Sad, but not tragic. A forced opportunity. Maybe even a fortunate adaptation…fuck it. Let's make taco salad.

Living in South America

I’ve had some questions via email that I thought the answers might be good to share with everyone:


How is the food?

Overall, Peruvian food is quite good.  At first, the omnipresence of chicken and potatoes is a bit overwhelming, but it’s easy enough to work around it.  The Peruvians claim to have over 4000 varieties of potato, and there’s a chicken on every fucking rooftop, so this is easy to understand.  After being served papas fritas (Españolish for “french fries”) at my first 20 meals, I haven’t had any since.

They are very proud of their typical Peruvian dishes, including alpaca (everyone I know who has eaten it gets the runs) and cuy (guinea pig – I can’t eat it without the idea of formaldehyde creeping into my brain.  Thank you, high school biology.).  Apparently, trout is one of Peru’s biggest exports and you find that on almost every menu.  But I prefer the amazing soups and the dishes with quinoa and cool varieties of corn.  You can get a nice 3-course meal (soup, main course, dessert) for 10-20 soles (US $3.50-6.50) at most local restaurants.  It’s also quite easy to get pizza and Italian food, although the results can be questionable.  I have had really good luck with Mexican food and Mediterranean food here, for some reason.

The coffee, on the other hand, is generally terrible.  Eighty percent of the time you are served some form of instant coffee instead of something that is actually brewed.  The problem is that all of the coffee gets exported to Europe and the US because we are willing to pay more for it.  Then Nestle turns it into instant crap and sends it back over here.  Fucking capitalism…


How is the music?  Here’s a sampling of what I hear every day:

  • ·         Asia – Every other day.  I never thought “The Heat of the Moment” would have staying power.
  • ·         Frampton Comes Alive! – Every fucking morning.  The guy who lives below me uses it as his wakeup call.  I may buy him some new speakers so it at least doesn’t sound like a kazoo tune. (While cleaning the apartment today, I let fly my entire Yes collection – oh yes, I do – hoping it would spur a revival.)
  • ·         “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in Spanish – Weekly!  And, strangely enough, most of the time coming from a Chinese restaurant. (The “Chifa” is as common here as in the States.)
  • ·         “Wonderwall” (Oasis) and “Zombie” (The Cranberries) – Daily.  Clearly, these two songs are the only significant British contribution to pop music over the past 25 years.
  • ·         Manu Chao – Also daily.  I used to dig it.  Now…
  • ·         The same 5 “hot” dance tunes – 3 times a day, at a minimum.  One is Lady Gaga.  One is a Latin remake of a bad dance tune from the US.  The other three are pure Latin genius.  The bridge in my favorite one goes, “…I’m trying to find the words to describe her without being disrespectful…She’s a SEXY BITCH, SEXY BITCH [BOOM BOOM BOOM]…SEXY BITCH, SEXY BITCH…”  Seriously, who writes this shit?

The biggest issue that I have with the music here is simply the volume.  Every restaurant and shop have crap speakers that sound like bleating fucking sheep, cranked up beyond what is reasonable.  And they seem to either take great offense or show a complete lack of comprehension if you ask them to turn it down.  I guess there’s no appropriate translation for subtle…


How much does it cost to live there?

I started out my trip with a goal of trying to live on an average of US $30-35/day.  There are certainly “splurge” (i.e. tequila-fueled) days, but I’ve been pretty well behaved for the most part.  Here’s an outline of my daily budget:  [Costs are listed in Peruvian Nuevo Soles, which convert to roughly S/3 = US $1.]

  • ·         Apartment – S/10
  • ·         Phone – S/3
  • ·         Internet – S/1
  • ·         Breakfast – S/10
  • ·         Dinner – S/20
  • ·         Water – S/1
  • ·         Smokes – S/5
  • ·         Drinks – S/40
  • ·         Misc. – S/20

Total:  S/110 per day (or roughly US $37)


(Yes, mom, I realize that 1/3 of my budget is set aside for alcohol.)


How is your Spanish?

I would have preferred to spend some time working on my Españolish before I left, but circumstances (and my new-found tequila habit) prevented it.  But, like most places, with a little knowledge, a lot of humility, and timely usage of hand gestures, there are always ways to communicate.  More than many places I have traveled, people here are more than patient with communication, given you are the same; you get what you give.


If you have other questions, shoot me an email and I’ll try to get to them in my next post.


After a week of sleeping in until Noon (I guess last year’s insomnia problem is licked – I highly recommend quitting your job), I figured out what the main issue is with the apartmento:  no fucking coffee.   Nahoko set me up with a little butane camp stove and then I found a funky Peruvian coffee pot and a stupid-looking mug and…presto!  First morning, I made it up at 9 am for yoga and the second I was up at 7 am to do some writing.  Twenty soles I should have spent two weeks ago…


I was fortunate enough to meet a group of guys who wanted to go on a motorcycle trip through the Sacred Valley.  I haven’t been on a proper motorcycle for a good 20 years, but it’s just like riding a bicycle, right??…  We rented 250cc trail bikes for only US $30 for the day and headed out.

As a bit of background, you should know that there are no traffic signals, no stop signs, and no real traffic control systems of any significance here.  Basically, driving in South America is like an endless game of chicken.  Use your horn early and often.

We visited an Inca agricultural site at Tipon and then made our way through the valley on mostly deserted highway – San Salvador, Pisac, Calca, Urubamba, and Maras.  (I just really like the way those towns sound and needed an excuse to include them…)  There were certainly several dodgy moments with the collectivos barreling down the middle of the highway and tourist busses taking the inside lane on tight corners, but the real danger was the fucking cows.  I swear to you that I watched a bull hide behind a bush and then jump out at Paul just as he drove past.  I just about fell over myself I was laughing so hard; I didn’t think the damn things were sentient.

Between Maras and Cusco, we took a little-used dirt road that ran through indigenous farms and homes.  The kids would run outside to yell and wave at us as we roared by.  Cool experience.

(Yes, mom, I did dump the bike on a sketchy gravel downhill.  Twice.  Fortunately, the only thing hurt was my ego…and the bike.  I had to pay a whopping US $20 extra for annihilating the fenders.)




I’ve quickly made friends with cool group of people – Brits, Aussies, Americans, Canadians, Russians, Germans, Argentineans, and Peruvians.  Some are here for an indeterminate period, some have been here longer than they can remember.  But you never have to ask them “why.”

Last night I was invited to a birthday party for Paul, a Brit who is marrying a local Cusco girl in a couple of months.  There were 20 people there and I was greeted by all as if I was an old friend, even by the few I hadn’t already met.  I was speaking to Alex, another Brit who has been in Cusco about as long as I have, and we both found it remarkable how quickly we were able to find such a warm, inclusive, intelligent, and diverse group of friends.





I find that I need more sleep than usual here.  I believe that the altitude makes the body work just a little bit harder to eat, to walk, to breathe.  But, at the same time, there is a palpable energy in The City of the Gods:  There is always the sound of a marching band practicing in the distance.  There are always kids in the plaza practicing their tribal dances and marching steps.  There is a parade or indigenous celebration 300 days each year.  There are, quite literally, fireworks every morning and every night.  There is the constant flow of different tourists and you find yourself trying to guess by sight where they might be from.  There is the sound of 100 different languages, all at the same time.

It’s easy to see why so many people never leave.





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