Four Cities in Four Days?

I spent a whirlwind six hours exploring Copacabana. The city is tiny, so it really doesn’t take more than an hour or two to walk the main streets and peruse the street vendor’s merchandise — mainly llama products. The main draws of Copacabana are its surreal setting on the edge of the ‘highest navigable lake in the world,’ Lake Titicaca, and the access it provides to some allegedly incredible islands a couple dozen kilometers off the coast, some housing Inca ruins. The best thing about Copacabana for me was the troucha — there is a massive trout species that is indigenous to Titicaca. There is an otherworldly cemetery atop a hill that abruptly rises out of Titicaca. I climbed it in the morning and was truly taken aback by the view. Copacabana is such a small city that when you travel with my stamina, you can do most of its primary attractions twice:  I ate fried troucha for both lunch and dinner, and climbed to the top of the cemetery before each meal. Freestyling it the second time up its rocky face.

If I weren’t already such a hardened bus goer, I would have had another unpleasant bus experience last night. I will save you all the trouble and simply say that my bus left at 18:00 and arrived in Cusco at the rather unpleasant time of 4:30. On top of that, we switched buses three times. Basically, sleeping was difficult. I already had a hostel reservation for tonight, so I didn’t want to pay the 3 or 4 dollars for another night, so I waited for the sun to rise and caught two hours of sleep on the  floor of three Argentine’s hostel room.

However, I did have a memorable exchange with the old Aymara lady sitting next to me. Like all good Aymara, she was wearing a beautiful skirt, with many, many layers of shawls around her upper body and a bowling hat atop her head. She was a bit like Merry Poppins and kept amazing me with the things she would pull out of her layers of cloth. I was sitting next to her, about to close my eyes and she pulled out an entire loaf of bread. A few minutes later,  a bag of fried chicken. She followed it up with a bag of juice. Being a modern Aymara, she also had a cellphone and radio. She was a very friendly lady with an amazing smile, and I couldn’t resist striking a conversation with her, using my broken Spanish of course. I went with a pretty standard conversation started and realized how stupid it was right after it popped out of my mouth. I asked her if she was from Bolivia or Peru — a ridiculous question to ask an Aymara. She giggled and told me she was from the Altiplano. There is no distinction to the Aymara, arbitrary borders are remnants of a Colonial past. She is a member of the people who have lived in the high plains of the Andes for thousands of years. Unique.

Cusco has charming colonial architecture and a stunning setting in an Andean valley, but it is a complete tourist trap. I haven’t learned anything about modern Peru in this city. Frankly, I could follow in the shadows of every other tourist in this city and make it to the top of Machu Pichu, blowing a couple hundred bucks in the process. However, I would rather take the road less traveled and let that money take me to a completely new country or two.

I walked around all day and don’t feel like there is much more for me to see in Cusco proper. I am catching a bus to Lima in the morning. I love big cities and that is what my trip is all about. I love walking around markets, malls and city centers, watching the people and trying to take the pulse of their economy. I feel like I have been pretty successful thus far at doing this.

Also, I can’t forget my obsession with food. I try as much as I possibly can. Today, I had incredible ceviche in a local market, for about $1.50 and followed it up with a very light fish head soup. I also had a tomale and bought one of each of the new nuts and berries that were available to me. Horizons are being expanded.

I am thinking I will spend two days in Lima, and then try to catch a flight to Cartagena, Colombia. From there, I want to fulfill a fantasy and hitchhike the Darien Gap via sailboat. I’ll spend about two weeks in central America before my 2.5 day, end of February, respite at home.

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