Cultural Confusion in Cusco (or, 10 things that aren’t quite Peruvian)

10. The Peace Boat(s). We saw them wandering around Machu Picchu first, hundreds (or at least, it felt like it) of Japanese tourists, all in white gloves, oversized sunglasses and broad brimmed hats, and with a brightly coloured sticker on their chest with a picture of a cruise ship and the words ‘Peace Boat’. Their ‘group leaders’ were waving panels declaring them to be ‘Boat J-4’ or ‘Boat G-6’, and they were wandering around like slightly lost herds of llamas. Flash forward a day and they’re all over Cusco, in buses, clogging up pavements, blocking key info panels in museums. The most interesting thing about them? Their obviously Peruvian guides were all nattering away fluently in what I presume was Japanese. Makes learning French seem pretty easy.

9. How many falafel places have I come across in nearly five months in South America? None. How many are there in two streets off the main square in Cusco? About twelve. Even more excitingly, there is a Bagel Café, and for a resident of North Manchester still mourning the loss of Crusty Corner, it was a must-try for lunch. Was it authentic? Well, I arrived and was offered a menu in Hebrew, and let’s just say that I don’t think any of my fellow lunchers would be ordering the pepperoni bagel. But my bagel had no hole in! I felt somehow cheated by being given too much bread. Was easier to eat without the filling falling through the middle though…

8. There is a problem with having menus in English. It is that your waiting staff doesn’t always understand what’s being ordered. Cue me attempting to translate ‘choccie monkey shake’ into Spanish…

7. In my search for exciting and varied food in Cusco (getting a little bored of soup and unconvincing pizza by now), I was briefly led astray by the Baghdad Café on the Plaza de Armas. What kind of cuisine does it serve? ‘Tipical Food’. Typical of where, I hear you ask? Peru. There’s guinea pig on the menu, as usual. Not sure if they just pointed blindly at a map for the name, or if they even know where exactly Baghdad is: possibly near Arequipa?

6. In France, I quickly got into the habit of speaking Franglais at work, talking about bookings and check-in’s and transfers. Here in Peru, there’s ‘estorage’ (Spanish speakers have problems with words beginning with ‘s’), ‘Snack’ (describing a café that serves butties, coffee, cake and juices) and ‘trekking’. But my biggest dilemma? Is it pronounced WiFi or WeeFee? Oh, and the peanut chocolate bar that you might think was Sublime? Sub-lee-may…

5. Lonely Planet mentions a coffee shop in central Cusco with traditional roasted coffee and staff who chat to regular customers. The coffee (served in what was effectively a large glass tankard) was pretty good, but the only conversation I overheard was the elderly lady on the next table sending her chocolate back because ‘It should be drunk hot, and this is tepid!’ Well, if you had it when it arrived at your table, judging from the steam coming off it, you’d probably burn the roof off your mouth, love…

4. The Peruvians appear to be unsure as to whether to be proud of their national products or not. Some shops advertise ‘100% Peruvian products’. Others are selling Chinese minibuses, Bolivian salteñas, US wellies’. When I turned down the first insect repellent offered as too expensive, another was produced, literally from under the counter, and offered for half of the price. What’s the difference, I enquired. Oh, nothing, I was told, it’s just that this one’s Peruvian…

3. When your lasagne has broccoli, carrot and peas in it, and you overhear the group behind being reassured that its vegetables aren’t cooked in oil, you begin to wonder what exactly it is, and what an Italian would do if they saw it: laugh, start weeping uncontrollably or throw the plate at the wall?

2. The Natural History museum contains some rather gruesome specimens of various typical animals and plants: sloths, monkeys, snakes, hummingbirds, turtles, pumas, ocelots… and peacocks. Yes, that well-known South American bird…

1. Thousands of people swarm to Machu Picchu every day. So, if you’re travelling alone, what’s the odds of coming across someone from your home town. What’s the likelihood of seeing someone in a Bury FC shirt, that internationally know and renowned team from the bottom English league. Well, from my experience, there’s a pretty good chance of it happening, actually.


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