Hola! We made it to Cusco, Peru!
My flights here were relatively uneventful. 3 hours Chicago-Miami, then a 4 hour layover in Miami in a very empty concourse. At least there was football on TV and I made it to Chili’s for dinner before they closed. The flight Miami-Lima was shorter than I thought, so I didn’t sleep much. I was thinking it was 6 1/2 hours, but it turns out Miami and Lima are int he same time zone, so it was actually 5 1/2. They served dinner shortly after our midngith takeoff – I think I got 45 minutes or so of snoozing before that. Then slept maybe 2 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. and again 3:30 to 4:30. By 5 a.m., they turned on the lights to prepare for landing. As a result, I felt as jetlagged as when I have flown overnight to Europe! We landed at 5:30 a.m. and passport control went very fast. I picked up my bag from baggage claim and then went to check in for the Cusco flight before trying to freshen up a bit. Then off to an ATM to get some soles and to the line to pay the airport departure tax (why they don’t just include this in the ticket price, I don’t understand).
Kelsey and I met up at the Lima airport shortly before our flight to Cusco at 8:30 a.m. I was a bit nervous since I am used to travelling alone and doing my own thing so this trip will be quite a change. We also haven’t seen each other in 15 years, so should be interesting…
I started taking Diamox to combat altitude sickness the day before leaving and was trying to drink a ton of water to stay hydrated. Nonetheless, I started feeling a headache coming on as we landed in Cusco around 10 a.m. We had a driver from our hotel (the Casa Andina Cusco Plaza) meet us at the airport, which was great. He gave us bottles of water too. We shared our taxi with a couple from Lima who were staying at another Casa Andina hotel. They were great – spoke very good English and gave us lots of recommendations on things to see in Cusco and Lima. The guy even gave Kelsey his card so we can get in touch if we need anything. Very nice!
Once at the hotel, they greeted us with a cup of coca tea, made with leaves of the coca plant (which is what cocaine is made from). It is supposed to help a lot with acclimitization. Luckily, it pretty much tasted like regular tea and they brought sugar for it too. I had been afraid that it would taste really bitter or something. We also had to fill out some forms and then it was off to our room for a much needed shower!
Our room is nice enough on the 2nd floor with a view over some red rooftops toward a church on the Plaza de Armas. After showers and a bit of rest, we decided to head out to explore and to find the Peru Treks office to pay the balance for our Inca Trail trek. But first, we got distracted by the Plaza de Armas, the central square which is just a block or so away from our hotel. There was some sort of stduent parade going on so we decided to check it out. I should add here – what a gorgeous day! Very sunny and felt close to 80. Much warmer than I expected. I had shorts on, although as Kelsey pointed out, I was the only one. We kinda found out why later.
We also learned that we will get quickly accosted in the main square by little kids and adult men trying to sell us stuff, everything from dolls to paintings to shoe shines and massages! Kelsey got several offers to have her shoes shined. Odd!
We got some good pictures but didn’t go into anything (the Cathedral on the square is a main attraction that I definitely want to explore later). We’re still trying to figure out exactly what to see/do and whether to get the boleto turistico which gives us entry to 16 sites but doesn’t include some major ones.
So eventually we decided to make our way to the Peru Treks office. Not completely an easy feat because the street names change here every few blocks and the numbering doesn’t stay consistent. So by the time we got there, they were closed for “lunch” from 1 to 4 (we got there about 1:05). We were pretty hungry by then and decided to head back toward the hotel in search of food. We came upon a restaurant called ChiCha, which is run by an apparently famous chef called Gaston Acurio. I took this chance to order some more coca tea (I was still fairly tired with a bit of a headache) and Kelsey had some specialty drink made out of purple corn (called Chicha). I had empanadas with a gazillion things inside and she got a sampler of potatoes. Nice light lunch. Potatoes are very big here – they grow anywhere from hundreds to thousands of varieties, depending on who you talk to or what you read. Anyway, the restaurant was very nice and our waitress spoke near perfect English. We were a little unsure about the tipping protocol since the bill said tax and service were included in the prices. But since the waitress was good, we decided to round up from 53 soles to 60 soles, which is about $20 total or only $10 each. Not bad.
While at lunch, everything clouded over and a torrential downpour started! The air completely cooled off as well – so I was wishing I had more than shorts on as we walked back the few blocks to the hotel. After a short rest, we headed once again to the Peru Treks office to get our Inca Trail stuff taken care of. Pretty painless although they were quite particular about the quality of bills we paid with and rejected a few of my 20 dollar bills. Luckily I had a few more. Then they tried to sit us down for an orientation which seemed to take much longer than necessary with the guy repeating himself a lot. We were anxious to leave because we were meeting Sandra from Couchsurfing at the hotel at 5:00. We finally escaped about 7 minutes til – without booking our Sacred Valley tour for Sunday. I asked quickly before we left and they said we could come back tomorrow to book.
Back to the hotel again where we met up with Sandra. Quick aside – I joined Couchsurfing.org a few months ago, thinking it would come in handy as I travel more and also thinking it would be fun to host people in Chicago. But the system relies somewhat on having people to vouch for you and provide references for you, and since I didn’t initially know anyone on Couchsurfing, I figured I needed to start working on meeting some people. So it seemed like a good idea to try to meet up with someone in Cusco as a starting point. Anyway, Sandra had agreed to show us around a bit. It took a while for the conversation to really start flowing – in part because we started walking toward the neighborhood of San Blas and the sidewalks are very narrow and you pretty much have to walk single file, so it makes it really difficult to carry on a conversation. Sandra was very nice and answered all sorts of questions we had about the culture, living in Cusco, social norms, etc. She took us up to a lookout point in San Blas that had a great view of the whole city. Then we stopped at a bar – the name was something like Hierbabamba. I got a Pisco Sour, the traditional Peruvian drink, and Kelsey got another kind of sour made with a different fruit. The Pisco Sour was really yummy but I definitely had to limit myself to one since I’m still getting used to the altitude!
Afterwards we headed back toward the main square and chatted with Sandra some more until she had to leave to meet friends. She said she’d call us next Friday to see how we survived the Inca Trail. All in all, it was really nice meeting someone local and she was really friendly and funny. Definitely a good couple hours and a good start to the trip.
After a quick stop at the hotel, we headed for dinner at a restaurant Sandra recommended on the Plaza de Armas – the Inka Grill. I think Krina also recommended it. We were seated next to a table of 2 Americans and 3 Aussies who had just returned from the Inca Trail – they were part of the same group and met on the trail. They seemed like a fun bunch – hopefully ours will be like that. We chatted with them a bit and got some tips on food and the trail. We got a little adventurous with our food – I ordered alpace based on one of the Aussie’s recommendations. Throught about the guinea pig, the other Peruvian speciality but it ws kinda pricey compared to the alpaca (60 soles versus 35). As we left, the same Aussie told us not to be typically wimpy Americans on the Inca Trail! We promised we wouldn’t be. Then, back to the hotel in a light rain and crashed into bed!