Christmas in Cusco

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This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, December 24, 2003 was originally posted on December 25, 2003.

DAY 67: I woke up to the sound of firecrackers in the streets early in the morning — the kids had been setting them off all night.  For me, the sounds of Christmas morning sounded more like the sounds of the Fourth of July.

“MERRY CHRISTMAS,” Lara greeted me in our hostel.  She surprised me with a gift, a Quechan carved pen with the figure of a head on it.  “It was absolutely the ugliest one I could find,” she said with a smile.  My first Christmas away from family was turning alright.

The Plaza das Armas was completely different on Christmas morning — all the vendors and chaotic crowds had disappeared overnight, and the streets were spotless.  This was probably to clear the way for the parade that came out of the cathedral, went around the plaza and down the main street to the other side of town.

We followed the traditional Andean dancers along with all the other camera-toting tourists, taking far more pictures than probably needed.  Singers chanted as a guy strung a guitar.  People in masks of all ages jumped up and down to the rhythm, some holding up baby dolls, which I assumed signified the baby Jesus.  Some wore ski masks, some wore the masks of animal heads, but they all had spinning noisemakers that they would use after every dance (picture above) before moving on to the next block. 

Some dancers got really into it, howling and yelping, while others — particularly the younger children — looked as if they had just been forced into it, the way I’d been forced to do Christmas pageants as a kid.  I figured at least none of them had to be Joseph; boys make fun of the guy who plays Joseph because, for Christ’s sake, he has to stand next to “eww, that girl who’s playing Mary.”


LARA’S BROTHER HAD BEEN IN CUSCO before, and being a building surveyor, a lot of his photos were of the interesting trivial bits about buildings that most others couldn’t care less about.  Lara remembered that one of these photos was that of an Incan wall in the city with massive blocks so big that he had to get his wife to pose next to it — unenthusiastically — to show the scale of things.  Despite this look, Lara’s brother raved about the wall and told Lara to make a point to check it out.

Seeing as we had all day to kill, we went off on a mission to find the wall using the Lonely Planet map and the occasional “You Are Here” maps in the city.  We searched a while under the warming sun, passed other Incan walls with small stones — none with the “people-sized” blocks that Lara had remembered.  A hotel concierge directed us to the wall, and seeing how it didn’t live up to all the hype, it was clear why Lara’s sister-in-law had such a bored look on her face.


AFTER DOING SOME BLOG DUTIES, I met up with Lara at our usual pub for a pre-dinner cocktail before heading over to Norton Rat’s pub to meet Adam and Tony for an early Christmas dinner.  We were sitting at a table on the balcony overlooking the plaza when I noticed a familiar face nearby.  “Hey, I know you from the jungle,” I said.  It was Simion from my Amazon trip, alongside Axel and Sue who had also decided to have Christmas in Cusco, probably for the same poetic alliteration.  It was great that a place like Cusco could bring old friends together for the holidays.

Before dinner was served, I gave Christmas gifts to my dinner companions.  To Lara I gave a cheesy woven water bottle holder for her trek on the Inca trail — we had joked about their cheesiness before and I figured it would be a nice kitschy gift.  I gave Tony and Adam a bag of goodies, which caught them off guard because they had nothing to reciprocate.  “It’s okay, it’s just your emergency salami,” I told them.  I also threw in a deck of cards. 

Our “Christmas feast” consisted of a plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing and for everyone except Lara, mixed vegetables.  “I don’t do green,” she said.  She had specifically asked the waitress not to give her any vegetables, something that I might consider for subsequent meals.

“Wow, you have the diet I wish I had,” Adam said.

Again, in front of starving people we couldn’t finish our meals and had them sent away — I did my trick of swirling my food around again, hiding my leftover stuffing under my leftover mashed potatoes.  Of course, there was always room for dessert, especially when it was ice cream over cake.  We had dessert and talked about topics from White Castle hamburgers to Tarantino movies to the strange hidden laws in our respective homes.  For example, in a small island of the coast of Guernsey, it is legal to beat your wife — but only between 6 and 7 in the morning.


ADAM AND TONY WENT OFF to their hotel room for their ultimate Christmas treat: vegging out with Oreos and watching The Matrix on cable.  Lara and I went back to Cross Keys to make friends, and soon we befriended Simon and Rich, a couple from the U.K. who were traveling in the “short” limited time of just three weeks (you working-class Americans can cry now), splurging on every moment of it with expensive hotels and fancy restaurants (you can cry again now). 

“We skip right to the ‘high end’ listings in the guidebook,” Rich said.  Not a bad way to live, if you can afford it I thought.  (No wait, I’m crying now.)

Despite being on the other end of the price spectrum, Simon and Rich were down-to-earth guys who were just as bad at pool as we were, making them great company.  Lara and Simon reminisced about their travels in Cambodia while I told Rich around places to go at night for his upcoming trip to New York.

Lara started feeling sick — we blamed the altitude again — and called it a night, leaving Simon, Rich and I to make even more friends.  We met another young couple, Georgie from London and Dustin from Boston.  The two of them were in a four-month overland tour of South America, traveling in a group of about a dozen people who were all at Mama America, a disco club across the plaza.  Rich and Simon had to call it a night to wake for their early train to Machu Picchu, so I joined my newest friends to meet their group. 

MAMA AMERICA WAS PACKED with locals and tourists away from home for the holidays.  The DJ spun familiar “generic” American club standards, from Dr. Dre to J.Lo, as people danced and drank the night away.  Dustin, who I gathered had only just graduated high school, was glad to chat it up with a fellow American for a change since everyone in his group was British.  Sometimes it’s good to travel independently, sometimes with a group — especially when your guide is in good with the bartender and can get free drinks for everyone.  Dustin and I talked over these free drinks about travel and how amazing it is to speak Spanish when you finally can.

As if being in the company of new friends wasn’t good enough, I bumped into old friends —  Sue and Simion from the Amazon trip — which was a great thing being away from my family on Christmas.  I partied the night away with my surrogate South American family of backpackers until Christmas Night became The Day After Christmas. 

“Silent Night” it was not, but “oh what fun” it was.






Next entry: Catch Him If You Can

Previous entry: Horses for Hangovers




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Comments for “Christmas in Cusco”

  • “...the way I’d been forced to do Christmas pageants as a kid.” - c’mon guys, do it for the FAST…. LOL

    “For example, in a small island of the coast of Guernsey, it is legal to beat your wife—but only between 6 and 7 in the morning.” - where do i sign up?  HAHAHA… really… just kidding…

    “...from Dr. Dre to J.Lo…” - where’s 50 centavos at?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/26  at  12:18 AM


  • first and second grin

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/26  at  12:19 AM


  • while we’re quoting…

    “...travelling in the “short” limited time of just three weeks ...”

    make that “SUPER short” limited time of just TWO weeks. i AM crying!

    sounds like you had a GREAT christmas!

    (i’m jealous)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/26  at  01:49 AM


  • Hey Erik

    Merry Christmas from Australia. Actually I was on the plane Christmas day and I thought of you as I was filling in my quarentine form. They asked if I had been in South America in the last week and I remembered you. Glad you met up with friends.

    Posted by Neven  on  12/26  at  02:51 AM


  • Hey Erik

    Merry Christmas from Australia. Actually I was on the plane Christmas day and I thought of you as I was filling in my quarentine form. They asked if I had been in South America in the last week and I remembered you. Glad you met up with friends.

    Posted by Neven  on  12/26  at  02:51 AM


  • Merry Xmas Mr. E. If you were in my town, you sure would have heard these fire crackers go off, after the midnight mass. Glad you met friends and had a feast. 8-)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/26  at  03:44 PM


  • Dusty:  Thanks!  Any holidays over there by the time I get there in India?

    Neven:  Merry Xmas to you too…pass the world about my blog around Oz!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/26  at  03:59 PM


  • That club was hoppin’

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/26  at  11:36 PM


  • that was a club? it looked like a closet! (^_^)


    “Party on Wayne!”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/27  at  01:07 AM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


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