Cusco, Peru: Eating Out in Gringo’s Alley

Tupac doesn’t give a shit. His aunt or some other matriarch rushed him into Gringo’s Alley before the sun could set, but he’d rather be with his uncles watching the televised match between Brazil and Paraguay instead of waving menus at tourists from the Northern Hemisphere. His brothers made good money playing sherpa for the foreigners, carrying designer-label backpacks along the trail to Machu Picchu while the unburdened hikers strolled along at their own pace. Soon, Tupac would be making good money, but his number had not yet been called. His calling, instead, is shilling to hungry trekkers returning from the Sacred Valley by bus or by train from Machu Picchu. Pizza! He waves around his paper menu, speaking the bare essential words the northerners would understand. He goes about his job with limited gusto. Want pizza! Gringo’s Alley is filled with kids, his neighbors, cousins, dumb fucks who threw themselves at the tourists, waving alternative menus from other vendors. There are enterprising kids jumping around who can say the words “cocaine” and “taco” in four different languages. Fuck them, Tupac doesn’t give a shit. Spanish is his second language, but other than music videos and football matches, he doesn’t give much of a fuck for the official language of Peru. His name isn’t even Tupac, but it might as well be as his t-shirt features the West-Side rapper, Tupac Shakur, and his blood has the DNA of Túpac Amaru, the great Inca fighter against the Spanish Conquistadores and the nephew of Atahualpa, the last of the Inca emperors. There was greatness in him, though on this evening, Tupac is just a young dude selling cheese-bread in Gringo’s Alley.

The Andes Mountains reach so far above the earth, the evening sky seems eternally in twilight, refusing to loosen its grasp of the fleeing sun. A faint blue glow is cast over the ancient stone which predates the Inca and the Spanish colonial structures built upon it. Cusco was called the navel of the earth, but these days, it is a stepping stone for bucket-list tourists with selfie-sticks making their way towards Machu Picchu. These trekkers, these consumers, are the hungry bellies the children of Gringo’s Alley wave their menus at. 

Tupac approaches an American wheezing on the thin air. This tourist has recently quit smoking and his lungs are not yet acclimated to the altitude. Joe’s fingers twitch without his daily allotment of 2 liters of caffeinated corn-syrup soda. Que estás vendiendo, the American asks Tupac in bayou-accented Spanish. Qué tienes? Tupac shows the man the menu and says, pizza. Unimpressed, the American named Joe says gracias and looks further down Gringo’s Alley. Tupac watches as Joe turns towards a comrade, saying, dude, stay here and don’t say shit to nobody. Joe continues searching for deals as his comrade stays put, hands deep in pockets, muttering, shit, shit, shit, shit. 

This other American is taller, fuller of hair and lung. He’s not as pale as the other northerners, but he’s got the same big dopey grin. Tupac realizes this dumbass is somehow subservient to his comrade, Joe, but Tupac approaches the English-speaker anyway. Bored with saying pizza, Tupac uses a magical phrase his uncle taught him. It always gets a rise out of foreigners. Sometimes good, mostly bad. Waving his menu to the goofy American, Tupac casts his spell and says, free pussy. The dopey American’s eyes widen and blink. He asks, come again? Tupac says it again, free pussy. The American laughs out loud. Tupac is no seasoned performer, but he knows when he has someone’s attention. He holds up the menu and shouts, free pussy! The goofy American, we’ll refer to him as Vic, calls over his comrade, dude, Joe, you got to listen what this kid has to offer. Joe, the wheezy American, returns, looking at Tupac. Tupac holds up the menu and shouts, free pussy! Ha! Joe is laughing. Vic says, Joe, you might lose your virginity yet! Tupac realizes his magic spell can turn the most indifferent American into a clown. He rushes to another trekker, waving the menu, saying, free pussy and eliciting a similar laugh out of him.

Carol is the vice-president of Saskatchewan Woman’s Mountaineer Club and is leading four of her favorite Canadian friends past Cusco’s Plaza de Armas towards the Procuradores street where there is a variety of vendors catering to tourist hunger. After a day of trekking through the Sacred Valley, Carol and her team are certainly deserving a full meal. Carol, as the lone veteran visitor of this Spanish colonial town, leads the women into the infamous Gringo’s Alley. Knowing there will be a flood of children with menus soliciting the team, she previously told her friends to follow her lead. Carol has already fabricated an excuse to brush aside any solicitation. She has already made up her mind; she and her tribe will dine at a Lebanese food stall she favors, regardless of what the children flaunt at them.

Tupac, at the apex of his newfound glory, realizing he is the most popular person in Cusco, spots the new North Americans and rushes towards them with his offer. No! Vic, the dopey American, hollers as he sees Tupac’s progression, but it is too late. Tupac runs up to Carol, menu in his hand, and sings, free pussy! Carol, startled by the words, sticks to her script and says, no thanks, I already ate.

Where: Gringo’s Alley, in the corner of Cusco’s Plaza de Armas

When: Hungry

What to Order: If you’ve been trekking through the Andes, everything tastes amazing. Perhaps even the free pussy. 

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