The tourism around Cuzco is amazing. I really cannot question why 2 million tourists visit the area each year. I am a little surprised that there are not more tourists, though I do not think I saw the high season. However, we were in this great city for a month, the tourism definitely did not take up all that time. Thus, second installment of living in Cuzco…
Life in Cuzco
One strategy for Aaron and I to stretch our money, and thus extend the amount of time we can afford to stay in South America :), is to stay in certain cities for a couple weeks and work in a hostel. This is seriously a good way to majorly cut back on expenses, occupy yourself in the evenings, and meet some wonderful people (local and traveller, alike).
We knew that we would want to spend some time in Cuzco to be able to fully explore the archaeological splendors in the area, so our only dilemma was finding a hostel to work in. We did some research on the internet to see which hostels looked nice and had all the amenities that we desired. The actual dilemma, however, is finding the right hostel atmosphere, something the internet cannot tell you. We had decided on Pariwana Hostel before arriving to Cuzco. Upon arriving we promptly checked in and made our inquiry. There are a zillion hostels in Cuzco, but Pariwana happens to be located within a high concentration of hostels. Pariwana is a really nice hostel. There are lots of rooms, so you never have a packed dorm; the beds are amazingly comfortable, with duvet and two pillows; they have a full kitchen for guest use; they have a computer room with six or so computers; a movie room FILLED WITH lounge chairs and PILLOWS!, as well as a large selection of movies; a courtyard area with tables, bean bag chairs, and ping pong table; they have hot water available 24/7 for tea or coffee; there is a bar and full food menu; AND lots of bathrooms that actually offer privacy and really good shower pressure. I really cannot say enough about the comforts of Pariwana. After asking about positions at the bar, we were informed that there was only one bar position and one reception position. Neither of us were interested in working reception. Our quest for the right hostel continued. We decided to go about and start asking at other hostels that we also found online. This led us to Wild Rover. I immediately fell in love. The atmosphere was perfect for me and the people are simply marvelous.
The way hostel bars work is that shifts are determined on Sundays or Mondays. Therefore, you almost always have to wait until the scheduling day to guarantee your position on the worker roster. While waiting for this day at Wild Rover, Aaron decided that it was not the right fit for him. He headed back to Pariwana and took the bar position. In the end we ended up at different hostels, which I think was to our benefit. I could get into Pariwana whenever I wanted and use their movie room or hang out with Aaron in the bar and utilize his discount for the occasional Oreo milkshake, bowl of soap, or super discounted beer. I waited patiently to learn whether I would start at Wild Rover. While waiting I started integrating myself with the staff and other hostel guests. This actually worked to my advantage because I made friends with the night door security guy, so after I left Wild Rover, I was never hassled about getting into the hostel. It pays to be friends with security. I had some very fun nights. Wild Rover is an Irish-themed hostel, so the bar has a proper Irish pub feel. And I must say that after visiting many bars in the Cuzco area, the Wild Rover bar is far superior to the other hostel bars. The bar space is smaller so with a lot of people or a few people, it always seems full; the space is long and skinny with the bar running along the length of the room, allowing lots of sitting along the bar or several side tables; the chairs are all at the same height, which is approximately standing height, so everyone is on the same level; and the decor is spot on with wood panelling and Guinness posters. Pariwana is set up too much like a restaurant, the music often seems too loud, and the giant tables make it difficult to talk across and mingle; The Point is really good but the bar needs to be just a little larger with more space at the actual bar and more little cushion chairs at the tables, I also disliked how the pool table is hidden in the back corner; and Loki has too much going on, it is easy to there to be lots of people but all isolated off into small, non-intermingling groups. There are others, but I frequented these the most. Anyways, after waiting a week, I learned that I was not only not getting a position on the Wild Rover bar staff, but that two other girls were ahead of me for work spots. I quickly began to inquire at Pariwana, Loki and a few others. Then, I finally stopped off at The Point one evening while the bar staff were actually around. It was almost like I had kept missing the bar managers so that it could work out as perfectly as it did. I walked in, met the hostel owner and one of the bar managers, and had a spot to start the very next day. I also have to put a side note in on the key location of this hostel. Pariwana, where Aaron was already working, is on the same block on the same side of the road a mere 25 meters up the road. The Point is about at the mid-way point on the block. Then Wild Rover was on the opposite side of the road about a block down the street. So I was positioned half-way between Aaron´s hostel and my favorite bar. Though shortly after starting at The Point, I quickly began to love my new home.
I have failed to mention why exactly working at a hostel is so perfect for the long-term traveller. There are some unbeatable benefits to the job. The exact specifics vary according to hostel, but the usual standard is to receive a free bed and then certain discounts on your tab. For Pariwana, Aaron had free accommodation, he could get a free meal each day around 10 PM of the leftovers for whatever the day´s special was, 40% off anything on his tab for food and drinks, and then the occasional free drink/any free promotional drinks the bar gives out. At The Point, I received free accommodation and one free meal of my choosing each day. And I must admit that though I do like the veggie sandwich from Wild Rover, the ladies from The Point are extremely nice and wonderful cooks! Surprisingly, there was actually a fair number of vegetarian options on the menu too. My favorites: the giant full veggie breakfast: toast, fried eggs over easy, beans, baked potato, fried onions with mushrooms, cooked tomato, and maybe some more. Delicious. The veggie lasagna with three pieces of garlic bread and a salad with tomato and onions. The Triple Peruvian sandwich of a bread slice, avocado, another bread slice, fried egg, lettuce, tomato, topped with a bread slice, and then a portion of fries. The fries were amazing! Big thick potato slices, more potato than grease. I ordered just fries on several occasions. 🙂 But my all time favorite item was The Point Queen Salad! A big pile of lettuce topped with tomato, boiled egg slices, olives, cheese slices or Parmesan, pepper slices, oregano, and vinegar. Maybe some other ingredients too. I just remember it being delectable and my preferred supper choice most days. Then there was also the additional perk that The Point people are on good terms with many of the bars/clubs we would frequent after closing time, thus we always had free entry and the occasional free drink or at minimum happy hour prices all night. Coincidentally, these bars were the only ones we ever went to. 🙂
Now the secret is out. In the few days it took to see all the sights and take a Machu Picchu trek, we basically spent a month partying. I will not speak for Aaron, but my typical day involved waking up anytime between 10 A.M. and 3 P.M. (except on sight-seeing mornings which were usually quite early as we would have be be back before shift starts); showering; going to the store to buy a couple liters of juice to rehydrate; wasting time before shift, be it watching movies, wandering the streets or running errands; then starting my work shift at 7 P.M. and staying there until we closed sometime between midnight and 2 A.M.; then we would go out to clubs afterwards (Groove -my favorite, Mama Africa, occasionally Mushroom below Mama Africa, and rarely Mythology); and finally I would crawl into bed anywhere between 2 A.M. and 9 A.M. Groove was my favorite. We usually would make our rounds to the others for the free drink then end at Groove. There is a marvelous company who goes around to various clubs to take photographs. Aaron and I can be spotted in a few albums (almost entirely only in the Groove albums: http://www.key2cusco.com/photos/albums/118/groove-cusco) at the Key2Cusco sight (http://www.key2cusco.com/clubs). Spoiler, I had my purse robbed on my last night in Cuzco, removing that last two months of Peru pictures and my camera from my possession, so I will be going through these photos to find the ones with Aaron and myself to make available via my facebook album. I just have not had much luck with cameras in Peru. I recently purchased another, making this my third camera in less than a year. For anyone traveling in the future, guard your camera with your life. Or at least do not be as lazy as me and upload photos constantly so you will not lose such precious memories.
The Point is known for being a party hostel, and they are quite deserving of that title. First of all, the bar could be the setting of a Red Bull or Jeiger commercial. They save back every empty can and bottle to line the walls with. Then, they have themed nights at the bar. This involves creating a theme and then having everyone dress up. They go so far as to actually provide various costume items for the use by the hostel guests. The motivation to dress up increases exponentially when a bar staff member, also in costume, can walk up to patrons and literally offer them dress-up gear/without permission just start putting costumes on them. 🙂 We had eighties night in workout gear, ladies night with men in dresses and stuffed tops, black light night with all visible skin covered in neon paint, and other random nights. Not to mention that I was in Cuzco for Halloween, so you know that was a good time. I made zero effort on an angel costume (I did have white wings at least…), but other people showed up with marvelous costumes. And when we went out to the clubs, the clubs even had themed parties. Groove was all decorated as a circus tent with performers. At The Point, they also have live bands perform a couple nights each week. There was an Argentinian couple with the guy playing accordion and the girl performing a folk, flamenco, gypsy style mix type of dance with a full skirt. They were really nice and the performances were always great. Then there was a group of all guys from Colombia who performed Reggae style music. That band actually performed at several venues all over Cuzco. The last one I saw a couple times were a different group from Colombia who did more acoustic type music. There were two different drums and a woman singing. They were all really good. Then, there are a poker table and a foose ball table that are quickly convertible into two beer pong stations. I like the bar at The Point because we had a lot of variety everyday and throughout each night. There are two happy hours, from 6 to 7 P.M. and 10 to 11 P.M. Then depending on whether there was a theme, a band playing, or poker game, the amount of people, the type of people, the level of crazy, and everything in between fluxed. I also have to saw that we had a really good music selection at our bar. Once you start going out in South America you will notice that there are only about 10 songs that get played continuously in every bar and club. Our bar had variety and never just put on a pre-made play list. And, of course, we always encouraged people to have a good time and dance whenever inspired. There are lots of fabulous photos of people in costume, smiling, laughing, dancing (sometimes on the bar or table), and in general having a good time. Some nights were slow, but the mood was never forced. I liked that the most about The Point bar. Dull night or crazy night, the people who were in the bar always were enjoying themselves. Not to mention that games of Uno were practically an every night occurrence. Often with stakes of loser buying shots.
This may sound startling to some of you. I will admit that I could not continue that life style for the long term, but it was a good time. I cannot describe all the amazing people I met, interesting stories I heard, and hilarious moments I partook. I already said that Cuzco was one of my favorite cities so far, and it was because of the memories I will never forget and friendships I made. And surprisingly, or not, I was not actually drunk the whole time, nor did I drink every night that I went out. In fact, I often would just drink juice until close to closing time and then I would wait for the few free drinks I could get after we were already out at the clubs. At the clubs we were just dancing, one of my favorite activities. It was like catching my daily late night spin class. Dancing for a couple hours every evening is not an easy task. Aaron has been going to a gym in Cuzco, but I have just been letting myself whither away into an unshapely weakling. Going to the clubs was like my only physical activity, so it was to my benefit to go dancing each night… 😉 Also, going to the clubs was like my way of socializing with all my friends from the other hostels. Once you have been marked as resident tourist or hostel bar worker, you start meeting people from other hostels and make friends. Unless you visit their bar on your nights off and vise versa, you do not see people except once you all meet up at the clubs. And I made some great friends at other hostels. I cannot imagine not going out at night to see them. Plus, the hours of party in Cuzco do not even begin to touch how late people go out in Argentina. Just wait until I have worked at a hostel in Buenos Aires…
Random Facts about Hostel Life
Ok, 180 degree turn, but on to a new topic. I already described the comforts of Pariwana. I have not yet mentioned the set backs of living in hostels. For one, I always take the cheapest room, which means staying in these large 10 to 16 person dorms. This means that you have a shared bathroom, shared living space, no privacy, and only a small locker to store all your possessions. This is not exactly the most comfortable way of living, but easy manageable. What you really look for are the small comforts, of which Pariwana was plentiful. Though the bar was always loud, the rooms were not highly affected by the noise level, thus sleep could occur at any time. Plus, the windows had curtains so the blaring sun did not need to waken you either. And I already mentioned that the rooms were not particular full at Pariwana due to the hostel´s very large size and practice of spreading people out across rooms rather than stuffing as many into a single room as possible. I had some of the best sleep at Pariwana. This was not true at Wild Rover or The Point. At Wild Rover, the 16 person dorm is right off a courtyard area, so without fail you start hearing conversations at semi early hours each morning. Then depending on whether you had considerate roommates, the noise and lights within the room varied each day. The one perk was that if the lights were off and the curtain closed, the room stayed dark all day. It was at least moderately quiet, though, even during prime bar times. This is only because they have semi strict noise control at Wild Rover due to surrounding residential homes. I had the worst luck at The Point. The Point is a party hostel, and that is what they do best. But that means that you can hear the music throughout the whole hostel from 7 P.M. up to 2 A.M. every single day. On top of that, when I was in the staff room, we had a sky window which never failed to let full sunlight in. As I often went to bed after sun rise, it was difficult to sleep when my natural instincts are to wake up with the sun. Then after we went to Machu Picchu I was relocated to the 14 person dorm. This was my worst sleep. My bed was right by the door and the other inhabitants were extremely rude. They got up between 8 A.M. and 10 A.M. every morning (it was a group of about eight or ten people) and would turn on the lights, shuffle their belongings, talk loudly to each other, walk back and forth across the room, and open and close the door a million times. I do not mind them getting around early in the morning, but when every single day they completely disregarded the fact that other people might want to sleep in, I was not very happy with them. The sleeping arrangements become important with you are going to be somewhere for any length of time.
On top of the beds and rooms, the second factor of hostel living is the bathrooms. Having no privacy in your room is one thing but having no bathroom privacy really takes the cake. At Pariwana, the bathrooms are public use but they are individual rooms with closing-able and lockable doors. Toilet, shower, sink, and mirror all in your private space until you vacate the room. At Wild Rover and The Point you have a single room with all the toilets, showers and sinks simply partitioned from each other. I do not think I need to go into details on why you occasionally do not want to know who is in the stall to your left or when you just want some mirror primping time without people walking through. Certain grooming practices are not meant to be in public domain. The other things you look for when selecting a hostel are the bar and food prices, drink deals, food quality, hostel location in terms of proximity to grocery store, other bars, and eateries, general cleanliness of the hostel, and the happiness level of the staff and security. When only staying for a couple nights in a city, usually whatever is cheapest wins, but these are serious considerations when deciding to call a place home for any length of time.
People to Know
I will not give many descriptions because there are simply too many people. But here are the names of people who I spent the last month with. These names will belong to the million faces in photos that you will not recognize. 🙂
Pariwana Hostel (http://www.pariwana-hostel.com/pariwana-hostel-cusco.php)
Upon first arriving to Cuzco, we met the delightful Sarah Fox, from Ireland. She was staying in the same room as Aaron and myself. The three of us went out one night, it was like our interview for Loki. We each had about three drinks total the whole night and it ended us. Good to know information, when first arriving at altitude drink only one alcoholic beverage the first time you go out, and drink it very slowly. After having had barely anything to drink we all felt awful the next day. Through Sarah, we also had the lovely opportunity to meet her friend Elaine Flavin. I was sad to see them go. Also at Pariwana, we ran into Helen from Máncora! I love when we run into people again.
Other than the occasional befriended traveller, the workers from Pariwana are really the ones that need a shout out. Aaron worked there for three weeks and I frequented almost daily. The ones I know best are Nick and Adrian from Australia (bar workers), Angel from Peru (bar worker), Sebastian and Christian (bar workers), Katy from Peru (hostel manager), and Yina from Peru (bar worker). Then Aaron gave me some more names of Rosio, John, Saul, Louis, Fernando, Claudia, and Pamela (bar and kitchen workers).
Wild Rover Hostel (http://www.wildroverhostel.com/)
My second home after The Point. We saw Irish Colin again. Same Colin from Máncora and Lima. And then I met some amazing girls: Diana from Chile, Tania from Chile, and Daniella from Peru. Also, there is Frank from the Netherlands, the long term, crazy resident of Wild Rover who does not actually stay there. He recently left Cuzco. I cannot imagine a Wild Rover party without him.
Really, though, it is the Wild Rover workers that I love the most. Bar staff: Fiona, Kate, Rowan, Stuart, Scott, Ollie, David, and Grainne (bar manager). When I arrived Fiona and Grainne had been the only girl bar tenders. Luckily they got a few new ones eventually. Completely different from my bar at The Point where we had basically only women. Then Colm (owner), Sanne, Liam (owner), and Meghan. Melissa from reception. There were other when I arrived and new ones by the time I left. But these were the main attractions. And most of them have been there anywhere from several months to a year. I was in Cuzco a month and could easily have continued on. It is like a time warp. The crazy part is that right before I left Cuzco, several of them left Cuzco. I can only imagine how sad it was at Wild Rover after that.
The Point (http://www.thepointhostels.com/l/peru/cusco/)
My home and place of occupation for just under three weeks. I really am not doing justice to descriptions of people, but there are simply too many people from my month in Cuzco. There are locals who are regulars to the bar. Friends of friends. Like workers from some of the clubs we had special deals with. Then there were all the people who stayed at the hostel. Quick side note. Ran into French Simon and Greg at a bar one night. I never fail to see them everywhere we go by happenstance. Also, Aaron and I got to see the four boys from Bahía de Caraquez again! Miles, Spencer, Sam H., and Sam S. from California. We were hoping to run into them. They got to Peru and went on the Inca Trail and we saw them on Halloween and then again when they got back. Such a great group of guys. When working at the bar you really get to know the guests pretty well. You are like a stable icon that is always present in the socializing area regardless of whether it is a slow night or a crazy night. Also, we frequently had a game of Uno going and would invite people to join in the game. Do not think that was a mechanism of boredom, though. The night could be in full swing, the bar packed, people jumping around in neon paint under black light, and we would still have a high stakes Uno game going. We were just dedicated. 🙂 And we occasionally through in a game of Connect Four or something…
Ok, I already mentioned the wonderful ladies in the kitchen. There was also Vanessa at reception and Carmen the hostel manager, as well as the cleaning ladies, ever at their jobs, and one lady´s adorable little daughter. Then there is Ben, the hostel owner, Australian (hence the “Point” hostel. Bruno and Mateo, Peruvian, bar managers, crazy, both DJ´s. Our bar staff was Pamela, amazing girl from Peru, always fun to be around, I will miss her dearly! Sandra, Peruvian on vacation to Cuzco from Lima, she is part Chinese and everyone called her China. Melanie, from Belgium, she came to us because she was dating Angel from Pariwana and wanted a cheap way to stick around longer, she did volunteer work during the day, and is a blast. Spoiler, I got to see her again in Arequipa and have plans to meet up in La Paz for New Year´s! This was our group. Great girls! On Thursdays we would all take off to have our own Ladies´ Night! That is where Alice and Sandy come in. Alice, worked at The Point a while ago but basically comes around all the time still. She is hilarious and crazy, and luckily for me she always has a camera glued to her hand. She coincidentally is taking a vacation in Arequipa right now and I got to see her a couple times. Sandy, the sweetest girl, works at Mushroom, good friend of Pamela. I am sad that I will not get to see Pamela and Sandy again! Near the end a new guy Sam started, then Dana, then the day I left two new guys showed up. The party continues.
It is really strange when you stay somewhere a long time and just start feeling at home when it is time to leave. This time was different than when leaving Bahía de Caraquez and Planet Drum because there we had such a limited group of people. But in Cuzco there were so many avenues of life to tangle your heart strings into. There is the city, the cuisine, the locals, travellers, and then the people you live with and work with. On one hand you would think the smaller group from Ecuador is best because you are in such close quarters with the same great people. But the comparison to Cuzco is not possible. Cuzco will have a special place in my heart, and I will remember it fondly.