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

Reflections on Cusco

First, let me admit that I have been way too occupied (some may say “fucked up,” but they are lying, Mom) to write and have been incredibly hard on myself about it. And yet, I wouldn’t take back a single day of what I have been able to experience here. Cusco is not just a place to me, but a specific part of my heart that will never leave. Fuck you for calling me sentimental.

I cooked professionally for the first time. I learned to bartend. I helped develop and run a business in South America. I lived at over 11,000 feet for almost 5 months. I lost over 40 pounds. I went to Machu Picchu 3 times (and it took my breath away every time). I ate some of the best food in my life and drank some of the worst wine in my life (seriously, stay away from the Peruvian wine). I danced every night and I kissed and hugged more than I have in the rest of my life in total (dudes too…we’re good like that here). This is a beautiful place, but, more importantly, a beautiful people. I would be shocked if I feel this welcome and loved again in such a brief moment. And then there are the stories…

I do have to back up for a minute and tell the “How did you end up in Cusco?” story. This is kind of the standard “get to know you” question here for anyone who is a non-tourist (and there are a lot of us) and also a great way to meet just about anyone. And we all have the same fucking story, in one way or another. Paul was backpacking here for a week and just married a Peruvian national 4 years later. Nick has been here for 14 years after deciding that Cusco needed a sports bar.

For myself, I had been on long bus rides every 3-5 days for 6 weeks with my 19 year old sister, making our way from Quito to Cusco. Then we traveled with The Parents for 3 weeks. I needed a fucking hard stop. I planned to rest and write in Cusco for 3-4 weeks and even scored a S/250 ($80US) per month apartment the first night I was in town. Perfect. One month in Cusco and then on to Bolivia. Just as planned. I met a Peruvian girl in our first Cusco appearance and looked her up on my return at a bar called The Lost City (prescient in so many ways…). I hooked up with the Peruvian girl for a week or so before I got tired of her just not showing up when we were supposed to meet. Hello Latin Time. But I also made a bond with the guys at The Lost City immediately.

Two weeks later, it’s just me (customer), Rich (bartender) and Mike (owner) in the bar. I am writing page 2 of The Great American Novel (I am still on page 2 of The Great American Novel). Mike walks out from behind the bar and heads for the bathroom, but stops halfway. (As context, he has not discussed any of this with Rich who is also the bar manager.) He says, “I’m heading back to The States for 6 months at the end of this week. I was going to just lock the place up, but if the two of you want to keep it open, the place is yours.” Then he goes to the bathroom. Then Rich and I look at each other. “What the FUCK did he just say??” One week later, I’m cooking delicious pizzas and making a serious run at the pisco supply. These things happen…

 

At a certain point, I realized that I had been in Peru for a while and that my 90-day tourist visa must be getting close to running out. Probably should take a look. When I finally got around to checking, I discovered, to my horror, that my visa would expire the next day. Fuck me. Made a frantic phone call and was told to go to the ATM, get out US$50, put it inside the passport, and meet at the immigration office. Strange, but no problem. I went down, handed my passport to Immigration Guy, and was then told “you must wait OUTSIDE!!” Okay, fine…more strange, but I can follow direction (sometimes). Five minutes later, I was hustled back in to fill out a new immigration form. I started to fill in the address line and…”NO, NO ADDRESS. You NO live here. Tourist only.” Okay…no address…I get it. I was then hustled back out of the office without my passport and no further direction. Now I’m a little worried.

The next day, Immigration Guy delivered my passport to the bar with a stamp saying I had left the country and traveled to Bolivia 3 days prior, had re-entered Peru, and had another 183 days (random?) on my tourist visa. For all my complaints about how difficult some shit is to get done in this country, that was a thing of beauty.

 

A couple of months ago, I was invited to a wedding between a Peruvian and a British ex-pat on a Saturday. I must first mention that the invitations specifically said the ceremony would begin at 12 pm “exacta hora” as a nod to the majority Latin crowd. We dutifully arrived at 11:45 am. One hour later, there were still 10 of us waiting for the other 140 guests to arrive. 1:15 “exacta hora…”

Lovely ceremony (my favorite bit was when the grandmother of the bride came wandering in ¾ of the way through the ceremony and lazily made her way to her rightful place in the front row), amazing party, great crowd, way too much free booze. The next morning was rough for Rich and I because we had to open early for the NFL, but that wasn’t anything a couple Baileys & coffees couldn’t fix. By noon, Rich and I still couldn’t figure out when we actually went home from the wedding. By 2 pm, after three others who were there the night before had come in, we still had no idea. Just after 2 pm, I got a call from Kris. “Hey man, how’s your head?”

“I feel fine, I don’t think I was THAT drunk. Why?”

“No, man, you hit your head pretty hard last night. Are you okay?”

“Umm….what?”

“I’ll explain it to you when I come down.”

So, apparently, somewhere between 1 and 3 am (still no one knows for certain), the owner of another bar in town decided it would be a good idea to after-party at his bar. (“What do you mean we went to Norton’s? OH SHIT, we DID go to Norton’s!!!…”) There were several of us (again, no one really knows how many) who took cabs down to the Plaza and Jeff proceeded to buy us beers and tequila shots at his place. Apparently, I was so drunk that I passed out sitting on a tall barstool, keeled over and fell directly onto the back of my head on the barroom floor. Apparently, my “friend” Kris then stood over the top of me and counted me out. “ONE!…TWO!…THREE!…” When he got to ten, he drug me over into a corner and leaned me against a booth. Apparently, I got back up 20 minutes later and ordered another drink. (Attaboy.) I can’t recommend Peruvian weddings highly enough.

 

Our good friend James left town after two years in Cusco and had to get rid of quite a few things in order to make his journey to Brazil. Rich was complimenting me on my nice black button-up shirt and I had to admit, “Oh, James left me this. Pretty nice of him, eh?” Alex was also in the room and was also wearing some of James’ old clothes…including his discarded socks and underwear. (Please keep in mind that you can buy new underwear in Peru for S/3 to S/6 (US$1-2)) “Ahem…what the?????” “Yeah, man, this stuff all fits great. The only problem is that sometimes I feel like I have a black guy’s balls rubbing up against mine.”

 

 

 

Another late night at the bar and Rich and I need a beer and some cards to decompress. Per usual, we head around the corner to the lounge and hang out for an hour or two. Per usual, someone who knows us comes along and drags us upstairs to the disco. Then things turn a bit unusual:

4 am: I am dancing alone, but in reasonable proximity to a Peruvian gold digger (here, the proper term is “brichera”).

4:05 am: Said Peruvian is now quite close indeed.

4:20 am: Horny Peruvian grabs the back of my head and jams her tongue into my mouth. I can see Rich over her shoulder looking on in absolute horror. I could be mistaken, but I think he dropped his beer.

4:40 am: As I return from the bathroom, Crazy Peruvian (unprompted, I swear Mom, we haven’t said one word to each other at this point) slaps me across the face so hard my glasses go flying across the dance floor. I am so astonished that I double over in laughter.

5:15 am: Rich points out the window. The sun is rising over the Plaza. Ouch.

5:17 am: Bipolar Peruvian grabs my head and whispers in my ear, “I want you to take me home now and make love to me.” I immediately have visions of cleaning up vomit in my bed and searching in vain for my wallet.

5:17:20 am: Rich and I (literally) run for the door, down the stairs, and into a waiting Tico. Not a word is said on the ride home.

Rich and I like to get to know the customers, both because we enjoy doing it and because it keeps them coming back. There were two young guys from the States who started turning up 3 times a week and I finally got a chance to sit down with them and find out their story. “So what do you do here?” “Oh, I’ve been here two years. Mission work. Jehovah’s Witnesses. I work the south hillside.” (After 4 Cuba Libres and two liters of beer.) What the fuck?

I did celebrate (and how…) my 39th birthday here a month ago and even had my little brother visit at the same time.  I had to follow up his week here with a week of kidney dialysis and a liver transplant (only S/80 at the local market).

 

Oh, and I guess we had a Halloween party as well.  I can’t really remember…

 

 

The Peruvian girl that I dated (sort of) for the first week I was in town showed up late one night at the bar. A bit odd since we hadn’t really had much contact since, but I guess we did know a lot of the same people… Rich was out of town and I was on solo duty helping other customers. She had 3 shots of tequila and 5 cigarettes and then insisted that I sit down next to her. After making sure everything was good with the rest of the crowd, I decided to oblige. After a quite awkward intro, she proceeded to tell me that she was 2 months pregnant…and it is mine.

I listened carefully while she insisted that she hadn’t been with anyone else and that this baby was most definitely my doing. I was patient while she explained that she was going to have an abortion and it wasn’t anything I needed to worry about, but that she just needed me to know. I searched the crazy eyes (I’m sure these weren’t her first shots of the night) for motivation while she told me that she had everything taken care of. Then I asked, simply, “Are you sure about this?”

“Yes, I was at the doctor today.”

“Well, that’s strange, because I had a vasectomy TEN YEARS AGO. I don’t have any fucking sperm.”

Silence. More silence.

“I’m sure that it is your baby.”

“No. Es impossible. No tengo esperma.”


“Que??”

Impatient with the pointless back-and-forth, I turned to my friend Emily at the end of the bar who speaks much better Spanish than me. “Will you please explain to her what a ‘vasectomy’ is? She thinks she’s having my baby.”

The next day, just to be absolutely sure, I called Doctor Grover and asked him to meet. “What can I help you with?”

“Well, I had a girl come to me last night and say that she’s pregnant with my…”

“Oh, she’s just fucking with you,” he says flatly, before I can even finish my sentence.

“Well, I KNOW that, but I had a vasectomy ten years ago and want to have a test just to be absolutely sure I’m still good.”

“Good idea, no problem. Wait here.”

After running around the hospital for 5 minutes failing to find a specimen cup, Doctor Grover runs across the street to the lab and returns…with a fucking baby food jar. “Here, put it in here. And make sure you give me every last drop.” And so, here I am, in an empty, starkly white (non-sexy) hospital room bathroom with a baby food jar in my hand. This better have a good goddamn payoff.

The next day, I was handed a piece of paper saying that I have a sperm count of zero. Not one. I made a copy immediately (one to carry with me in my passport, of course), and put the other in my pocket to give to her. But it took several days to actually run into her again. So I had to take some celebratory photos with just a few of my friends:

 

 

Three weeks after giving her the lab report, I got a long and rambling mea culpa email. The only thing I could really make out was something about the doctor confirming she was not actually pregnant, but that she was emotionally pregnant. Feel free to use that one in casual conversation when the opportunity arises.

 

So 4+ months in Cusco and my Spanish is still shit, but I can go into any bar within the city core and everyone knows me by name and tries to start up a conversation. “Heeeyyyy!! Qasi!!” (This is the sweet new spelling of my name – I guess “Casey” doesn’t translate well.) “Trabajas mas a The Lost City??”

“No, motherfucker, I am not making a pizza for you and I have to get the fuck out of here. You people are crazy.”

I have never felt more loved, more appreciated and more wanted than I do now. And I have never been more fucked up. No more trying to wake me up at 5:30 am by waving a Cuba Libre in my face while I’m sleeping. No more free Space Cakes on Tuesdays. I will no longer show you mine if you show me yours.

This is the most warm, the most inspirational place I have ever been. I have absolutely loved being here. But you people are so fucking stupid. There is a limit to my capacity for raging. Apparently, I am the only one.

Physically, I haven’t felt this good (or been this weight) since I was 22. But I feel every one of my 39 years every time things turn ugly. “Oh, fuck me…here we go…” Of course, that doesn’t stop me from anything. I’m only wise enough to recognize the stupidity of that which I am about to do. Not sure that means growth, but I will claim it as such. (Baby steps, eh Mom?)

So, Cusco, there is still The Great American Novel to be written. And, as much as I love you and am so grateful for you embracing me, you motherfuckers are so NOT helpful.

I’m leaving (again) because I need solitude. I need the road less traveled. I need the beach. Frankly, I need you to stop calling me at 11 pm to go out and party. You are trouble. Mom always told me that nothing good ever happens after midnight and I’ve been up to see the sunrise (and not after sleeping) 50 of the last 100 days.

The best times of my life…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“For no word can be written without first having been seen, and before it finds its way to the page it must first have been part of the body, a physical presence one has lived with in the same way one lives with one’s heart, one’s stomach, and one’s brain. Memory, then, not so much as the past contained within us, but as proof of our life in the present. If a man is to be truly present among his surroundings, he must be thinking not of himself, but of what he sees. He must forget himself in order to be there. And from that forgetfulness arises the power of memory. It is a way of living one’s life so that nothing is ever lost.” -Paul Auster, “The Invention of Solitude”

 

3 Responses to “Reflections on Cusco”

  1. Ottke says:

    Classic, too funny.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Party on, Garth.
    -Wayne

  3. Anonymous says:

    The pictures on Facebook are starting to make sense now…sounds like your last two years at ISU.

    best wishes my friend.

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