end without acknowledging my "roomie" Kate McKinnon. Not only was she a great roommate for the trip, she was also instrumental in putting this blog together. Each night we would sit and recount all that had happened during the day, so I could be sure I was capturing many of the highlights. She also helped me sort through hundreds of photographs to select the ones to accompany the blog. She read each day's blog before it was sent off to campus for uploading to the HWS website…and she was enthusiastic with her encouragement. Thanks roomie…you're the "bestest" too!!
Thanks also to Carol Brotman Fields for capturing some of the landscape pictures with her IPad.
When's the next trip?