August 29th, 2010
We woke up bright and early to go downstairs to our complimentary breakfast. We ordered some friend eggs, ate some delicious fruit, and drank some Mate de Coca (a tea that would help us prep for the immense elevation change we were about to experience).
After breakfast, we walked out with our taxi waiting for us right outside the door. We were now going back to LIMA international airport to hop onto a plane that would take us from sea level city, Lima to 11,200 ft (3,400 m) Cusco.
We got to the airport. There was a huge line of people with the same idea of seeing the infamous magnificent ruins high in the mountains of the Andes! We went through a weird process for domestic flights - you pay an Airport Fee, then Security, then you're finally in. It was an extra step in the whole airport process. We managed to sneak a forgotten water bottle in. However, I really don't know what the domestic rules are in Peru. We cross security and we immediately buy ourselves a delicious Carne Empanada. They are a bit different from the Filipino Empanadas (slight larger, different spices, powdered sugar on top). This was the start of us eating the delicious food that Peru offered.
We boarded our flight on TACA airlines. We had aisle seats that sat next to each other, so we didn't see much of a view. But as we approached our final destination, we saw little glimpses of the beautiful, enchanting town of Cusco. It was quite exciting!
We land and we are immediately greeted with crowds of people selling trekking adventures, tourist info, hotels, motels, cab rides, you name it - they got it (and you can bargain, too). It was a nervous 20 minutes or so waiting for our bag. Of all the places, to loose a bag, this would of been a bummer. Baggage claim was on group level and you could see outside where they were loading the carousels. We had an unmistakable bright red bag so we were worried when we didn't see it at first. It was literally the last luggage to be uncovered by the other cargo. It was a sigh of relief.
Finally, we stepped outside. We got our first breath of thin mountain air. Cusco, like I said before, is HIGH in the mountains. Even at 11,200 feet, there were towering mountains surrounding the city. It was an amazing first sight to see.
We found a taxi driver (among the hoards of taxi drivers around us) to bring us to our Hotel in San Blas (a borough in Cusco). After approaching Cusco (the main center), it was amazing riding through the old streets. The buildings were soo different from what we were used to. Most of the streets were lined with original Incan walls and stones. The streets were incredibly narrow and people were walking along these tiny 1-person sidewalks. We were surprised to see that there were very few traffic lights. We couldn't help to look at each other in awe about where we were and what was actually happening around us. It was a new world! A new adventure! A new place with completely different people! It was THE most exhilarating feeling. We got dropped off at the end of this tiny little streets and had to walk up these old stairs that led to our street that our hotel was on. Hotel Casona les Pleiades
This was right outside of our hotel. This is from the inside of our front door. What a different world it was! It was an incredibly humbling experience.
Right away, we knew it was going to be a great place. The owner, Melanie, let us in. She was so friendly, greeted us with a hug, and started to go through tons of great info about what to do while here in Cusco. We sat down around a few cups of the Mate de Coca tea and talked for about an hour. By the time we got to our room we were anxious to get out and explore! She also warned us to be easy on ourselves because of effects of elevation sickness. "You need to take it easy at least you first day otherwise you can get really sick and that is normal in this town."
We headed upstairs. Our room was very clean and had a lot of character. It was on the 3rd and top level of the hotel so the ceiling was slanted . It made the room look cool, but it also caused more than a few bumps to the head. But we didn't mind, the exposed wooden beams and the view out the window made it all worth the bumps. Out of a little window, we could see the whole of Cusco. Ignoring the warning about elevation sickness from Melanie, we quickly grabbed what we needed and headed out.
Not counting moving from airports, to taxis, to hotels, and back, this was our first time out into the city. It was surreal. We got a really good recommendation about the hotel, so we were lucky to be in a great part of town called San Blas. There we were, overlooking San Blas Square, ready to explore Cusco. We started taking pictures right away.
This one native Incan woman in traditional dress approached us holding a baby llama. She offered to let us hold it for a picture. Jimmy proceeded to take a picture with this woman in her colorful dress. As it turns out, it is very common for people like this to approach you looking to pose with you for a picture for a few Soles. This was the first of a number of pictures we “bought” from these interesting people.
We wandered down the narrow cobblestone streets to the main square in the middle of Cusco. It was beautiful, with huge cathedrals and a big fountain in the middle. And the best of it all, was the beautiful people.
We were really hungry so we went looking for a place to eat. There were people lining the streets offering their menus, hoping to lure you into their restaurant. After a little more wandering, we stumbled onto the Hotel of the Sun restaurant. We almost walked away, but then decided to turn around. After reading the lovely lunch menu consisting of a soup, a drink and an entrée for only 20 Soles ($7), we decided to enter in the threshold of deliciousness. After sitting down, we immediately felt the altitude hitting us. We thought we had escaped the infamous sickness of everyone that arrives at Cusco, but we realized we definitely did not. We drank some Mate de Coca, which is what is recommended for altitude sickness. Still the slight dizziness didn’t go away, but stood in our backyards.
Our soups were incredible made with a grain called quinoa. The food was full of flavor! The colors of the soups was bright orange and man, was it good. Our waiter, Percy recommended it to us. It was sooo good! After tasting that, we didn’t think it could get any better. Jimmy ordered a delicious Alpaca meal and I ordered Ceviche ( a traditional dinner here in Peru – and the Philippines). They both were amazing!! And as I am writing this, it makes me want to walk over and have a taste again!
Soon, we were full and we were ready to run out and discover more of the beautiful city.
We went out and walked around and around and around. Admiring the beautiful native clothes that the Peruvians wear – the beautiful colors of their hats and skirts and shirts!!! We absolutely were amazed! We took a ton of pictures admiring all the scenery and the beauty of this new world.
We decided to go down to the market. For Jimmy, this was his very 1st time to ever experience a real marketplace (and I don't mean a grocery store or the LA farmer's market)- this was a place where you can bargain deals and people yell for you to come to their booth to shop when you walk by.
We entered the market and there were a ton of fruits, vegetables, meat, Peruvian crafts, clothing large pizza sized circular bread being sold by sweet old ladies, alpaca sweaters, gloves, scarves, socks, warm hats, and so much more. It was full of energy. When you look at an item as your passing, they start showing off - opening blankets, clicking two wooden spoons together, anything that can get your attention. Of course, we stop. We look, we think, we buy but before we do, we bargain - Every price is negotiable. They always start high for tourists - and with our giant western hiking daypacks, Jimmy and his "color," clearly we were tourists.
After the market, we began to walk. We had a map but we were intentionally getting lost. There were dogs everywhere. They were just a part of the city. WE LOVED THAT. They were very well behaved dogs, too. After walking through the crazy marketplace, filled with people selling honey straight from honeycombs and men selling us toilet paper on the sidewalk, this new part of the town was very quiet. We kept getting farther and farther from it all. Suddenly, we reached a pair of train tracks and it was there we decided to head back to our hotel because the elevation sickness began to really bother us. The altitude in Cusco was definitely a hindrance. We walked for another 30 minutes back to our place. Our condition began to get rapidly worse. Soon, we felt the sickness really bad. Our headaches were just horrible. And it's not like we were hiking or walking fast or running- we were just leisurely walking, but "leisurely walking" in high altitudes is a problem if you are not adjusted. We learned this the hard way. We were warned not to push ourselves that day, but we were so excited to explore this new and foreign land that we definitely pushed ourselves to our limits.
We got to our hotel and immediately laid down. It was only 2:30PM but we collapsed and slept for 5 hours.
Till next time...