It’s called the “ombligo del mundo” (navel of the world), but after breathing in a cancer victim’s worth of diesel fumes, excreting dirt-infused snot from the crevices of my nasal cavities and making sure never to wear sandals in order to avoid stepping in one of the millions of steaming piles of stray dog doo-doo, I’m proposing the city of Cusco, Peru, officially be called the “ano del mundo,” or as I prefer its proverbial ring in English, “the butthole of the world.”

Seriously, if the air is so unbreathable that your nasal vibrissae (there’s a scientific name for nose hair!) catch particles of dirt large enough to form clots, something is wrong with your city. We’re talking big, black boogers. (I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.) The only other place this ever happened to me in was Moscow, Russia. But at least they had an excuse. Moscow is a city of nearly 14 million people, countless old Commie factories and millions of filthy vehicles. Of course your snot’s going to get dirty. Of course you’re probably going to acquire the black lung. Of course you’re going to get koala AIDS.

Wait, what? Ecuadorian television informed me yesterday that, indeed, koala AIDS is a ever-growing area of concern.

Although probably not in Moscow. But regardless, I just wanted to raise awareness of this critical issue. I mean, look at these little guys!

We shared needles.

But marsupials aside, what the f*ck is going on in Cusco? For a place surrounded by so much death-worthy beauty, there really is no excuse for Cusco city to boast the amount of air contamination that it does. For one, it’s barely even a city. The population just tops 400,000 and it isn’t considered an industrial hotspot, at least as far as I know. Which means most of the air contamination comes from the diesel-pooping vehicles that crowd the streets from the center outwards.

For instance, I lived near the airport, which is on the very edge of town or about 45 minutes from the center. Having made the executive decision to shelve my jogging routine for fear of developing a respiratory disorder from all the particles of probable cancer floating in the air, I decided to make it a habit to walk back and forth to and from school each day. And while I thought the exercise would benefit my health, the grit I’d rinse off my face and blow forth from my nariz each night said otherwise.

But at least it wasn’t koala AIDS.

But seriously, besides the Plaza de Armas and a few other areas downtown, the rest of Cusco rivaled some of the other sh*tholes I’ve seen in its general sh*tiness. (I’m looking at –and smelling — you Naryn, Kyrgyzstan!) Come take a walk with me…

More like smell the magic…

One of the many seemingly never-ending construction projects.

Such scenic piles of dirt!

And the biggest travesty of them all? Erick the “heartbreaker.”

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