Cusco Revelry

It’s been a long, long day on a coach, traveling from Cusco to Puno, Lake Titikaka. Ranj was horribly hungover from last night’s revelry. He’s really quite pleasant when he’s hung over, I think.


It all spun out of control in a heartbeat last night. Not something I could see coming when trying to get out of going to the dreadfully dull folkdance display earlier in the evening. Ranj had got a bit miffy when I said that I thought it was a silly idea to sit through one of those touristy things when there was a city to explore. So I went. And continued to think that it was a silly idea. Then, foolishly, I said that I wanted to have some more of that very nice wine that I had had at Tupanachis Restaurant the night before. I felt I deserved a treat after sitting through folkdance after folkdance. So, off we went and ordered half a bottle to share. Not very clever. Because we ordered another half a bottle after that one.


Sitting deep in the low black couches at the back of the trendy restaurant, the lovely red liquid was truth serum for my good friend Ranjit, who decided that this cozy spot of bon homie was a good time to tell me that I had been a tad irritating at times. Not that he could remember exactly what it was that I had done, or when I had done it, or where, but he distinctly recalls flags going up. Par for the course, I suppose. We’d been together, non-stop, for eight days now and barely knew each other before we left OR Tambo airport. And I had thought of him in somewhat unflattering terms a few times too, but couldn’t for the life of me remember when or why. ‘What is it about wine and about travelling together that amplifies the slightest flaw?’ I ponder as I watch him swig back the wine at increasing speed.


Thus bonded and assured of everlasting friendship, we head back out into the cold, back to Los Portales for sleep and another early rise. But just before the hotel, a dodgy dark doorway winked its temptation at us. We peered up at the shabby steps leading upwards and darkwards. Time to explore …


The dodgy doorway delivered on its promise. At the top of the staircase was a small, crowded pub. About the size of a small garage, the walls painted red, the bar counter, chairs and tables black, with low red lighting, dense with smoke, and packed, wall to wall with young, dark-skinned, dark-haired, rough looking Peruvians, it throbbed with a life unlike any we had seen on the streets so far. The locals seemed rather unenthusiastic about our uninvited entrance. In fact, they looked quite ready to ask us to leave.


Diesel, paint stripper and brake fluid must have been what they were serving.


And right there and then, Ranj lost the plot. Tequila! A quart of beer! The good humour he had found inside the Chilean wine was coming out to play – big! The barman took one look at these stupid gringos and smacked the shot glasses on the bar counter. Did I say shot glasses? Make that vases. Shot glasses big enough to hold about five shots of gut stripping, brain imploding firewater.  There was no way I was taking that down. Ranj, full of crazy energy, schlucked his down and reached for the oversized no-name brand bottle of beer.


I put my vase of liquid hangover down on the bar counter, behind the back of my new best friend, Miguel – Miguel, a not-very-attractive Peruvian who kissed me on the cheek and spoke a steady stream of unintelligible Spanish straight from his heart into my ear for the entire time that we were there, pressed together in the dank darkness of a tiny pub in the highest city in Peru.


Ranj was delirious, manic, couldn’t keep still, bobbing and weaving like a welterweight boxer. Bumping into an aggressive, moody looking, low-browed fellow at the edge of the bar, he ordered more beer, leaned his back into the grumpy chap, and swigged back with gusto, eyes glinting and grinning like the devil himself. Where is he putting all?


In an act of political diplomacy I sidled up to Agro Gloom to make friends. ‘What are you drinking?’ I asked, jutting my chin at the glass jug filled with liquid tar in front of him. Rum and coke. So I had some. And swilled the beer down. What else is a girl to do? I’m in Cusco, Peru, high on altitude, cocoa leaf tea and photo opportunities. A bit of tar and coke on top of all of that is hardly going to make a difference.


And suddenly Ranj and I were amigos. He had moved from polite avoidance to arm-draping in a gulp of cheap beer. Then my eyes locked on something I simply had to have. My life would not be complete without it … No, not Ranj! A steel sculpture, hulking in an alcove behind the bar. It looked like something from Lord of the Rings. It was powerful, beautiful, an unbelievable creation. It had to go home with me. Ranj, my mate, my pal, my oldest friend and saviour would get it for me. A quick negotiation with the barman and the deal is clinched: it could be mine for one hundred American dollars.


Ah. But I had not a single note left. Not even a fifty. It would have to stay in Peru, in its dark, red crypt, until I visit Cusco again one day. Later I would realise that the Inca gods were taking care of me, though, as there would be no way that I would have been able to travel with it on two buses and three aeroplanes all the way back to Cape Town.


Agro Gloom was moving closer, becoming uncomfortably fond, while Miguel kept up his stream of soft, earnest Spanish, his lips against my ear. I was being sandwiched between two intense men half my height and twice my girth. It was time to retreat. Without a word, we finished our drinks at the same time, put our glasses down, and headed back to Los Portales, Ranj with his arm over my shoulder, happy amigos just for the moment, and me without the incredible steel sculpture. 


And then my lugubrious young friend was back. Ranj would skulk inside his dark glasses and iPod, leaning his throbbing head against the window and grunting not a word, for the duration of the bus ride to Puno …


Ah. But it was a pretty fun night!


~ by ReluctantRunner on May 26, 2008.

One Response to “Cusco Revelry”

  1. Aaaah – in vino veritas. Ruby truth serum – there is none like it.

    Many a great evening was started with just one glass of wine!!

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