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

Election Time!

With local and regional elections last weekend, the past two weeks have been absolute madness in Peru, particularly in Cusco Province because of recent “disputes” (putting it mildly) over natural gas and water resources.  As a student of politics, there is always something fascinating about the mechanics and process of elections in any country I visit, but Peru is absolutely something special on that count.  Voting here is mandatory (a S/180 fine if you don’t show up!!), so the parties all have to play to the lowest common denominator.   Each party has an illustrated “mascot” and the advertising consists of base slogans, a sweet photo, the occasional paid protest, and a picture of the mascot with an “X” through it – mark this one!

The Purple Potato Party, the Red and White Soccer Ball Party, the Condor Party, the Pan (Españolish for bread) Party, the Chicken-Kicking-A-Soccer-Ball Party, the “We Are Peru” Party…there are no billboards and no neon signs for corporate entities here, but every available clay wall, every balcony, and every Tico window are devoted to political propaganda.  Smaller parties try to gain momentum by whipping up protests and accusations against the larger parties.  The larger parties cover every available wall with paint and top every available taxi with a blaring loudspeaker.






Because of all the parties clamoring for attention, the protests and accompanying fireworks/mortar blasts intensified dramatically the past two weeks.  There were massive booms rocking the city every 15 minutes from somewhere or another in the days preceding the elections.  (I had two Israeli friends in town who served in the IDF and they were not at all amused by this.)

A week ago, there was a massive planned strike (in opposition to sending Cusco-area water to Arequipa) which shut down the rail lines and all the major roads out of Cusco.  For two days, no tourists got in or out of the city to their planned destinations…and they were not happy about it; there were a lot of tears in beers at The Lost City.  The following day, indigenous protesters broke down an exterior wall at the airport and set a fire on the tarmac, cancelling all flights for the afternoon.   Across town, a crowd of around 1000 protesters blockaded one of the main roads in town and threw rocks at anyone who tried to pass by.  Even McDonalds was closed for 48 hours.  Goddamn travesty.

It is amazing to me that one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world, not to mention the heart and soul of the Peruvian economy, can be simply shut down by local protests.  A surreal thing to be a part of.  (On the other hand, it was really cool to actually walk down the streets without fear of Death By Tico…the taxi drivers were all on strike for two days as well.)  And now that the election is over, all is absolutely quiet.

For two days prior to the elections, alcohol is prohibited in the entire country.  In years past, the police have normally turned a blind eye to gringo-based businesses, but when we turned up for work on Friday, there was an email from the Municipality of Cusco saying that anyone caught serving alcohol would be fined S/1650 and would have their business potentially closed for 6-12 months.  Uh….weekend off??!!  Thank christ this is all finally over…until the presidential elections in the spring.


A nostalgic stroll through some of my favorite political party signs:

I guess the Bread Party has their hard hats on and are going to get right to work?  Good idea in the meeting room I suppose, but really stupid in execution…


This guy isn’t going to win shit with that terrible moustache.


Vote for change?  First off, I think “Change” may have already been used.  Second, there’s no fucking change in this entire country.  There are maybe two places in town (including The Lost City) where you can break the goddamn 100 sole notes that the ATMs spit out.  Try again.


I can get down with the “let me introduce myself” cutout, but the “gone native” version is just fucking dumb.



And, if I had a vote, I would have voted for Purple Papa based on his sweet outfit (and the fact that his supporters all jumped in for a photo with me)   I couldn’t even dream of wearing that white cloak with a straight face, but here, ladies and gentlemen, is the big winner of the 2010 Cusco elections:



Against my better judgment, I let some friends drag me to a karaoke bar on one of our nights off.  I should have known when we met at “the dive bar under the Chinese restaurant” that it wasn’t going to end well.  (I know, Mom, you always told me that “nothing good ever happens under the Chinese restaurant.”)  There was, of course, only one microphone, so the bartender had to run back and forth between our group and another between songs, which gave us a chance to be critical of their efforts…and get in some serious drinking.  We rocked “California Dreamin’” to kick things off, forcing even our weak competition into tepid applause.  But 7 pitchers of pisco & Sprite later and we’re all trying to sing “Hotel California” into the same mic.  Yipes.  (It is always time to go home when you hear “Hotel California,” no matter where you are.)




But what a perfect analogy for all 10 people in the room that night.  Cusco in a nutshell.  Even the one tourist who was with us – who had been in town for all of 3 days – was already scheming ways to make enough money to stay…  Travel writing?  Selling tours?  Grating mozzarella and doing dishes at The Lost City??   “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…”

(As I write this, a sudden rain storm has caused the streets and sidewalks to flood and the sewer drain is gushing right outside the door.  Not only am I trapped in this shit café, but I can’t eat my meal with the goddamn stench.  Next time, eat at the top of the hill…)


Despite all my angst about work and lack of time to write, I still am absolutely in awe of this place.    Maybe it’s some sort of fucked up Cusco spell, but I swear that I can really tell that I’m two miles closer to the moon; whenever it’s full, it blows my mind to goddamn pieces.  (Yes, I’m the idiot standing in the middle of the sidewalk, staring straight up, with the stupid grin on my face.)  I have been fortunate to live in some incredibly beautiful places, but I’ve never felt any place like this.  As much as I am anxious to move on, I would be foolish to take even a single day of what remains here for granted.










My three favorite quotes from the bar this week:

“I’m on vacation!  I should eat whatever the fuck I want, drink every night, smoke too much, and fuck whenever possible.”

“There is no ‘we’ or ‘us,’ there is only ‘you,’ ‘me,’ with an ‘and’ in the middle.  The only thing that really exists is ‘me.’”

“Don’t you dare go dead cockroach on me tonight!”

2 Responses to “Election Time!”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Politics sounds fun there. I wonder if I could get elected there? I would use a beer can as my symbol.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Cool hat in the first picture.

Leave a Reply