Monday, February 22, 2016

Cusco, Peru - A Taste, Look, and Feel High in the Andes Mountains

Unable to land due to inclement weather, my Avianca flight turns back to Lima to wait out the storm. A full 29 hours after leaving my house in Los Angeles, I finally touch down at Cusco's tiny airport. One flight of stairs later, I'm already outside, quickly being whisked away by a taxi.
There's nothing pretty about this part of the town, rapidly deteriorating old buildings line the streets, their looks might have at best been described as spartan when newly erected; they weren't even cute as a babies.
Traffic is surprisingly heavy, with roundabouts being assaulted from multiple directions by aggressive drivers playing a primordial game of chicken to see who will yield first, puffs of exhaust from their ancient cars floating upwards like the breath of an agitated dragon.
a placard to the city of Cusco
Suddenly I feel dizzy- pollution combined with Cusco being one the world's most "elevated" cities nestled into an Andean valley of 11,500 feet.
My head aches, a symptom of minor altitude sickness, which my host immediately tries to remedy with coca-leaf tea. While the natives swear by coca (from which cocaine is derived,) most tourists believe it to be merely a placebo. For me, the jury is still out.
video: coca leaf tea preparation

I'm doused in cold water. Taking heed of the wires sprouting in seemingly random directions, like stems from a potato, I gingerly reach up attempting to change the settings on the electrical shower-head, my prayer for warm water only earning me punishment via a quick jolt of electrical current.

Stepping outside the building's gate, I find an elderly native woman with a tiny fruit stand. For two soles (57 cents) I purchase three bananas and two Andean fruits whose name remains a mystery.
Incan descendents one and all, with seemingly no foreign intermingling, Cuscenos' features are dark, and the majority are short and squat. At 178 cm, I am a walking tower.
The streets narrow, the buildings increasing in both value and charm as I near the center of this touristy town. The gateway to Machu Picchu reveals itself, travel agencies line the streets, interspersed with restaurants whose prices far exceed the Peruvian norm.
Peruvian handi-work I purchased 
the puma fountain of Cusco
She comes twice a week from the Sacred Valley to sell her wares, working the other days to create them. The Indian woman eagerly opens her bag and shows me her finely crafted ornaments made from pumpkin gourd, colored via natural pigments and fire. I'm reticent to purchase anything I have to lug around on day one of my journey, but her items are so beautiful, and her economic arguments so compelling, I relent. I don't have the heart to negotiate hard- 100 soles ($29) for several days of her labor and she's incredibly thankful when our transaction is completed. I'm her first sale of the day as the sun begins to dip behind the Andean mountains surrounding us.
church in the Plaza de Armas
central fountain of the Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Continuing up the street, the Plaza de Armas, (the central plaza in all Peruvian towns are named such) opens before me. I walk around admiring every inch.
While by no means tout free, compared to other tourist centers in poor countries, the area is surprisingly chill.

                   video: the plaza de Armas of Cusco

artwork outside the center- the puma is a spiritual animal
for the Incas, representing the earth
I meander downhill where I run into a festive and colorful mural which combats this otherwise drab and overcast day.
Further from the center, the buildings begin to revert back to their spartan like ancestry, which, along with the darkness and cold downpour, cue me to head back to my gracious AirBnb host who has a coca-leaf tea waiting for me to help combat my throbbing head.
I'm actually glad to have been rained on. I'm not exactly keen on re-entering the shower.

video: some of the highlights of Cusco, including the puma fountain


  1. Lol Rich ... Indian ... The word is touchy there .... Offensive to them ... Prefer to be called native or Peruvian

    1. hey buddy. Hope your travels are going well! Not looking to offend anyone with this column, so I changed it to "native." Cheers man

    2. All good ... now in hibernation mode haha ... no travels ... back in SG working for the next trip :) you keep going .. haha .... visit the scared valley of Cusco too and not just the city ... :)

    3. well my friend, that's obviously the next post.
      I also went to Mach Picchu the Colca Canyon, and the Amazon Jungle. You were gone for MONTHS, this trip was only 18 days.

    4. Well you seen more than me in 18 days ... I travel too slown😋


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