Monday, November 10, 2008

Peru Trip Timeline: Part 3 - Cusco

After saying goodbye to Uncle Bert & Aunt Colleen, we got on the plane and got settled in for the flight. Not long after settling in, a couple came up and said that they had the seats in which we were sitting. The guy sitting beside us looked at our tickets and helped explain that the ticketing agent had only printed off our boarding pass from Lima to Cusco, not from Trujillo to Lima (the boarding agent didn't look so closely when we were getting on the plane…). We talked with one of the flight attendants who cleared the situation with the front desk and told us to just go to the ticketing area when we got to Lima and get a reprinted boarding pass. No problem right?

Actually there was a slight problem. I had arranged for getting on the flight to Cusco that left 35 minutes after our arrival in Lima. This meant that we had 35 minutes to get off the plane, to ticketing, back through security and to the gate. To make matters a little worse, the plane was late taking off in Trujillo and slightly late arriving in Lima. Thankfully, we found that the Lima airport isn't as bad to navigate as some airports and ticketing was not far from the arrival gate. We almost had a problem when paying the airport tax, however. We had paid in Trujillo, which meant that we didn't have to pay in Lima, but we would have had to wait for the manager to come out and do some authorization signature. We chose to pay the departure tax again instead ($12 total to avoid missing a flight). Another good thing is that security is pretty lax there, somewhat reminiscent of the way things used to be here. We ended up running the rest of the way to the gate and were the last ones just before the gate closed. Oddly enough, we got on the same exact plane that we had exited just 30 minutes prior and we sat in the same exact seats.

Before arriving, we had been told by numerous people, along with our Frommer's Peru book, about the altitude. Cusco is right around 2 miles above sea level, so the air is pretty thin. I didn't notice anything at first. I made sure that we followed the prevalent advice to take things slow. The hostal where we stayed (the Hostal Rumi Punku, highly recommended) sent an employee and a taxi to pick us up at the airport. By the time we got to the hotel, I thought we were doing pretty good. That was until I tried to lift the suitcases up 4 stairs. I got lightheaded pretty quickly as my body tried to get oxygen that just wasn't available. I left the suitcase moving to the hostal staff. While we were getting our registration filled out, we drank some mate de coca, which is supposed to help minimize altitude sickness. It seemed to help, but so did not lifting heavy suitcases up and down stairs.

We had been told to not do anything for the first hour or so, not even sleep. So we stayed in the room and indulged in some TV. It was fun watching something in English and seeing how close the Spanish subtitles matched up to the actual dialogue. After 3 hours or so, we decided to go out on the town. We lazily walked towards the Plaza de Armas and went into a few shops along the way. The whole time we were accosted by various people selling stuff like paintings, shoe shines, necklaces, and massages. It was a rude awakening to the fact that we were now in a tourism dominated area and I quickly learned an important phrase: "No gracias!" I would have other phrases at my command by the time we left Cusco for Lima: "Ya tenemos" (we already have, for the souvenir sellers), "Ya comimos" (We already ate, for the menu hawkers), "Ya fuimos" (We already went, for the Machu Picchu tour guides). Don't get me wrong, our time in Cusco was hardly filled with fending off people trying to separate us from our money, it just happened to be the most annoying aspect.

On our first full day, Saturday, we had to buy our train tickets for getting to Aguas Calientes. After we had the tickets in hand, I looked at my watch and saw that somehow the time had gotten away from us and I really wanted to see the ruins at Sacsayhuamán. We picked up a taxi-driver that took us back to the hostal and then to the ruins. We got a guide at the ruins, but we didn't really need one (Machu Picchu and Ollantaytambo were both larger and we managed to find our way around those two sets of ruins). He told us a mix of speculation (what the place was used for) and stuff that was obvious (the difference between Incan stonework and restoration efforts). After walking around for a while, we decided to head on back to the hostal. We had thought about seeing some other ruins nearby, but decided against it as our stomachs were complaining loudly.

When we got back to the hostal, I found that the time hadn't gone as fast as I had thought. At some point while walking to the train station, I had hit the "Set time" combination on my watch and inadvertently set it forward either 3 or 4 hours. I reset it and we went in search of a quinta (restaurant with outdoor seating) that Frommer's had said was close by. At the quinta, I decided to knock off one of my TODOs. I ordered Cuy Choctado. I have put a picture below for context, but to minimize the grossing out factor, I put further pictures in the "Peruvian Food" link to the side.

After lunch, we walked around some more and bought more souvenirs. We went to a show in the evening that featured some dances and music from various Pre-Columbian cultures and then went back to the hostal to repack for the trip to Aguas Calientes the next morning. I'm going to skip ahead in the timeline and leave Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu, and Ollantaytambo for future posts. However, we returned to Cusco a day earlier than initially planned, Tuesday, as we found that we wouldn't have to stay in Ollantaytambo overnight (more on that in a later post). We went to a museum and walked around some areas beyond the Plaza de Armas which we had not yet visited. We finished our souvenir shopping. I decided to get some more artistic photos also.

On Thursday, it was time to leave Cusco. It happened to rain for most of that morning and when we got to the airport, we were greeted by long lines. It was a bit unnerving as the time went but we hardly moved. Finally we got to the front desk and were informed that as a result of cancellations earlier that day, we had gotten bumped to stand-by. The first guaranteed seats were not available for another 7 hours. So, despite getting up early and getting to the airport with plenty of time to spare, we spent an extra 7 hours in Cusco. We decided to just wait it out in the airport. I taught Amy how to do Sudoku. She picked it up pretty quickly and in hardly no time had solved three without my help.

Eventually, we got on the plane for the trip to Lima and the last major leg of the trip.

Disclaimer: While in Peru, Amy and I managed to take around 2250 photos, much less than our preparations, but still over 6GB worth. The pictures that we post online are, understandably, a small subset. The ones about which we blog are an even smaller subset. If you want to see more pictures, there are a couple of links on the side-bar. I will be uploading over the span of a few days and blogging could take a couple of weeks.

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