The rain is beating down heavily against the skylight in my room whilst thunder rumbles all around. It feels like the storm is directly over head. Welcome to Cusco!
I had an excellent breakfast at the Lima airport hotel. I noticed a couple of large tour groups from Australia were staying there also. And I caught the flight to Cusco with no issues. Baggage got checked in and I had a wander around the departure lounge – it’s far too early in the trip to think about souvenirs, besides it’s extra stuff to carry.
I was gutted on the flight. My boarding card looked as though I had a window seat, so I was looking forward to seeing Lima from the air, the journey and Cusco as we came in to land. Wrong! My seat was by the side of the plane, but there was no window because mine was the very last seat at the back. I may as well have sat in the lavatory for all that I could see. I should also point out that the weather was sunny and warm when I arrived, so I would have had excellent views too!
Cusco is at an altitude of 3310 metres above sea level which meant that this would be the place for me to either get acclimatised or find out that I need those altitude sickness tablets I bought off the internet. I half expected to notice the altitude as soon as I stepped off the plane, but I guess that initially your body is still carrying enough oxygen to cope and it will only be later that altitude will have an effect.
Concerns about altitude moved to the back of my mind once I had got through the airport, met my greeter and climbed aboard the people carrier to take me to my hotel. I was very impressed with the fact that I had a greeter and a driver to myself, so it felt more like being chauffeur driven. I then became impressed at how colourful and vibrant Cusco is and I struggled to take it all in during the drive.
When I left the airport the first thing I noticed was how dusty it was. A sort of red tinged desert dust rather than being dirty, as the patch at the base of my bag will stand testament to. I also noticed a distinctive scent: sort of floral yet herb-like that I can’t quite put my finger on. And as we drove through the first few streets I noticed a lot of dogs roaming freely. It didn’t cause me concern as such, but it did make me wonder about those rabies shots I chose not to have! We passed monuments and a fantastic mural charting the history of Peru that added to the colour of the place and I also saw lots of people wearing variations of traditional Peruvian dress that is in itself quite colourful. Like any time that you initially visit a new place you try to take in as much as you can. As we got closer I noticed the tourist ratio become greater, but, being a tourist myself (although unlike some I have heard), I am hardly going to complain about that!
My Hotel (El Ninos) is very quaint and rustic. It has two floors of rooms around a nice little courtyard. My room is on the first floor and is an L shape with the bathroom in the middle. Each leg of the L has a single bed and although the room is windowless except for the aforementioned skylight, the ceilings are high which makes the room feel airy. It certainly looks comfortable enough and the staff are brilliant: very friendly and helpful. The profits of the hotel also go to street children in Peru of which the founders have helped and continue to help hundreds, which is a nice touch.
Excited by the chance to do some exploring and feel like I truly am in Peru, I ventured out into the city. A short walk downhill from the hotel is the Plaza de Armas: the main square of the city. The square has an ornate cathedral, council buildings and colonial buildings all around with tourist shops and bars and restaurants. In the centre of the square stands a fountain with a small park around it.
I chose to eat lunch in one of the restaurants with a balcony overlooking the square and also enjoyed the views of the “Viva Peru” and national symbols etched into the side of the surrounding mountains – it made me wonder what it might be like to have to walk up something that high. As I finished my lunch the skies got darker and light rain began to fall. I had left the hotel in shirt sleeves so made a hasty retreat back to the hotel just in time for the heavens to open and the storm to start. Trying to walk fast back to my hotel is when I first felt the altitude – no headaches or nausea, I just noticed how quickly I got out of breath and my feet did feel a bit heavier. Better get used to it, I thought.
You have to prepare for sudden changes of weather, just like you would in the dales or peak district here, so now better prepared I went back out into the city as night was falling and the storm had passed. I visited what is supposedly the highest Irish bar in the world and had a beer: Cristal a Peruvian lager which was very nice. I had been advised that one beer is ok, but two or more is dangerous when trying to acclimatise to altitude and I heeded that advice and drank it slowly.
Still adjusting to the time zone change I was back at the hotel by 21:15. Other altitude advice is to take things easy. Although the temptation was there to see how the nightlife was, I thought of Machu Picchu (my main purpose for being here) and turned in early. Tomorrow I will be a bit more acclimatised and ready to do more. I found a spider hanging next to my bed and got rid of it. Trying not to think about that too much.