South America 1989 travel blog

Susan, Cath, Lynn and Sheila changing currency on the streets of Cuzco

We spent a large portion of the day simply soaking in the...

A lazy day today. We had to book our tickets for tomorrow's trip to Puno and Lake Titicaca, but the lady at the hotel had kindly offered to stand in line to get those for us. We all needed more currency and we also wanted to mail our postcards. (R1)

Currency was no problem as there were money changers on every street corner, giving black market rates for our U.S. dollars, which apparently is quite legal in Peru.

After a leisurely breakfast we set off to the post office which meant walking the length of the busiest street in Cuzco. Our guide books warned of the dangers of crowded places, and of the gangs of thieves which operate in these areas. The author of my guide book claimed to have contributed two cameras, a lens and various sundry items to the Peruvian economy.

The thieves work in groups. While some divert your attention by talking to you, or "accidentally" knocking into you, their friends finish off the job, using very sharp knives to slash your bags or pockets.

En-route to and from the post office we tried to avoid getting into the middle of a crowd by stepping into the road, or crossing the road if necessary, but when almost back to the square a crowd just seemed to appear around us. A short Indian woman turned her right shoulder and pushed straight into the front of me, I instinctively grabbed for my bag, which was hanging on my shoulder, and held it to the front of me while getting clear of the crowd.

Once clear, I quickly inspected my bag and pockets and everything appeared to be in order, so we made our way back to the hotel.

It was a couple of hours later when we were leaving for lunch, that I noticed the slightly frayed edges of the clean slash, which went practically the full length of my lovely red and green bag, which I proudly bought just two days ago. A moment of panic seized me as I realised that I had been carrying everything of importance with me in that bag - passport, cash, traveller's cheques, credit cards and airline tickets.

I sat on a bench to inspect the contents, and miraculously the knife had hit my purse inside, which was hard, and had apparently bounced off, so that it slashed only the outer woven part of the bag. The hole in the green lining was only four inches long, and the contents of the bag were intact. What a relief!

After that, using a purse with a flap, and a belt, I rigged up a money belt, which would go inside my trousers, and hold everything except a little cash for immediate use. It doesn't do much for the waistline, but as I am wearing two baggy sweaters and a nylon jacket most of the time anyway, it doesn't make much difference.

Later in the afternoon, in the square, we heard that due to terrorist activity, a state of emergency had been declared in several Peruvian provinces, fortunately this area is still quite safe. I just hope that the folks back home don't hear about it and worry.

The lazy day passed quickly and in the evening we spent an hour in the shops around the square. The others bought sweaters and hats, and as compensation for my unfortunate incident, I bought a lovely new bag, similar to a carpet bag, but made with wool woven into an Inca calendar. After that we had a drink in The English Bar, where I had a screwdriver, my first alcoholic drink since arriving in Peru. Alcohol is not recommended in the first days after arrival, due to altitude sickness.

After another deliciously cheap dinner, we are back at the hotel about to make up for the late night last night.

Reflection 1 In those days, it was important to send those postcards! How many people actually buy and mail postcards these days?

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