Travel days suck. I'm always thinking, "I'll get there at x-o'clock, that'll give me plenty of time to do stuff!" But after rolling up out of a blissful airport slumber with world travelers shifting their eyes from the departure screen above you with a quick glance your way and then back, the day's probably not going to be all that productive.
I did the zombie shuffle around the concourse and made my way to the ticket counter to check in and free myself of my suitcase-slash-pillow. Then I sort of broke my no-American-food rule by getting some Dunkin' Donuts. Although, as I explained to myself, technically an airport is some sort of non-national free zone, right? To make it more exotic and non-yankee, I got a donut that was colored patriotically like the Peruvian flag - red/white/red. If only every flag were so delicious - peace would flow through the Earth like creamy filling into my fat mouth!
You know how on TV when people come out of a courthouse and the reporters swarm over and throw microphones in the people's faces and shout a bunch of questions? That's how it seemed when I arrived at the Cusco airport later that morning. taxi?taxi?train?macchupichu?taxi?macchupichu?taxi?taxi?... AAAAAHHH!!! I could not get my bearings at all. The gauntlet of "helpful folks" were pavlovianilly conditioned to have a confused face of a tourist trigger them into a mercantile frenzy. What made it worse was I didn't even know what I was looking for. I literally had no post-airplane plan, besides getting to the hotel in some vague way. So I kept wandering back and forth in baffled pirouettes trying to escape the swarm of unbeatable offers and to get a second to think.
Eventually some lady exerted a psychic power that no one else had and drew me into her web. Of course she was extremely helpful. HELPFUL. Her goal was to get me to commit to her Macchu Pichu package travel deal. But she settled for me taking her business card and having me take a cab that her buddy drove. As I got in the cab, uncertain how I was going to get screwed precisely, I realized that I am a NOOB at traveling. I know how to ignore city bums, but the tourist piranha are a new adversary.
Thankfully I got to the hotel fine without being extorted or worse. In hindsight I wondered - what if I was in a more dangerous country? It seemed so easy for that lady to shepherd me into her friend's cab. What if the goal was more than cab fare - like being taken hostage? That does happen in places, where they'll ransom you to your family. I don't think ever in Cusco - but it's something I need to consider carefully before visiting more sketchy places.
The hotel is great - thank you again, Tripadvisor.com - and I pretty much said "Hola" and started snoring simultaneously, and slept most of the day.
At night, I got up and decided to go get some dinner. One huge perk of this hotel (The Torre Dorada) is that they'll drive you to and from the town center any time you want. So they recommended a restaurant and off we went.
The main square was closed to traffic because of some event that I still don't know what it was. But the car dropped me off along with this other guy who was going to lead me to the restaurant. This little old guy could move! I kept thinking that I was glad that he wasn't TRYING to lose me. He kept looking back to check that I was there. At one point he gestured to the middle of the square and said "This is where they fight." What? It was too loud and he was moving to fast for me to ask him to explain. I assumed he must mean a ceremonial fight as part of the mysterious event we were in the middle of. But?
As we went, the crowd got thicker and thicker. It was dark out but everything was lit by the Mysterious Event. Fireworks were going off. People were cheering about something. All the crowd was looking somewhere off to my right but I couldn't follow their eyes without losing the little guy bobbing and weaving in front of me. Gradually we went from dodging people, to brushing against them, to pushing through them, to being completely engulfed in a crush of people.
People were squished together and forces coming from all angles. Faces started to look worried. I definitely started to worry. There was a good possibility that a tragedy was about to happen, as I felt the crowd pushing me away from my legs. We had got caught in a log jam, where some people were trying to push into the center of the square toward the Mysterious Event, and others, like me and the little guy who I'd lost by now, were trying to cross that stream. There were a few surges where the tide was taking me way off course.
I looked at all the faces crushing me and being crushed. Incas! I'm going to be trampled by Incas! (Sorry, that just sounded funny to me.) But really, I felt very lucky compared to everyone else that I was pretty tall. I was glad they were Incas and not Vikings.
I think it was my relative height that allowed my guide to find me as we were spat out of the Inca soup. He got me to the restaurant and pointed to where we had started, across the square engorged by the Still Mysterious Event. "Pickup. Over there." And then he magically blended back into the mosh pit.
Dinner was awesome, and when they called the hotel for me to arrange my rescue, cooler heads prevailed and they got me straight from the restaurant, away from the Mysterious Event I never knew anything about but almost paid for WITH MY LIFE. (dun dun dunnnnnn)