Cusco summer 2009,

The funny thing about Cusco is that I never intended to be there. Not knowing a thing about Latin America, I still knew that it’s the tourist mecca of the region, and I wanted an authentic Peru experience. And yet, I went there as a stop for Qoyllur Rit’i, came back, and stayed. I was far from being the only one that got suck into this navel of the universe (Qosqo’s meaning in Quechoa). If anything, I was among those that left relatively quickly to go back to other worldly commitments.

Cusco, Peru, red brick tile roofs

view from my room balcony

I remember Cusco days and the friends I made there often and fondly, speaking of them with a wide smile on my face. Yet it was not at all rosy in the beginning. I cried every day during the first two weeks because I was shocked at the every-minute machismo. Men who think it’s alright to make repeated advances anywhere anytime, even when I told them “no, I don’t want to go out with you or kiss you, and i just told you that earlier this morning and haven’t changed my mind in the past couple of hours.” It was beyond frustration because sometimes I wanted to snap and lash out to let them know that I’d had more than enough and why what they were doing wasn’t acceptable, but I knew few phrases of Spanish and their English wasn’t very good. Oh, and by the way, I hated being called chinita.

I went to the few Irish bars around the central plaza de armas to look for work because the tip was reputedly good, but they didn’t have any positions. Wandering from bars to bars at the suggestion of their staff, I ended up in a dingy cavern. The boss agreed to take me almost immediately even though most of his customers were Spanish speakers and my Spanish wasn’t enough to last 30 seconds. He even asked me to come back to work that same night, which made me thoroughly uneasy, so I told him I could only start from the next night because I wanted to spend time with a friend before she had to leave. That friend was Sara; I brought her that night to the bar so that she could vouch for me. She judged that 7 Angelitos wasn’t such a seedy place after all. I found a room 15 minutes walk away in the same neighborhood, San Blas, and that’s how this barrio full of steep staircases became my home for the next few months.

Plaza de San Blas, Cusco, peru

looking up from Plaza de San Blas

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Every day before we opened, I had to walk around – usually down in Plaza de Armas because we were already quite known in San Blas – and hand leaflets to passers-by. It was up to that point the most embarrassing thing I had ever done in my life. I’d been to plenty places where everyone tried to make you take something, and that’s downright annoying. So I made a point to never insist. Still I had to smile and greet and talk to everyone, even if they looked downright hostile and I could clearly see myself reflected in their eyes as a big nuisance or worse. And I had to carry it out while parroting the few phrases in Spanish that I could barely muster: Tenemos musica en vivo todas las noches, y dos veces de happy hour. We have live music every night, and happy hours twice. Aqui tiene nuestro programa de la semana. Here is our program for the week. The skin on my face grew incredibly thick.