Getting high the old fashioned way: Peru, Day 1

Monday, 18 June 2012, Cusco, Peru

Taxi? Taxi, Senor? Taxi? Taxi? Come with me Senor.

Umm, no thanks. The throng of wannabee tax drivers is thick just outside the gates to the Cusco Airport, but I’m supposed to be meeting someone from the guide company here. So, I just do my level best to ignore all the entreaties from would-be cabbies, and scan all the signs others are holding up just outside the security fence – No, not that one.. not that one either, not that one.. Damn it, where the  heck is the guy from Qente tours?

Hmm.. went through the crowd once, checked out all the signs, didn’t see “Qente” anywhere – loop around and wade through the crowd again – it’s a small airport – only about a dozen signs out here, and “Qente” is definitely not an any of them – neither is “Wilde” or “N Wilde” or any reasonable variation thereof.

Oh well, time to grab a cab, I guess – “Hostel Resbalosa?” I ask  the nearest cabbie. “Caunto?”

“Si, si senor, treinte Sole”

That’s just a bit over 10 USD, so I figure, what the heck, and get in. It wasn’t until almost 2 weeks later, when the same ride back to the airport cost me 7 Sole,  that I figured how much I’d been ripped off.

At this point it doesn’t matter, I’m in the cab, and we’re heading to the hostel (hopefully). After 24 hours in airports and hotels, I’m looking forward to a place to have a hot shower and relax.

The drive through the cobblestone streets, past red tiled roof buildings, go smoothly enough until we reach the central square, Plaza De Armas. Apparently there’s some sort of big celebration going on (turns out to be Inti Raymi, the Inca celebration of the winter solstice, which is going on for the next week in Cusco – but I didn’t know that yet). Regardless, it means the way around the central square is blocked with dancers and sightseers, so the taxi driver, after muttering to himself a while and arguing with a policeman for a while, takes off  in a different direction. After a hurtling uphill for a while he stops the car, and points down a steep set of stone stairs – several hundred feet down the stairs I can see a sign that says “Hostel Resbolosa.” Umm, OK. Shouldering my pack and giving the driver his treinte Sole I make my way down the stairs.

Hostel Resbalosa turns out to be reasonable – relatively spartan and void of many frills, in the way of hostels everywhere, but clean and seemingly well managed. Housed in a couple of different buildings surrounding a central courtyard, a rabbit-warren of stair cases and passageways connect one to the other – the nice lady who checked me in leads me to the  room I’ll be sharing with Mark, my traveling companion from Boulder, who is due to arrive later that afternoon.

It’s only 10 AM in the morning, so after settling in a bit I decide wander around and explore the hostel. Cusco is located above 11,000 feet, and although we’re only 13 degrees south of the equator the winter solstice is almost upon us, and there’s a definite chill to the air, especially if you’re in the shade.

Luckily, the hostel has a nice open air patio where you can sit in the sun overlooking most of Cusco, so I sit for a bit to soak up the sun’s rays and watch the goings on in Plaza de Armas below. Even at 10 AM  there’s a lot of activity associated with Inti Raymi going on.

The landlady comes by, sees me sitting on the patio, and asks if I’d like “Te.” Turns out “te,” in this instance, wasn’t the black tea I was expecting, but a handful of green coca leaves with hot water poured over them, left to steep in a cup.

Yes, it’s the same coca leave that white powder that causes so much trouble in the US is produced from. Yes, coca leaf and coca leaf products are perfectly legal down here.  And now, you don’t get high from coca leaf tea – it’s a mild stimulant much like coffee or black tea. When in rome..  Coca Leaf tea doesn’t have a lot of taste to it but has a slightly bitter, astringent quality that is refreshing. Just hope I don’t have to pass a drug test in the US anytime soon after I get home.

There’ll be plenty of time to wander down to the Plaza and explore Cusco later. Right now, I’m happy to sit in the sun, drink my tea, and watch the world go by.