Most of us aren’t massively rich; financial considerations tend to play a central role in the way that we travel. But the cost of living in poorer countries is notably lower than it is in North America, Europe, or Australia. Living on $1-$2 a day in any country is tragic and unacceptable, but living on that wage in Toronto is a lot different than living on that wage in Sihanoukville, or in Cabanaconde. In Cuzco, things were a bit more expensive than that. My presence, and the presence of travelers like myself, are partly to blame. But nevertheless, $40 a night on a beautiful 2-storey villa was considered a splurge for us, one we could allow considering we’d be away from home for less than 3 weeks. And after meeting Señor Barba, literally “Mister Beard”, we didn’t regret it one bit.
Seriously, how could you not love this little guy?
Anyway, our short stay also allowed us to stock up on absurd amounts of exotic fruit, the quality and magnitude of which is unheard of where I live. Most travelers wind up in Cuzco’s central square. Two adjacent sides boast massive cathedrals and the rest consists of beautiful walkway, dozens of restaurants and cafes, banks, and souvenir shops. Typical tourist stuff, and fairly wide and open.
But you know us by now; we can’t sit still and we need to see what’s out there. It wasn’t long before we wandered away and the groups of foreigners thinned out until they disappeared entirely. In my mind, I assumed I wouldn’t like Cuzco too much. My vision of the way it looked, where it was situated and how populous it was turned out to be way off. I didn’t realize this city boasted a million strong population. The tourist area is tiny compared to what I’ll refer to as the real Cuzco. The one where the locals don’t rely on my dollar to live. That’s where people tend to treat Teresa and I like everyone else, for the most part, obviously.
And man did we wander. The streets were lined with fruit stands, or just laid out on blankets or piled high in baskets. Meat shops and delis were everywhere, as well. The roads were jammed with cars, but there were some alleyways that were just crammed with people and their market goods. We got to see some very interesting finds. All I can say is, at least they utilize every last bit, rather than waste or throw away.
These narrow, kind of smelly alleyways have such a positive nostalgic effect on me. We came across countless similar areas in Asia and they’re ingrained in my mind as something that puts a smile on my face. There are little stalls within these areas where you can pull up an uncomfortable stool and bang your knees against a wooden or steel bench to order some delicious freshly prepared food for super cheap. I’m not gonna lie, these are the kind of places that might make some people’s stomachs turn, and if you’re not used to eating meat or the like in these parts of the world, you could get sick and it won’t be pleasant. I know, I’ve been there, but luckily my body adapted and it never happened since. For food this good, it’s worth it.
And I get to enjoy these delightful finds. It’s not that we can’t afford more. But somehow, most of the places I’ve traveled to so far, the cheapest food tends to be the best, the freshest, and made with the most love. For example, al at a bus station in Arequipa:
It’s pretty obvious how much we like the soups in Peru. This chicken soup is honestly better than a lot of food I’ve paid far more for. The shortness of our trip to Peru gave us a bit more freedom, and a little less to consider in terms of finances. But in many cases, it made little difference because much of what Teresa and I love to do while traveling ends up costing us little to nothing. It’s nice to save up for a splurge in the midst of saving up the trip itself. Teresa and I have an awesome digital change jar that motivates us to save up on the side for that special hotel room or an insane night on the town (again, wait till we get to Singapore!!). This is happening for our upcoming month-long trip to the Philippines, with two overnight layovers in Seoul, South Korea. But for Peru, it didn’t seem necessary. We got more than enough on very little.
Next time, Cuzco as a central jumping point and how we got set for a tour into the lush, vibrant Peruvian Amazon…stay tuned for updates on my upcoming trip to Asia and plans for a visual overhaul of The Traveling Space Opera!