Cusco: once the capital of the Incan Empire, today the foremost archaeological site in the Americas and the oldest continually inhabited city. It may be better known by most my age as the setting for the movie, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” For those of us in Ollanta, Cusco is best known as a place to buy items such as nuts and coffee, for having internet good enough to video skype on and for its bustling night life. A weekend in Cusco always spits you out a little bit hungover, a lot poorer, laden down with goodies, and grateful for the tranquil life of Ollanta.
I headed into Cusco on Friday with my host family to see my sister, Daniella, dance in a competition. She’s only been dancing for 2 years but it’s her passion and she’s darn good at it. She danced a traditional dance called the “marinera” with more grace and ease than I could ever hope to have. The marinera is a traditional romantic Peruvian dance filled with spinning and fancy footwork that supposedly reenacts a courtship between the couple. The woman typically has a handkerchief that she uses as a prop and she is always barefoot. The man wears a costume that somewhat resembles that of a cowboy. This competition featured marinera bailarinas from ages 3 to 20.
After the dance we went to the Cusco house that my family owns. Stylish and situated on the hillside above the university, all of the kids live there as one big, happy family (I’m sure that’s not always true seeing as they are siblings but they do get along pretty well). We had some dinner and then Ruth convinced me to go out on the town with her and her friends. We went out to some bars in the u district and had a grand old time. It was fun getting to some places off the gringo trail and really feeling like I was exploring some secret part of Cusco I never would have found on my own. However, after 6 hours of trying to understand and formulate spanish sentences I could feel my brain melting. Luckily, Ruth and her friends are studying english and after they had a few drinks their fear of speaking english with me seemed to wear off and the last hour was spent speaking a mixture. I swear I could feel my brain relaxing.
The next morning I woke up early to run some errands and then met up with some fellow volunteers to head to a good old fashioned south american football game, Lima vs Cusco. We arrived early and were even interviewed by the local TV station! Well, interviewed might be an exaggeration. Someone in Ollanta saw us on TV but it was just all of us blowing kisses at the camera (they asked us to, not our idea!) We weren’t allowed to bring anything into the stadium that could act as a projectile or weapon which included everything from bottles to paper to belts. There were probably 200 police officers in the stadium, completely decked out in riot gear. It wasn’t the best soccer I’ve ever seen but that was mostly due to the typical south american style of play in which everyone wants to be the big star. We saw 2 fights and there was a small riot at the end but with that many police around it was pretty hard for anything to get out of hand.
After the game, we found a hostel for s/.10 ($4) a night and used it as a base for a night of dancing in Cusco. Jesus, John’s host brother, knew the bouncer at a club called Mythology so we got in for free and danced the night away. The whole first hour was salsa music and this nice (and very patient) Peruvian man insisted on dragging me onto the floor time and time again. He was an incredible salsa dancer (I saw him dancing with other, more talented ladies) and a wonderful teacher as well. At first, I felt like an awkward wooden human but he kept encouraging me and patiently instructing and by the end I think we may have looked like we were dancing something salsa-esque! After the salsa came the techno remixes of terrible american pop songs and those, now those, I can dance to. And dance we did. Until our legs were sore, the morning young and the need for sublimes (delicious and very addictive chocolate bars) too strong to stay in the club any longer.