Posted by: Jessie Kwak | January 9, 2010

The ups and down of the Gringo Trail

We’ve been in Cusco for more than a week now, partly because we’re taking the time to scribble and edit everything we saw with my parents, and partly because Cusco’s a pretty cool place.

The Gringo Trail of Peru is basically the southern route that hits up Ica’s wine country, Arequipa’s outdoor adventures and beautiful architecture, Puno and Lake Titicaca, and culminating in Cusco and a visit to Machu Picchu. Rob and I have joined this route after spending three and a half months in northern Peru, where although there are some Gringo Hotspots there’s nothing remotely resembling the infrastructure of the Gringo Trail.

At times it’s been frustrating, but at times guiltily refreshing. For example, I’ve begun to remember what decent coffee tastes like. Even tiny set menu joints have espresso machines and staff trained to use them. It’s possible to order a fantastic americano and sit for hours with my laptop just like I was at the Joe Bar on Capitol Hill. I’m becoming spoiled.

I’m also becoming spoiled in that most every bathroom here has not only a toilet seat and toilet paper, but also running water, soap, and paper towels. I’ve even caught myself forgetting to bring toilet paper with me wherever I go—though a habit of three and a half months isn’t easily broken.

Rob and I have been getting pretty tired of Peruvian food, and here, also, the Gringo Trail comes to our rescue. Since coming to Cusco we’ve had delicious Thai food, great American-style hamburgers, even Middle Eastern goodies like falafal and hummus.

A paradise for a couple of homesick travelers? Maybe. But on the other hand:

The locals don’t smile as much. It’s something we noticed in the north, too: the more touristy the place (or the bigger the city), the less likely people are to say hello to you. There are still places in Cusco that you can wander without being in Gringolandia, but you get more looks of “why have you escaped from your quarantine?” than looks of surprise and welcome.

Everyone is constantly trying to sell you something. Over the past month we’ve gotten conditioned to respond with “no gracias” to everyone who approaches us on the street, sometimes before they even start to speak. Rob’s started to have fun with this, and his new Spanish phrase is: “Puedo comerlo, can I eat it?” It’s pretty funny to see the reactions of the army of massage girls that plague Cusco’s streets, ambushing us with flyers.

“Excuse me, miss, massage?” “Puedo comerlo?” Look of confusion/laughter/or: Reboot: “Massage, therapeutic massage, miss?”

Everything is expensive. Cusco at least has some cheap nice hostels, but overall we’ve decided that the city’s motto is: “Because We Can.” Why have a mandatory S/.130 boleto turistico? Because you’ll buy it. Why is getting to Machu Picchu such a fantastically chaotic mess? Because you’ll still go. Why can tour companies routinely destroy every detail of the itinerary they planned for you and still go on with business? Because someone will still buy their tours.

That said, this was published whilst sipping a delicious espresso drink listening to a decent music soundtrack in a cafe that reminds me of Seattle. And, that said, we’re still here. So far there hasn’t been a single stop on the Gringo Trail that isn’t actually pretty cool. That’s why there are hundreds of us here, buying the handicrafts, taking the tours, paying for overpriced drinks and putting up with the predatory massage girls. I do miss being special, though.

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