Our apartment in Cusco is a nice one, in a good area. We have 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a big living room, and a spectacular view of the valley of Cusco. It's one of the nicer places we've stayed this year. We also have no heat, no hot water heater, and no oven. It's winter here, and it gets to around 30F at night, though it's up to the mid-60s in the day. Our place is FREEZING!!! The heavy pile of alpaca blankets on our beds are warm... so warm that I find excuses to crawl under them earlier and earlier every night.
We were all miserable in the mornings especially, so we finally broke down and got a heater. Well - the kind of heater that one uses around here. We went to the Saturday market a week ago and bought a big clay pot with a hole in the side. It's sort of a Chimera. Then we spent a week looking for the alcohol we needed to burn inside it. After asking everywhere, Bob and I finally got a lead today from a guy selling sunglasses on the street, and took a taxi to the Wanchuk market. After we bought a pineapple and some tiny bananas, the ladies there pointed us down an alley, and off we went. Just about the time I was going to give up, and spend yet another icicle-nosed morning tomorrow, we found the place: a tiny store-front the size of a garage, with no sign. The ladies there poured our alcohol from a giant drum into an old plastic water bottle. The drum next to it held drinking alcohol. What kind? Does it matter?
When we got home Bob hacked a tin can in half, filled it with alcohol, put it inside the pot - and voila!
Tonight I have a fire burning in my pot, and I am a happy camper! No - really - it does feel a little like camping in here. Especially in the mornings, when I have a very big decision to make: Am I so smelly that I have to shower? Not only is our bathroom Really Frickin Cold, but we take our lives in our hands every time we shower. We don't have a water heater, as I mentioned. We have what people around here use, which is a water-heating electrical shower head. When you turn the water on, the device gets 'hot', and the water runs through it, ever-so-briefly, on it's way out onto your goose-pimpled body. The result is luke-cool water, and the almost certainty of electrical shock while shampooing - due to exposed 220 voltage wiring with water splashing on it. Eleanor is the only one of us who hasn't been shocked yet, and that's because we turn th shower on and off for her. Around here the Gringos call these devices Widow Makers.
I gave up on the shower head entirely for a while. I would take an enormous pot of boiling water from the kitchen, and use that to bathe. I had a special cup for pouring that I kept in the bathroom, along with a plastic bucket. Then one day I broke down, and took a taxi down to the plumbing district, and bought a brand new Widow Maker. Maybe a new one would actually heat! I brought it home and handed it over to my landlord with a pleading look, and now we have hot water in the morning, as long as we turn the water on Really Low, so that only a few drops come out at a time. Although the bathroom is so cold that by the time the water gets down to your knees, it's freezing. I haven't shaved my legs since I got here. Not once. Bob did the math yesterday. If we only bath every other day - we have 15 more frigid showers until we leave.
Now - I sound like I'm complaining. I probably was for the first week or so. Now it's just life. It's fun conquering the little challenges in a new place - like the narrow streets here, with the narrower walking paths. We're getting really used to honking cars whizzing past us, inches away, as we play chicken with the people coming in the opposite direction. We're no longer surprised to round a corner and run into a lady in a tall derby hat herding her llama up the main street, and carrying her lamb in a blanket on her back.
There are so many really awesome things about living here. My next post will be all about all of that.