Cuzco Rock Star

The day before I was scheduled to do the Inka Trail Hike, I had to go to the tour operator’s office in Cusco to present my passport and pick up my hiking poles. I went there in the late afternoon, giving myself a couple of hours to go return said poles to my hostel, wander around the city, and come back in time for the briefing/orientation back at the tour office at 7.

On my way back to the hostel, I decided to cut through Plaza de Armas instead of walking around the square. The sun was shining behind Sacsayhuamán, there were families and kids about, street performers were out in full force, and Santa was at the far end of the plaza having a jam session with a really gorgeous hipster-y looking backpacker. They were surrounded by a gaggle of German tourists. I made my way over and joined the crowd around them. Man, Santa can sing!He wasn’t technically Santa, but he was a big burly man and had the most glorious white beard adorning his lobster red, sun kissed cheeks. I reached for my camera to start taking photos. Unfortunately I was out of power and I left my spare batteries at the hostel. The cute hipster saw my “fancy” camera and asked me if I knew how work a DSLR. I said yes. He handed his camera to me and told me to work my magic. He got up on the bench, picked up his guitar and continued the impromptu show he was doing with Santa. I moved around and started taking photos of them. Twenty minutes later, he and Santa wrapped up the show. While Santa was regaling his adoring audience with his tales of life on the road, cute hipster went through the photos I took of them performing. I sat down, picked up his guitar, and started playing a few chords.

He asked if I played the guitar. I said yes, but horribly. He set the camera down and asked me to play a song for him. I told him I can’t sing, and my guitar playing skills were mediocre at best. He insisted. I relented. I played my go-to song “Bring Me Down”, a pop-ish love song from the Filipino band River Maya. He liked the song, and strangely liked my singing and playing. He picked up Santa’s guitar and started playing “Hello” by the Beatles. I played and sang along with him. We got into a nice groove pretty quickly. We switched. I took Santa’s guitar and started playing the opening chords to the Beatles “All You Need Is Love”.

He got up on the bench with his guitar, reached for my hand, and dragged me up. Sing, he said, as he jumped back down. Now I’m standing all alone on the bench with a guitar in tow and bewildered look on my face. Santa picks up the third guitar and tells me not to keep my public waiting. I continued playing. Hipster played the bass, Santa played the guitar, and I stood there floundering, singing, trying hopelessly to hit the right chords on the guitar. Just sing, Santa says, we’ll play. Hipster smiled at me encouragingly. Fuck it, I thought, so what if my singing sounds like a cat being strangled. Nobody knows me here anyways.

So I sang, and they played, and when the song ended, they started another one, and another. Twenty minutes later, there is a sizable crowd listening to us perform, with me singing no less! We moved from the Beatles to the Rolling Stone to Janis Joplin to Bonnie Raitt. Miraculoulsy, nobody booed me or told me to stop. People were actually starting to sing along with us. It was an amazing feeling. I now understand why rock stars and other musicians live for live shows. The energy you get back from the crowd is equally uplifting and humbling.

Even more miraculous is the growing pile of soles notes and coins in the guitar case in front of us. A couple more songs and we took a bow. We earned 50 soles in that half hour, or about 17USD. We split the tips even, and I said goodbye to them. We exchanged hugs and email addresses and promised to keep in touch and share photos. As I made my way across the plaza to head back to my hostel, cute hipster catches up to me and gives me his share of the tips. Confused, I tried to give it back to him. He said no, not yet. Buy me a drink with that tonight, he says. I smiled and waved goodbye, and promised to be back at 8.

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