I’ve travelled in Cusco & Quito / Both cities are really quite neat-o / But they’re so frickin’ high / That I’m not going to lie: / Each night I got bugger all sleep-o
At 3,400m above sea level, Cusco is higher than any ski-resort on Earth (apart from one insane place in China that’s at four and a half thousand metres but I think only snow-boarding goats use that). Now, I’m not the most enthusiastic of skiers but I always thought that was because of:
a) crazy grizzled old white guys in lurid all-in-ones bombing past me and my kids at 90 mph
b) dreadful selection of shops selling only expensive watches, coats made of dead animals and cheese that you should only ever eat melted, when drunk
c) you either have to ski or not-ski and, when I’m in a ski-resort, I can’t work out which I hate the most.
But after a couple of weeks in the mountains of Peru I think I’ve discovered the main reason I hate skiing: I’m only allergic to altitude, already! The total amount of sleep achieved over the past 15 days averages about 4 hours/night and that includes time taken to piddle and return. So I’m completely screwed, mentally and physically, but STILL! This is great news!
Because, you see, I’m white and from the aspirational moneyed class and so skiing ain’t going to stop. It’s what we do. I will find myself en piste, make no mistake, for the foreseeable future. My husband loves it, my kids love it (those that have worked out what it actually is) and therefore it’ll be a week-per-year* forever: CLANG! go the ski-lifts! SHUSS! go the decrepit white guys! DUNK! goes the suspiciously crispy nugget of bread into the rubbery cheese! All this will soon be music to my ears, because all I need to do now is find a ski-resort at sea-level and I’m pretty sure I’m going to be yodelling with joy on black runs like all the others.
Meanwhile, here I am, staring at the ceiling in Cusco. At first, I hardly minded. This is such a beautiful city. It reminds me of Antigua in Guatemala but it’s much bigger and more vibrant and totally liveable (as long as you don’t mind becoming an instant and permanent insomniac). We visited the San Pedro market, the crazy Tesco Extra-sized bazaar where everyone gets their daily bread and a whole load of other weird things besides. We bumped into our guide Christo’s family nearby who were scurrying home for the start of the Easter feasting celebrations and were inspired – by the injection of local camaraderie – to try some local produce.
The bread was awesome but my favourite purchase was a stash of ‘mountaineers’ favourite’ coca tea to alleviate the effects of altitude and to generally make me feel like the playa I know I once was (the actual cocaine content of coca tea is about 0.00001% but when you’re on what is effectively a 6-month-long school trip, you get your kicks where you can).
We also climbed up the hill behind our hotel to the Christo Blanco statue that looks like a wannabe Rio de Janeiro and then continued onto the Incan ruins of Sacsayhuaman just beyond, the remains of a temple complex built 500 years ago and then plundered ever since for building materials, like some super-cool fuck-off Wickes warehouse. It’s another amazing example of the patience and skill of Incan stonemasons, whose dedication to rock-Tetris is impressive to behold, especially when they then had to suffer the ignominy of the ancient equivalent of Ed kicking apart John’s slavishly-constructed Lego building. A special bonus was the field of llamas nearby, including a 5 day-old caramel-coloured cutie who damn near took up the top spot in the Wandering Knights World Cup of Cute Non-Humans. NEARLY.
Moving onto our 13th country involved spending Easter on a plane with only a Toblerone for sustenance. Ecuador’s capital – inconveniently – happens to also be really bloody high. It’s Jamie’s birthday on our first day here and we celebrate in time-honoured fashion with shrunken heads, fake mummified remains and science experiments (don’t ever let it be said I don’t know how to throw a kids’ party). The Equator museum is 45 minutes drive from Quito and it’s one of the oddest places I’ve ever been. They’ve essentially realised quite early on that building a tourist attraction around a red line on a map is a bit limiting so they’ve padded it out with some cultural historical stuff so there’s a reason to come here rather than ANYWHERE ELSE ON THE RED LINE INSTEAD.
It was pretty fun, to be fair. We had a demonstration of the Coriolis effect where water goes in different directions down a moveable brass sink-hole depending on which side of the line you’re on. It almost works, almost in impressive fashion. The second experiment involved Jamie trying and failing to walk down the Equator with her arms out and her eyes shut: the opposing forces pull you off balance. It was a bit like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey but there was no tail and the donkey was a slightly bored Ecuadorean tour guide. Gamely, I tried too, and couldn’t even stand still on the bloody line, let alone walk on it, but then I was ga-ga from sleep deprivation and nursing a big fat cold – so TAKE THAT and write a report on it OSSIFER.
There was also an actual original Incan hut in the grounds of the museum, constructed by a lady in the late 1800s and lived in until a few decades ago when she fenced her back yard for the purposes of this bizarro-fest museum. She had a very millennial open-plan kitchen/living room/ dining room set-up, which included real-live guinea pigs so we could play the hilarious Andean game of laughing at how few days they had left to live. HO HO HO!
Back in reality and Quito city centre kindly threw a military parade for JJ’s 12th, which was notable for the most excellent socks worn by all the horses. And speaking of animal knitwear, somewhere in amongst all of this, we met up with Granny Knight who’d flown out to join us for the final week of our trip, prompting big excitement from the children who’ve only met complete strangers with strange accents for the past 6 months. So much excitement, in fact, that the earth actually moved that evening, when a 4.3 on the Richter Scale tremor gave us a proper shaking around bedtime. My headboard hasn’t rattled so hard in years. It only lasted about 10 seconds but as we all know, it’s not the duration that counts.
Postscript – Alice asked about the name of this blog post and so I streamed it on iTunes over lunch: can I just recommend you don’t stream the original edit of Afroman at lunch in front of your kids and your mother-in-law.
* Before I get messages can I state for the record that I’m foregrounding my awareness of my privileged position, socio-economically, in order to highlight the absurdity – as I see it – of one of the customary leisure activities of my socio-economic class. This in no way means I’m being ungrateful for the advantages conferred by my socio-economic position, merely that I think skiing really sucks.