South AmericaTravel Writings

No Gracias

Updated: Nov 04, 2023 12:00
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December 15, 2006

No Gracias

“No Gracias,” becomes a sort of mantra as you wander Cuzco’s beautiful cobblestone streets, navigating through finger-puppet selling five year olds and elderly women slanging everything from bracelets to toothbrushes. These things you take in stride because you’re in Peru and you understand that people have to hustle to put food in their mouths, but when you reach “Gringo Alley” you almost wretch at the vampire like way in which locals try to get your plata (literally translates to silver). People stand outside the restaurants and shops of this narrow street like dozens of carnival barkers trying to get you to see the sideshow, and if they aren’t saying, “My friend, good food here inside,”they’re hissing, “Coca-eena. Marijuana. What would you like?” Even if Cuzco does have more hustlers than pre-Giuliani New York (who apparently did such a good job that even my spellchecker recognizes his name), all of it is worth enduring just to be present in such a magnificent city.

***This is my favorite photo I’ve ever taken. It’s election day in Cuzco, notice the riot police in the background. This kid was selling finger puppets. I gave him a couple of Solas to let me take his photo***

***This is a peasent family in traditional clothing***

Pre-colonial Cuzco was the seat of the Inca Empire and it’s because of this that, once the Spanish finally conquered the city, they made sure to demonstrate the power (and wealth) of their god by building here some of South America’s most impressive and elaborate churches. Many people arrive thinking that it’s just the last big shitty city before reaching Machu Pichu, only to be absolutely floored by how truly lovely the place is. I arrived absolutely floored by altitude sickness, but after a few cups of coca leave tea and about a day of taking it easy, I felt much better.

***Beautiful Cuzco***

I’ve done a decent amount of traveling in my life and what’s cool is that almost everywhere I go, I run into someone I know. Just to name a few places; I’ve bumped into people in: Belfast, Barcelona, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, New York, Montreal and Washington DC. So I wasn’t surprised at all when on my second day in town I ran into a girl I went to UC Santa Cruz with. Back in college Rose and I didn’t actually know each other, but we’d seen each other around enough that when I ran into her in Cuzco it was like, “Hey didn’t you go to Santa Cruz?” Rose was staying at the same hostel/hotel as me so the morning I ran into her; she and I went and got some breakfast. Since we shared a similar past and knew a lot of the same people it became more like catching up with an old friend, than getting to know a new acquaintance. She was a bit bummed out because she had just left Buenos Aires after living there for eight months and she’d left behind someone she’d fallen in love with. I on the other hand was fucking elated because I found out that day that Krista had bought her ticket to come and meet me in BA. Doesn’t it seem so far that all things in these blogs revolve around that fucking city? Maybe I should call these blogs 'œThe Buenos Aires Chronicles'.

Funnily, right after breakfast I ran into Rod, a guy I recognized from my neighborhood in San Francisco. He was in Cuzco for the same reason everyone was, to go to Machu Pichu and he was gonna be on the same train as me the following day. While I didn’t end up sitting by Rod on the train, I did end up sitting next to an American named Mike who was still drunk from the night before. Mike was one of those guys who, when he drank, had very very poor decision making skills, which of course meant that he had great stories.

Apparently, after drinking at the bar for a few hours the night before, he’d gone back to his hotel only to find it locked. When no one answered the bell, Mike decided that he should break in so that he could get some sleep before the train. 'œSo there I was scaling the wall of my hotel,' he told me, 'œwhen all of a sudden there were these two local guys pulling at my legs. So I started kicking at them and ended up putting my foot through one of the windows. And then once I got down, I realized they were trying to help boost me up, because they asked me for some change.' Only in Cuzco would someone hit you up for change after randomly trying to help you break into a hotel. The dude had me practically dry heaving from laughter throughout the entire train ride, but his shining moment was when the stewardess asked the girl sitting with us if she’d like a beer and he answered, in Spanish, that she can’t drink because every time she does she cries a lot.

But yes, Machu Pichu, that’s what you really wanna hear about isn’t it? I was a little worried that because it was so hyped, I’d be kinda let down. I mean, it’s always been on my list of things to do before I die, falling somewhere in between singing a Danzig song at karaoke (check that one off my list) and having a threesome with two beautiful women (still not accomplished). Put quite simply, Machu Pichu is world of superlatives and I don’t think I can properly describe it. I’ll just say this, I am really glad I went. Those Incas really didn’t fuck around.

***Machu Pichu***

After Machu Pichu, I spent a few more days dicking around in Cuzco, drinking beer, eating well (Peru is very cheap for Americans), reading, hanging in the Plaza de Armas and not doing a single touristy thing. It’s nice sometimes just live a normal life when you’re traveling, instead of running from one attraction to the next. The day I left Cuzco I had a seven hour layover in Lima before my flight to Buenos Aires so I decided that I’d spend some time downtown at some museums. Although I saw some cool things, like the catacombs underneath the Church of San Francisco, the one thing that will always stick with me about that day was my cab ride into the city. Jesus Christ, that cab driver did shit I wouldn’t have even done in Mario Kart! It was terrifying. I kept saying to myself, 'œPlease don’t let me die in the back of a cab in Lima.' But as you can tell, I survived Lima and back at the airport I had a hearty Thanksgiving dinner of Chicken McNuggets and coca-cola. And finally, after two weeks on the road, I was on my way to Buenos Aires.

***What has two thumbs and loves Machu Pichu? THIS GUY!***
This Guy

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.