Cusco, Peru: Much needed R&R
November 7, 2013 | By Mitch & Jewels |
The traveling saga has officially begun! We left NYC on an 11:30am flight on Sunday 3 November, and after some impressive layovers (including admiring a Richard Serra sculpture in Toronto and a pre-dawn nap in Lima while Americans talked about their favorite guns), we arrived in Cusco, Peru at 8:30 am on Monday 4 November. We had pre-registered a hostel for Cusco, knowing that we would be pretty dysfunctional by the time we arrived. Our days since then have been pretty simple… Monday we slept all morning, then wandered around town in the afternoon and sorted out our Inca Trail details, then came back and passed out for an epic amount of sleep (12 hours for me, Mitch came in around 10). Tuesday we intended to chill out and read in the plazas, but the rain had other ideas and we scampered around buying a bunch of the rain gear and cold-weather gear that we decided not to bring on our trip (oops). Today, Wednesday, the weather was gorgeous and we explored around town some more and found out (thanks Facebook!) that a friend was coincidentally in Cusco now too, and we had both lunch and dinner with Krista. While there is plenty of other stuff that would have been awesome to do in and around Cusco, after our last several weeks/months of crazy work schedules, wedding-planning, apartment-renting-planning, cat-planning, passport-debacle-managing, etc., the rest and relaxation has been lovely. A few specific notes on Cusco… in no particular order.
Our hostel, the Pirwa in San Blas is totally sufficient. It’s not amazing by any means, but we have a private room with a private bathroom (with hot water) and a space heater and a light breakfast. The staff is lovely, it’s super quiet (just what we needed) with a nice little central courtyard and shared common area, and it’s S/70 per night (around $27 USD). (Note: Today we visited Krista in the Amaru Hostel, which is super freaking gorgeous, but I think 2x – 4x what we are paying.)
It turns out that altitude sickness is one hell of a doozy. Cusco is at over 11,000 feet, which is significant. We have been taking Diamox and drinking mate de coca (coca tea), and even got little gummy candies out of coca, but it’s still not ideal. Both of us had tingly hands and feet and fast-racing heartbeats… but I was lucky enough to have the tinnitus, nausea, and unsteadiness on my feet when I stood for more than a few minutes our first day here. Since then it’s chilled out substantially, but the tingling is still bizarre, and we are both getting winded from climbing even mild hills and staircases.
Cusco architecture & planning:
Apparently the Incans planned Cusco in the shape of a jaguar (or puma?), which is incredibly impressive considering that the entire thing is built on a series of hills, which I imagine made city planning challenging. We have explored only a small subsection of Cusco, based on the main tourist areas (centering on the Plaza de Armas and San Blas), and it’s really quite beautiful. There are plenty of gorgeous plazas, in that standard South-America-mimicking-European sort of way, with lovely sculptures, fountains, and gardens. Many of the buildings are built with gorgeous stonework near the bases, some of which dates back to Incan times (and some is designed to look like it does). Some of the doors and balconies have ornate wood carvings, which are quite lovely. The walls of the buildings themselves are often concrete or other materials that are relatively uninteresting. The streets seem like they are largely from the Incan days, and have teeny sidewalk areas, the main street area, all stone, which seems to barely fit the undersized cars they have here (an SUV certainly wouldn’t fit on 90% of their streets here), and often a little water drainage area running down the center of the street – all of this going up and down hills. Some of the streets are actually little stairways and built for pedestrians only. As far as I am concerned, anyone who is able to navigate these streets by car deserves a medal of honor. (Side note: Today we saw a Google Streetview car going along a little street).
The people are super seriously beyond friendly. Even the people trying to make a dime off the tourists are lovely and friendly. There is a mix of more traditional Incan clothing (on the women in particular) and more modern clothing. And considering that the streets are super narrow and winding and the street-level lighting is not the most impressive, we have never once felt unsafe. (To be fair, with our R&R schedule, we haven’t gone out past around 8:30pm at all.) One thing that deserves special note are the pet alpacas. At first I thought: “Why is that woman carrying a baby goat on her back as she would a baby, with a colorful knit hat on both her head and the baby’s head?” And then I realized that it wasn’t a baby goat, but a baby alpaca, and they charge people for photos (note to self: I totally want to pay for a photo with a lady and a baby alpaca with a knit hat), and they also have adult pet alpacas too. On that front, they do sell alpaca steaks and meat at many restaurants, not sure if those are the same alpacas.