Doing Without

When we compare our daily lives here in Cusco to our lives back in the United States, there are definitely gaps. These gaps are of two types: Things we have in Cusco but not back home and vice-versa. On the plus side, there is far less stress, less of a frenetic schedule, more time to read books and each day brings something new, unexpected and refreshing. For the things we don't have here in Cusco, it's interesting to note how we’ve coped. To illustrate, here is a sample daily schedule, highlighting the things we have gotten used to doing without:

7:00 am: TAKE A SHOWER (without reliable hot water and good water pressure). Back in the U.S., I would rely on a hot shower first thing in the morning to wake me up. With our electric shower heads capable of giving us a shock, we need to be wide-awake prior to taking a shower. Refer to Peruvian Culture Shock for more detail on this.
7:10 am: SHAVE (without hot running water). While it is possible to shave in the shower, in order to do it properly, I have to boil water on the stove and bring a bowl of it back to the bathroom. Is it any wonder that I’m currently growing a beard?
7:30 am: PREPARE BREAKFAST (without a toaster). The range of things off the breakfast menu include toasted bagels, freezer waffles and buttered toast to go with our eggs. On the plus side, there are tasty fresh-baked bread rolls available at local tiendas every morning.
7:45 am: WASH DISHES (without hot running water, garbage disposal, or a dishwasher). Without these conveniences, we start by tossing food scraps into the bin by hand, boil water and pour it into a bowl with soap and a scouring pad. After washing and rinsing, plates are placed in a sink-top drying rack.
8:15 am: CHECK EMAIL (without a fast, reliable internet connection). We have an internet connection about 80-90% of the time and when we do, it is pretty slow. For example, watching a video on YouTube is not possible without a frame re-buffering and stalling every 3-5 seconds. Occasionally, when we Skype family and friends back home, their faces start to break up like a cubist painting by Braque or Picasso.
9:00 am: COMMUTE TO WORK (without a car). All we have to do is walk or take a taxi. This is undoubtedly an improvement over commuting in a major metropolitan area.
2:30 pm: CLEAN CLOTHES (without a washing machine or a dryer). This inconvenience is mitigated by having a lavanderia around every corner. For about fifty cents per pound, any one of them will wash, dry and fold our clothes.
3:00 pm: DRINK WATER (without potable tap water). This requires a little advanced planning. To avoid the expense and environmental-unfriendliness of buying drinking water in plastic bottles, we’ve chosen to boil our drinking water. In order to have cold drinking water, we boil water, let it cool in a glass pitcher, pour it into a plastic bottle and put it in the refrigerator.
6:30 pm: PREPARE DINNER (without an oven). Dinner can be anything that can be cooked on a propane-powered range-top or warmed in a microwave. That means no pizzas, roasted meats and, perhaps most tragically, no chocolate chip cookies.
7:30 pm: BE WARM (without central heating). This inconvenience has lessened as we move away from winter and towards the summer months. In June and July, we wore fleece jackets and alpaca wool slippers around the house.
10:30 pm: READ IN BED (without a good bedside reading lamp). Since the reading lamps that came with our furnished apartment are barely strong enough for us to find our way to the bathroom, if we want to read in bed, we wear our miner’s flashlights on our heads.

One of the inconveniences we started with was the matrimonio-sized bed for my wife and I in our apartment. While negotiating the rental agreement, I was assured that matrimonio was the largest size possible in Cusco. Once we moved in we learned that the Peruvian matrimonio was what would be called a “full” sized bed in the U.S. We tried to sleep in it for a week but it was impossible. We asked our landlord what it would take to get a larger bed and he came back with a true “king” size bed for an additional cost. We asked him where he found it and he said he had it shipped from Lima. There are some things a family just can't live without.


  1. Love this posting. Found you just before going to bed . . it's now 11.25pm but after reading this first posting know that I will want to hear more so am going to sign up to follow you and return to go through more of your postings.

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    See you again tomorrow!

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