I REALLY admire people who can whistle. Not the standard put-your-lips-together-and-blow a la Humphrey Bogart but that carefully-crafted, finger, thumb, tongue and air combination which produces a head turning, ear blistering blast.
The policemen and women in Lima have not honed their ability to whistle using digits and lungs but use the little metal variety, favoured by football referees. They put them to good use too, protecting the unwitting tourist from the ubiquitous street vendors with an ear shattering blast should they take a step too close. The result is an almost hassle free visit to Peru’s capital city, although you will find strangers sidling out from behind parked cars in a very suspicious manner – even though they are offering nothing more salacious than innocuous post cards and pictures for sale.
Sadly, in Cuzco a few hundred miles east of Lima, no whistle away the hawkers, traders and professional hasslers exists. Situated in the heart of the land of the Incas and famous as the starting point for that unique form of torture known as the Inca Trail, Cuzco attracts thousands of visitors every week. The hassle factor is high. Less than one minute standing outside a restaurant in the town square elicited eight requests to buy jewelry, paintings, braided belts, shoe cleaning, a massage, a massage and shoe cleaning combo plus requests for money for various local projects – and all while a policeman stood close by, watching with no more than a look of curiosity.
A good way to see any town or city while on a whistle stop tour is by coach – these are not to everyone’s taste but, even if you are staying more than a few days, they generally give a good flavor of what is available although, as with everything, choose with care.
Ask the hotel staff what the rival firms have to offer – bearing in mind they may be on a commission. Check your travel guide and ask other guests. If none emerges as a front runner go for the one which offers a door-to-door service BUT beware of the early drop off. This can be a much earlier time than expected but, more often than not, it involves a market or shopping area. The guide offers to allow passengers to alight at the mall or on an attractive street, suggesting you shop at leisure and make your own way back to the hotel. Unless this is actually what you want to do STAY PUT.
On our trip round Lima we were made such an offer and everyone departed bar us. We asked to be taken back to the hotel. The persuasion to alight began with: “It’s only a few minutes away” and gradually worked round to: “The coach can’t get through the traffic.” In the end we were forced to leave on foot but insisted that our high-heeled, very annoyed guide walked with us to our hotel. Twenty-five minutes later we arrived at our hotel.