The South American Adventure - Day 3!!

Day 3 - Cusco and Altitude

May 26 - before 9 am
It's early morning in Cusco.  I'm taking deep breaths and getting ready for my third cup of coca tea.  The altitude sickness has been my fear since the beginning of the trip planning.  I saw Bourdain.  I saw how he suffered in his Peru episode.  Sure, he's older than me and a smoker (or was still  in that ep), but still...he was miserable.  And I've been scared ever since.

The morning wake up was much earlier than we wanted.  I fell asleep Cruise Style last night (hard, fast and in the middle of a conversation) and when the alarm woke me up, I considered throwing it away.  Considering the alarm is also my wonderful iPhone, tossing it was not an option.

The Lima airport, the airport we walked through so quickly (and in a daze) two days ago...or really yesterday morning, was quite spectacular.  Everything was shiny, clean, and very modern.  I was surprised.  This is where we found Starbucks (or as I liked to call it "Americans on Parade").  There were plenty of stores and places to eat prior to going to the gate.  As for security, it was tight, but you could walk through the scanner with your Starbucks.  Yay!!

Knowing how the first flight on our trip went (sardine can and rowdy passengers) we were quite wary about Taca Air.  And man, you could have knocked me over with a feather when we got on the plane.  Plenty of room, in-flight entertainment and food!!  We had a ham and cream cheese sandwich and some kind of cinnamon muffin.  Super good.

I passed out on the takeoff and woke up just in time for food...and the sights out of the window.  Adele and I took turns taking pictures of the mountains.  Big mountains.  Breathtaking mountains.  Nice.

We found our luggage and driver quickly and made it to Torre Dorada, our home for the next few nights.  It was too early to check in, so we chatted for a few minutes with a couple from Minnesota.  They had great advice for the llamas at Machu Picchu.  I won't share the advice yet, cause I want the pictures to speak for themselves.  Hah!!  Llamas!!  The front desk guy had us go up for some breakfast.  The breakfast spread is great.  Freshly squeezed juices (note to self...don't try papaya juice again), cookies, cheese and omlettes.  We asked the guy from Chicago with the iPad what the WiFi password was (two Americans chimed in without prompting as well) and we were soon checking in with the world.  I appreciate being so far away from home, but being able to communicate with family and friends.  It is a comforting feeling.

Evening - after a long day...
The day was supposed to be low key.  The key word was "supposed to be.". After a quick nap this morning, we headed into the heart of Cusco.  The great part about the hotel is that they provide free transport to the center of town. Considering we are in a residential area and far away from the sights, this is highly appreciated.

Cusco was not huge, but it was bustling.  Our main plan for the day was to shop.  We hadn't shopped yet (though we've only been on vacation for three days), and the Soles were burning a hole through our pockets.  We started off in San Blas, an artist's area.  The nice part was that this was the highest elevation in Cusco, so we didn't have to walk up too much.  The rest of Cusco that we were going to see was downhill (literally, not figuratively).

I realized after a while that shopping in Cusco was like shopping in Florida or any beach town.  You're going to find the same things in every store, just slightly different prices.  And if you find something you really want, get it immediately.  Cause you're never going to find the shop again (full disclosure, we did find a shop again that had a sweater Adele wanted...I don't think this will ever happen again).  It was shades of Moscow and the regret about not getting a second set of Cathedral Christmas Ornaments.  Why didn't I get two sets of those ornaments??

After some shopping, we went into Aggressive Picture Taking Mode (tm Adele) and went to see the sights.  Most of this time was spent in Plaza de Armas, where there were cathedrals and fountains and tons of people milling about.  Which brings me to one of the sad things about Cusco...

There is so much poverty.  I get that.  I knew it existed here.  But the hardest part to see were the women and children dressed in the full-on Inca garb, asking people to take their pictures for money.  We tried to take some stealthy pictures (shooting from the hip...again with the literal interpretation), but I suck at stealthy pictures.  There was a cute family (probably 3 generations of women) that begged us to take their pictures for money.  They even had baby llamas in snugglies.  Super cute.  But sad.

The other sad part was in the Plaza de Armes.  The people hawking jewelry and sweaters and hats and art were like a mosquito swarm.  When you're sitting on the cathedral steps and people are three deep to ask you if you want to buy a Cusco hat, it gets difficult.  And they don't go away, "It's free to look at art!!".  It wasn't as bad in the San Blas area, but it was overstimulation.  Too much!!

We had an idea of a place to eat from our super cute front desk guy.  And we were excited.  Other than our two breakfasts and a quick empanada (mmm...empanada...) we hadn't eaten much during the day.  So we went to the place that Daniel liked.  The problem was that it was in the middle of the square and total tourist-bait.  I'm sure the food was good, but the prices were significantly more than we expected.  So we collected out thoughts and found Plan B.  Unfortunately, after a long walk to find Plan B, we arrived to find the doors shut.  I don't know if we were just too early, but still.  So, we wandered around for Plan C and found it as we were looking at a menu.  The woman working the house was super cute and friendly and the food looked good.  I think it was called the Fat Duck, but I can't find the restaurant anywhere on the Internet (gotta put the pics on Foodspotting!!).  The food was good.  And cheap.  For 20 Soles each, we had a complete meal.  We finally tried Inca Cola, the Peruvian version of Coca Cola.  Inca Cola...sucked.  It was like drinking bubble gum.  Blech!!  Oh well, at least we tried it.  Soon, we'll try the next item on the Cusco Food List - Cuy.  Look it up.

Back at the hotel, we are currently coming up with the game plan for tomorrow.  We know we are going to Awana Kancha, the llama sanctuary (they take their llamas VERY seriously here) and Sacsayhuman, another Inca area.  Both Joe and Liz raved about Sacsayhuman, so why not?  We are hiring a driver to take us anyway, what's one more stop??

As for the altitude sickness.  Fingers crossed.  We haven't been struck down yet.  Thank God.  Though I am going to keep praying to the Health Gods.  Part of my prayer will include the fact that going from a warm environment to a cold one to a warm one can't be good for our health.  I expect Easter Island will be when we get hit with a cold.  And I'm suddenly a little sniffly.  Probably just allergies.

Surprising Things About Peru - 

The dogs roaming the streets.  Not cool.  They are all safe, but in varying stages of distress.  The puppy not only was limping, but was pooping something awful.  Sadly, every time I went to take a dog picture, one would take a dump.  You'd think I would stop trying.  Not gonna happen.

Traffic laws don't seem to exist.  The drivers do know what they are dong, and it's almost ballet-like to watch, but dang.  Lights and signs mean nothing.  We did see a traffic cop, but I don't think she did anything.  Fascinating.


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