Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Saturday, October 9, 2010 Lima to Cuzco (Part 1)

Saturday, October 9, 2010 Lima to Cuzco

Wow, 3:30 AM came early. ‘Specially considering we only got to bed around midnight.

I’d planned on repacking to just take my grey carry on bag and leave the big bag at the hotel since we return after Macchupicchu, but that one is still in the Lima airport – on the wrong side of Peruvian customs. So the decision is to take the big bag and go through the bag check-in process.

(As I later found out, the bag check and the bag pickup is not all that bad, in comparison to the time required to simply check in.)

We used a different route back, and (in spite of being dark), this was a lot more visually comfortable. I’m starting to get a feeling that Lima is real big, that there are no traffic rules that will be followed, and that the police have given up on the bulk of traffic control. The driver confirms this. There are a number of traffic circles and a few stop lights. Officially the people entering have right-of-way, but the reality is that the first to get to a spot, regardless of which ‘lane’ that spot is in, has the right of way and the rest have the right to honk. I use the term ‘lane’ loosely, since the marked lanes do not in any way correlate to the number of lanes being used. The vehicles are smaller (Peugot is common, as is Fiat) and they can sometimes get 4 or 5 abreast on a ‘2 lane’ road.

The public transit system is based on bus. There is no light rail transit. The busses (all sizes and shapes) seem to be colour coded, and people just flag them down when they want on. Some seem to go about ½ a block before being flagged again. In some areas, the lineup of different busses is literally a block long, with a lot of stop and go.

Anyway, Dan and I got to the airport before our target of 6:00AM. Limo has it’s privilege as it dropped us at the airport door. The first thing we noticed was that we could have arrived an hour earlier, as the lineup at LAN was incredible and SLOW. They wanted us to get the ticket first at the kiosk, then line up for checked bags, but the kiosk didn’t accept our reservation information.

Note to self: Always allow extra time at Lima airport. Or travel executive. ;-)

An hour in the line and we got to the counter. (Still no sign of Ben.) Oooooops – an oversold flight and we’ve been bumped, but fortunately only by ½ hour.

From the checkin counter, we head upstairs, first to pay the airport fee (different fees for domestic and international) and then through security. Dan’s carryon got flagged – he had a pair of moustache trim scissors that obviously could be dangerous, so they got confiscated. Finally a quick breakfast, and off to the gate.

Takeoff in Lima was uneventful, and we soon had our first glimpse of the Andes. That was cut short by the clouds and the fact that I was in a middle seat. As we approached Cusco, things cleared a bit and we had an incredible sight – it turns out that Cusco metropolitan area has over 1¼M people, scattered across an amazingly large set of mountains and high valleys.

After a loooooong approach, apparently due to the thin air at 13,000 feet, we landed on time. Off the plane, onto the tarmac, and into the terminal. Since I had a bag, Dan went to find out about taxi to the hotel, and to see whether he could resolve an issue with his Macchipicchu train ride, while I waited for my bag. First thing to notice was the ‘oxygen bar’ and the ads for portable oxygen. We soon found out why.

Dan found a tour operator - an enterprising young lady who had all the answers! She arranged for a taxi and escorted us to the hotel (which she uses as a base). She got us checked in at the Sonesta Hotel and then made our arrangements. These included an afternoon of sightseeing (private bus and guide) around Cusco, shuttle from bus to train (and back) for Sunday, and a contact number in case of issues.

Note to self: In Cusco, contact Karen Buleje Lazarte ( or to arrange tours.

We finally caught up with Ben at the hotel. He had decided to take his own taxi to the Lima airport somewhat earlier than Dan and myself, and actually made it on the original plane.
First thing I noticed in Cusco is that it is a tourist town. One can find all the favorite American amenities, such as MacDonald’s. ;-) Also, it is very mountainous (duh!) and they build on the side of the mountains with abandon.

It sure is high up here, and if I move quickly or do some moderate exercise (even climbing the 3 flights to my room) I notice a slight shortage of breath. So for the duration, I need to slow down.

Another thing, and one we found out as soon as we were in the hotel, is that everyone drinks Coca tea. According to my guide from Macchupichu (tomorrow), the locals of Inca descent chew up to ½ kilo of Coca leaf a day. It is a vitamin and calcium supplement, and contains trace minerals, all of which are needed by the locals. And visitors – it does help with the altitude. Even Stanley got into the tea.

After settling into our hotel rooms, I took a quick look at the neighborhood. In front of the hotel is a monument with artificial waterfall. The local cabbies get pails of water from the pool to wash their cars. Across from that is an art and craft market.

Note to self: Get gifts from the market!

We had a quick lunch in the restaurant down the street from the hotel. One of the staff is a young lady dressed in traditional costume. Since Ben speaks Spanish, we asked him to ask her for a picture with Stanley. She was kind enough to do that, but quickly returned to work. We returned to the restaurant that evening and she was still working there.

Just after noon, we met up with our guide for the day for a relatively quick tour through Cusco. It is interesting to note that Cusco is shaped like a Pumo. The tour followed a bit of that and consisted of a trip to the historical Cathedral and convent at the main square, Plaza de Armas, which was build on top of the ancient Inca temple. Amazing thing about the original temple is the lack of 90 degree corners and mortar in the ‘bricks’. The shape of the blocks ad the close fit is very earthquake resistant. followed by a trip to the archeological dig at Conventas del Sacramentos, over to a silver smith and wool products store for some shopping for Alpaca and Vicuna wool products, and another ruins.

My only comment is ‘Wow!’ Repeatedly! In spite of the (relatively light) rain.

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