By Josh Lowe.
Elevated at 11,000 feet, Cusco is a unique town in it’s own right, but usually the starting point for treks to Machu Picchu. And yes, they use the coca leaf to help quell the effects of altitude sickness that is common, especially when you fly in from seaside Lima in about an hour. But before getting to the flight, I’ll start with the standard time crunch. The goal was to leave at 8:45, my flight was not until noon, but I also planned on getting a yellow fever vaccination at the airport clinic for my upcoming trip to Bolivia, and didn’t know what to expect there. Latin America is sort of notorious for lack of schedule keeping and service. My taxi to the airport, Julio’s uncle, was running about 45 minutes late due to a bad tire. After getting through the congested arteries that is Lima traffic, I reached the airport at 10am.
I managed to find the med clinic right near the entrance, with 2 people standing out front waiting, but no attendant at the window. After waiting a couple minutes I decided to give the solid doors a tug just in case, but they were locked. It did prompt someone to open the door though, which resulted in a woman saying “momentito”. Right. I wasn’t going to hold my breath for that momentito. Around 10:35 I was debating if I could wait longer, as I didn’t know what to expect for the lines to pay departure tax and security, plus I read that you don’t want to cut it too close, because the airlines will bump you if other flights are delayed and they accommodate other passengers before you get there. It was then that I was ushered in, and luckily it didn’t take too long to do the paperwork, get jabbed, and get out. The med place gave me a pack of Ibuprofen too, apparently in case of headache from the shot. I didn’t really understand what they were saying to me actually, but as far as I know everything went to plan. I got a shot of something and my international vaccination card filled out at any rate. Cost about $28 bucks here as opposed to upwards of $100 back in the states. The lines for tax and security weren’t long either, so luckily I had plenty of time to make the flight.
The plane ride was only and hour, and I began to wonder if the white capped mountains appeared that way due to snow, or planes losing paint skimming over the top of them as they were so close. That’s the Andes for you. John Denver should have written a song about them. Cusco is full of traditionally dressed Peruvians, most of the walking around selling things. They definitely work the angle for tourists. The hostel I had booked at $20, Pirwa Corregidor, was right on the Plaza de Armas, which has a nice fountain and a couple large old style churches. I spent the afternoon strolling through town, nothing too strenuous to acclimate a little bit to the elevation. I found a large market no too far away and got a meal for 3 soles (one dollar); soup, pollo cubana, and green tea. I attempted to call it an early night back at the Pirwa, but apparently it is right next to a disco, so I was treated to music all night, along with a loud hallway of squeaking stairs. The altitude affects sleep ability too, so I maybe logged 3 hours that night. But I had Machu Picchu to look forward to, so no problem.
My van ride was to pick me up at 7:30, so I headed to the lobby at 7:15 to settle my bill and get my free breakfast voucher. I intended to pay via Visa, but apparently the only person that run that was not due in until 8am. I didn’t have a lot of dollars on me, so I asked the price in Soles, knowing it should be around 60, but he said 78 soles. You have to watch out for price changing as it is common. Even if you buy a tour package, every individual along the way might try to get you to pay again or convince you it wasn’t included in the package. Anyway I said no, and he started into the “exchange rate changed” speech, so I argued for a while but only had 10 minutes before pickup and knew that getting on a bus with no food in the system would not be good, so I gave in and compromised at 71 soles, vowing not to return for my Sunday night stay. Apparently getting an extra $4 that day was enough for the guy to give up getting another $20 for Sunday. Oh well, I ended up getting another hostal that night a few blocks over for $12 (35 soles) so I guess I ended up better off than had I spent 2 nights at $20 anyway.
I’ll save the Machu Picchu story for another blog (it deserves it), and skip ahead to my return to Cusco. I had been in email contact with a friend of my friend Peter, we are both in his upcoming wedding, as coincidentally he and his wife were traveling in Cusco at that same time to attend Spanish school. The van dropped us off a little after 9, so I checked my email and the plan was to meet up around 11pm since I originally thought I wouldn’t be back until 10:30. Gave me some time to find that other hostel though. We headed over to Paddy’s pub on the corner (no, I did not see Frank, Charlie, Mac, Dennis or Sweet Dee, IASIP fans). Unfortunately meal service just stopped, but we grabbed a beer and departed around midnight as they had class in the morning. I wandered the streets looking for food, but all the markets and restaurants were closed, so I settled for a snack cart. It held me over well enough as I struggled with sleep issues again though.
In the morning I went to an internet cafe to get in touch with Julio to straighten out my airport transportation since I switched hostels, and get my boarding pass printed. He suggested I check out Qorinkancha, a sun temple constructed by the Inca civilization. It was mostly destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors, who built the Santo Domingo church in its place. What is now the museum area has some Inca stone work and Christian art, though photos are prohibited in most areas. It’s probably better if you’re more religious, but ok at a cost of 10 soles. Cusco is a good looking city and has a lot of sights to see, but I wasn’t there too long so after that I grabbed a Peruvian hamburger and checked out the market a bit before heading back to the airport. The Machu Picchu trip, altitude, and lack of sleep 3 nights running had taken its toll, but was a great experience. Machu Picchu report to follow shortly…