Arriving in Cusco, Peru just before Christmas Eve 2011 we immediately secured volunteering positions with Aldea Yanapay. Founded and run by Yuri Valencia, the organization provides a cultural and artistic outlet for young children, teens, and adults. Since we were living with Yuri’s mother Haydee, we were treated as family and invited to celebrate New Year’s Eve at their restaurant two blocks from Cusco’s Plaza de Armas. This was a great opportunity considering that local bars and clubs were charging ridiculous covers just to enter their establishments.
Dinner at Aldea Yanapay with volunteers
On New Year’s Eve we were joined by Belgian friends, Anouk and Hans, who we hadn’t seen since we left the rolling dunes of Huacachina. Meeting at Haydee’s house, we joined forces with father and son volunteers Mark and Cade as well as Cara from Chicago via Rochester, NY. We trekked to Aldea Yanapay, the restaurant which shares its name with the non-profit. Mingling with volunteers from around the globe, we enjoyed a soup, entree, dessert, and beverage for only 20 Peruvian Soles ($US7.50). Tables were shifted and a dance floor formed as the minutes ticked toward midnight.
Plaza de Armas in Cusco Peru
At a quarter to 12 we slipped out of the restaurant and headed toward the Plaza de Armas. We lost Cara and her friend but were joined by two Aussies (Kate and Adrian) and a Kiwi named Phil. Our group consisted of travelers we’d met while winding through Peru as well as volunteers. So Melissa and I were achieving our goal of simultaneously merging our lives as nomads and expats. As we approached the chaos in the plaza, I could see it matched the revelry of Times Square in NYC and Shibuya in Tokyo during festive celebrations.
Congregating near the stone steps leading toward Cusco Cathedral, I noticed we’d lost Phil. Scanning a crowd of thousands, I easily located the Kiwi since he stands way taller than two meters. Realizing he was separated from our pack, he gave up on his quest for cerveza and started walking quickly in the wrong direction. Trying to catch him as he headed away from our group I needed to alter my angle of pursuit like in my days as a football linebacker. His legs are so long that it was like tracking a gazelle on a crowded plane. I caught him near some port-o-potties and we headed back to the group just as a timely beer cart pulled up.
After the countdown to the new year, the sky filled with fireworks displays in every direction. Couples embraced, friends rejoiced, and locals threw firecrackers onto the concrete forcing revelers to dance with high kneed steps. As we uncorked a bottle of champagne I had to be careful because thieves used the chaos to try to pick my pockets twice (Thanks for watching my back Mark).
The party continues at Yuri Valencia’s apartment
After about an hour or so we left the plaza and headed down Calle Plateros on our way to an after-party tossed by Yuri. We met a masked creature from Lima named Manuel in front of The Real McCoy. Continuing on to Yuri’s apartment we reunited with the volunteers and staff from Aldea Yanapay. We partied until the wee hours of the morning passing through the worn out plaza on our way back to Casa de Haydee.
Watching American football in Cusco’s sports bars
Returning to the Plaza de Armas later that afternoon with a similar group, we enjoyed week 17 of the 2011 NFL season at Norton Rat’s Pub. I gave Hans a lesson on American football as Mark and Cade’s Green Bay Packers took on the Detroit Lions. Both teams were already bound for the playoffs, and with 971 combined net passing yards they broke an NFL record for air travel. So on the same day we saw fireworks in the sky as well as on a TV screen near Cusco’s Plaza de Armas.