In last week’s post, my husband and The Padawan helped me plan out our trip to Peru in their special way. Today, we’re going to Cusco! It took a minute to get there. We do things on the cheap, so if you travel with me, expect a few connecting flights. Our first flight was to Atlanta. It was an uneventful evening flight. We expected a bit of a layover. Our flight was at 11:00PM, and we arrived at about 8:00. The beautiful thing about Atlanta is that every seat has multiple charging ports, so we settled in to charge our devices, read, and maybe take a tiny nap. Enter Mason.
We’d been relaxing for maybe an hour, seats at the gate slowly filling up. Seasoned travelers laid on the floor, using their packs as pillows. And suddenly, the peace was shattered by a tiny typhoon. We knew his name within the first ten seconds of his arrival with his enormous extended family. We couldn’t figure out his story. As he ran up and down the rows of seats, squealing and poking strangers, no parental figure stood out. No one asked him to quit hitting. When, in a voice channeling Satan himself, Mason demanded CANDY NOW, Uncle Steve gave it to him. Aunt Heather sat behind us, riffling through her purse. “It’s time to medicate,” she said in an exhausted voice. “He’s not missing this dose.” Where were Mom and Dad? Were they meeting up in Lima? Or was Mason a sad orphan that no one quite knew what to do with? Watching him sneak up and smack his older cousins, who were just trying to catch some sleep, I couldn’t find it in my heart to feel sorry for him. When we learned our flight had been delayed yet another hour, and then two, I did feel sorry for us. The kid never stopped. You had to admire his energy. I guess. At least on the flight, we had earplugs.
Our flight touched down hours late, and I knew we’d missed our connecting flight. There was nothing we could do about it, so why worry? We’d get there eventually. We did. And it was stunning.
The topography of Cusco is so different from home. Where we have lush, green hills, their hills are bare. It is a desert. We touched down at the beginning of the rainy season, and we’d get an afternoon downpour, but in an hour, the water was gone, with no evidence that it had ever been there at all. The hills were dotted with homes, easily visible even from a great distance, the trees so small and stunted they provided no shade. As we headed out of the airport and into the sun, we could feel the intense, burning heat. Deserts are funny things. During the day, the temperature spikes to uncomfortable heights, but the moment the sun sets, the world turns cold. It’s not unusual to experience 30 degree drops in temperature within a few minutes.
The altitude is what takes out most travelers in the beginning. At 11,300ft above sea level, a few days adjustment is required. I brought medication for altitude sickness, but I only had issues one night. As we traversed the city, I only experienced a little tightness in my chest going up steep hills (Cusco is ALL hills). My companions didn’t fare quite as well.
We were placed in a homestay with the amazing Gabriela. Her home was enormous and centrally located, so on any given night, there were at least eight volunteers in residence, sometimes as many as twelve. Her home provided easy access to Maximo Nivel‘s headquarters, and many volunteers were within walking distance of their project, or at least a short bus ride away. The other new arrivals were struggling with headaches and muscle spasms. Even the coca we bought in the market didn’t help. It takes time to adjust.
We were given the option to rest upon arrival, but who can rest with a whole new country just outside the door? We had to explore, and within a day, I felt like it was my city. We were warned about pickpockets, told to hide our phones, etc. But it’s no different than being in any crowded area, anywhere in the world. The key to being left alone is a Resting Bitch Face and a rapid pace. Don’t handle your money in public, don’t leave your phone hanging out of your pocket, walk like you mean it.
Inca artifacts are everywhere. The whole city is literally built on them. My husband had done some reading, and he heard about the Twelve Angels, so we went off in search. We were not successful, but we saw so much of the city.
We searched all afternoon, to no avail. We did encounter one of the Alpaca Ladies, women who dress in traditional clothing and will let you take their picture for a couple of soles (about fifty cents, US). We found ONE angel in stone, so there must be eleven more, right? We couldn’t find them. That night, a little research concluded that we had been looking for the twelve ANGLES. This.
It’s a stone that highlights the incredible stonework of the Incas. They used no mortar at all. They carved each stone to fit so precisely that none was needed. Speaking of, as we were exploring the city, encountering the travesty that is a Starbucks off the historic Plaza de Armas, who should we run into again? Mason. Our guardian angel must have misunderstood. We were looking for MASONRY, yo. We heard his melodic shrieks from a block away. The whole family looked tired. Except for Mason. He is such a joy.
I try not to be too wordy in my posts, so I’ll leave off here. I just have so much to share. In our next installment, shall we head to the jungle?