July 17, 2007
This morning I took a bus to Cusco. The bus originated back in Puno, and at least half the passengers were tourists. Juliaca doesn't get tourists for obvious reasons. The ride took most of the day and passed through some pretty empty high altitude territory.
It was strange walking around Cusco again. I last was there in October, 2005, about one year and nine months ago, at the beginning of my trip. I had forgotten how nice Cusco was, with buildings that actually had completed roofs and paint, colonial architecture everywhere, two huge cathedrals in the central plaza, and no garbage in the streets. The center of the city was full of upscale restaurants, jewelry shops, and friendly police officers.
On the other hand, I had also forgotten how many tourists Cusco has. In the center of the city, tourists easily outnumber the locals. Many of them walk around in large guided groups, while others take along the whole family. They bring in a lot of money to Peru, but they also drive the prices up in the city and attract a multitude of thieves. It's not even possible to sit on a park bench for five minutes without ten different people coming up to you and trying to sell you something. Walking around is even worse. People constantly attempt their sales pitches on me: "My friend, come eat at my restaurant, only fifteen soles" (never mind that you can get a meal for two soles at many places), "Painting my friend?" "Finger puppets my friend?" "Massage my friend?" "Weed my friend?" (before shaving), "Charlie my friend?" (after shaving).The sheer amount of these annoying types is greater in Cusco than anywhere I've ever been, and this is only due to get worse now that Machu Picchu has been named one of the new seven wonders of the world, and Cusco is on the radar of high-end tourists around the world. Still, for better or worse, Cusco now is the center of tourism in Peru because it once was the center of the Inca empire, a fact that the Peruvians are quite proud of and tourists come here to experience.