I did not entirely enjoy our time in Peru. For the most part, I found it dirty and smelly in the most offensive way possible and having to worry constantly about the quality of food and drink really stressed me out. People are somewhat friendly but mostly because they are trying to sell food or a tour or souvenirs, with noted exceptions of course. I found myself particularly uncomfortable in Cusco. The second place we stayed, where all 4 of us were together, was particularly offensive. It was in a neighbourhood about a 15 minute walk away (in the wrong direction) from the Plaza des Armes in a small, traditional quinta. From the dirty street that stank overwhelmingly of dog feces and urine, we entered a nondescript door that lead to a series of little alleys with doors, all leading to stairwells and apartments. Our apartment was in the back (past even more more dog crap and who knows what else) and had absolutely no ventilation to the outside, smelled horribly and had quite a bit of mould, especially on the ceiling and walls in the main bedroom. It was noisy at night because of the rain on the roof and we could hear everything from our upstairs neighbours, who were thankfully pretty quiet.
We do most of our own cooking, but I’ve worried constantly about the quality of the food that’s available and even more so on the occasions when we’ve needed or chosen to eat out. You can’t do anything with the water from the tap here and boiling the water isn’t sufficient because of the high altitude. I don’t do very well with illness, especially gastro related illness, so having this concern in the back of my head constantly was really stressful for me.
In the end, on the last night in Cusco I was feeling so stressed and uncomfortable that I booked a hotel in the San Blas neighborhood and Caleb and I left. Robin opted to stay in our original accommodations with Kieran as he wasn’t feeling well and felt that staying put would be easier than packing everything up and moving. It was such a relief to take a nice, hot shower in a clean bathroom and sleep in a clean room with nice beds. The morning found both Caleb and I in much better moods, after enjoying the breakfast that was included with our room. I’m not a high maintenance traveler and don’t mind a bit of discomfort but when I’ve reached my limit, I put my foot down. I’m grateful for Robin’s understanding and accommodating me when this happens. It’s comforting knowing that when enough is enough, I will be able to do what I need to do to keep going. It’s pretty normal for me when we are traveling to get uncomfortable at some point and we were chatting about this in hindsight yesterday (it happened a few days ago now) and Robin pointed out that so far in a month and a half of travel, I haven’t freaked out on him or had a meltdown. In the past, when I get uncomfortable or stressed I have tended to freak out and pick a fight, rather than actually talking about what’s bothering me and problem solving. This has been a big area of personal growth for me on this trip!
Thankfully moving back to the Sacred Valley has been great and we are staying in an awesome cottage in Calca on the Urubamba river. I’m glad that I’ll be able to comfortably enjoy the last few days of our visit to Peru and that the discomfort of our time in Cusco hasn’t tainted the entire experience for me.
I think the things I’ve learned through this experience are to research the area where we are planning to stay more thoroughly and be sure that it’s the kind of place we’ll be comfortable – a safe neighbourhood, relatively close to the things we want to see and do and probably an area that attracts other tourists. For other travelers visiting Cusco, I don’t there’s any reason to be deterred from visiting but if I were doing it again, I would book a hotel or hostel rather than an Airbnb and I would book at least one tour that would give an overview of all the highlights in Cusco. Then I’d go back and visit any that we were really interested in more thoroughly. The way it worked out, I ended up feeling like we missed some things that would have been interesting and wasted time on other things that we could have easily skipped.
I know that not all of us are going to love every place that we visit and that’s natural given that we’re going to 46 countries! There are so many things that have influenced my experience in Peru and I truly believe that under different circumstances, I may have loved it as much as others do and have. Perhaps one day we will return with open minds and hearts and I will find a different perspective.