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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Looking at the world over the rim of his teacup...

We'd pared our belongings down to hiking clothes, sturdy shoes, a few toiletries, camera, and the all-important bug repellent. The rest stayed with Royce and April. Traveling even lighter? Yes, please!

Now, with just our backpacks and passports, we headed out into a morning of wet streets with bits of garbage blowing around. Apparently it is par for the course to have to hail several taxis until you can find one willing to take you to your destination. We found this surprising, since we were going to the airport. What kind of taxis won't take a nice fare to the airport? Apparently they have zone licensing issues.
While waiting for our flight, we introduced ourselves to the somewhat grassy, slightly bitter Coca tea, as per my doctor's instructions. The instructions were important because otherwise we might have hesitated to drink it. Coca tea is made from the leaves of the Coca plant -as in, cocaine.

No, really.

But, as it turns out, while you might not pass a drug test 48 hours after ingesting the tea, (hmm, might as well have a poppy seed muffin while you're at it and flunk the initial opiates screen as well,) the leaf itself has very, very minimal amounts of the alkaloid used to make cocaine. It's neither narcotic nor addictive, and, most importantly, is thought to be effective in preventing altitude sickness.

Count me in.

We were hydrating and drinking the Coca tea to prepare for a change in altitude, from sea level in Lima down to southwest Peru and the city of Cusco at 10,800 feet. Having gotten a taste of altitude sickness already, I wasn't interested in trying it on again. What my doctor had said was to drink a minimum of 100 ounces of water a day and to try out the Coca tea as well. 100 ounces, it turns out, is a lot of water to drink, and we had chosen to stick with bottled, what with it being South America and all.

Many plastic bottles.

Bottled water has yet to steer me wrong: I even brush my teeth with it when we're travelling in areas where it's recommended. You also have to be careful of the refilled bottled water scam, where the bottle has been refilled with tap water and the seller "politely" opens it for you...to disguise that it was never sealed in the first place. If it's shady, I would advise you to just go thirsty, as lousy as that is...or really regret it later.

We demonstrated what really great world travelers we are by getting into the wrong line for our plane. It took a lot of Spanish and hand gesturing for us to get it, but eventually we boarded the correct plane (from the tarmac -I love that!) and were soon soaring over the staggeringly beautiful Andes

and thinking about that movie, Alive, with Ethan Hawke. You remember? Based on a true story from 1972, a rugby team's plane crashes into the Andes. The survivors end up having to eat some of the deceased to have the energy to hike out of there and get help for the others.

I cannot imagine. I mean, I snarfed down that cuy, but eating cold dead person...I'm not claiming I wouldn't, but I'd have to be awfully hungry, is all I'm saying. But it was a good movie, survival and human perseverance and the like. Looking down on those peaks, I was glad we were flying, not walking.

Our plane was much better behaved, thank you, and within a scant hour we were circling to land.

In the airport I managed to inadvertently attack another passenger with my once-again pressurized hand sanitizer, which shot out an impressive amount all over her sleeve. She yelped, I apologised. In Spanish and English. No idea if she spoke either language.

There were dancers and musicians, throwing on their costumes, then rushing out to welcome us in a whirl of sound and color. Even better was the nice fellow from our hotel holding up a sign with (inevitably misspelled but very welcome) our name written in block letters. Man, I really love that.

It makes me feel special. Welcome. And, most importantly, not lost.

Outside of the airport, we took in deep breaths of the air of Cusco, the ancient capitol of the Incan world.  It smelled like dust and exhaust and yet much...cleaner than that of Lima. Also thinner.

We plopped ourselves into a nondescript, less than luxury model of a car as indicated by our friend the sign holder who drove us past the policia with their machine guns and riot shields stationed at the entrance to the airport parking lot. They seemed bored; more interested in texting and smoking than in us.

We were staying more to the edge of Cusco, that great, once-walled city, at a place that was #1 on Tripadvisor.com. We put a lot of faith into those ratings, as they have yet to lead us astray. This place was desribed as clean, laid back, beyond-expectations helpful, and most importantly, quiet.

Also, they had the corniest website I have ever seen in my entire life, with photos of each of their staff, each captioned with sayings like Mario: "Obviously I am the best!" and Arturo: "I am what I am, I know everything and I am prepared to help you." If reserving a hotel room makes me laugh, they get points from me.
We were given the most thorough greeting and informational session I have ever had, after which we dumped our gear in the slightly frilly, but not too froufy room while admiring the security measures in place out our window...embedded broken glass and electric fences. South America, don't forget.

Starving and eager to see where we had landed, we were dropped off in front of Gato's Market on the Plaza de Armas, the historical center of the city...and -who knew?- one heck of a party.

A bit headachy, ready for more tea, we set out over cobblestones beneath streaming rainbow banners.



  1. Wow! Brave, brave Natalie! I can't wait to hear more - I'm a bit behind so I'm not sure what's on the plan but with you, I know it's always going to be interesting!

  2. Well, now that i have read that it is at 10,000+ feet, I am reconsidering my wish to visit Machu Pichu!!!