Story by Meghan O’Connor and Haley Houseman
Photos by Haley Houseman
M: Before I went to Cuzco, my knowledge of the town could probably have been summed up in a handful of quotes from The Emperor’s New Groove. Basically, Peru was a complete enigma to us.
H: We arrived in Cusco and sat on a sidewalk to [gulp] take out our maps and orient ourselves. A McDonald’s billboard reading, “Welcome to Cusco!” dominated the skyline, and we realized that Cusco might not be Inca ruins and mystery. We hadn’t slept in thirty-six hours, and our attention spans were exponentially decreasing. I collapsed with slight altitude sickness and exhaustion almost immediately upon arriving at our hostel, Loki, but not before we were subjected to the attention of our hostel bartender, one of the many people we came to understand are stranded in Cusco.
M: The infamous bartender tried to get me to guess where he’s from, even though all I really want to do is sleep. He said he is from Israel and waiting for a job making “real money,” and then asked me if I want something called a Blood Bomb. We saw him on and off throughout the week, and our interactions plummeted from friendly and too flirty (on his part), to passive-aggressive and pouty (also on his part).
H: Our hostel was interesting, a sort of borderline wasteland. You could pass months working for free room and board because you like to party or are killing time, or maybe just because you’re poor. Nathan was none of those things. A Canadian wanderer, he claimed he was denied at the U.S. border because he told border control that he was “on a spiritual journey.” He worked as a bartender at Loki as well, cleaning up other people’s messes even when he was not on the clock. I met him at yoga, which consisted of him alone in the courtyard. I asked to join him, and he simply told me to “freestyle.”
M: Sometimes we haunted Loki, watching people come and go, drinking endless cups of tea. One conversation ran into another. A man sitting next to me mentioned he was headed to Buenos Aires by bus that night – fifty hours by bus. Another guy, Bart, had been in South America for nearly a year, traveling by bus, taking a canoe down the Amazon river. He had been attacked by pirates multiple times and when he lost everything, he said he “walked back to civilization.” Bart eventually located a Dutch Embassy and met up with his sister to get a new passport and some shoes. Meghan and I were headed to Machu Picchu the next day and were hiking six hours to our hostel there–and we thought we were roughing it.
H: Loki colored our whole time in Cuzco. Our last night, with just enough money for the cab out of Cuzco and a meal, we decided we needed a drink instead. Nathan asked if we would start working at Loki. We looked at each other in terror and chugged. Four hours later, we each have a Chilean boy attempting to seduce us, a man in a Cookie Monster suit dancing to Rihanna… and finally, the airport taxi arrived to take us home.
This story appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Baedeker.