Cusco, Peru

The moment I stepped off the Lan Peru flight that brought me from Lima to Cusco this morning, I began to feel something different. My head started to feel like being osteurized - the headache began to throb. Cusco is 3,360 meters above sea level and the air here is thin. In other words, there's less oxygen to breathe. While waiting for my backpack to appear at the luggage carousel, I already knew that I was suffering from the effects of high altitude, or soroche as it's called here.

Like some of the airports I've been through, there are touts waiting outside the arrivals area ready to pounce on you with their services. I merely ignored them and waded in the sea of humanity until I saw someone holding a placard with my name scrawled on it. There were two other names on the placard - Derick and Liz from Ohio who are taking their first trip together. We're all being met and driven to Hostal Amaru, up there in the San Blas district of Cusco.

The narrow street in front of my hostel

On our way to the hostal, I immediately noticed the heavy concentration of Spanish colonial buildings. Streets are narrow and made of cobblestones in many areas. Women in traditional clothing walk along steep sidewalks with a llama, a beast of burden common in the Andes region. The only structures that dominate Cusco's skyline are the domes and belfries of its Baroque cathedrals and churches. Its charm immediately caught up with me. No wonder the entire city of Cusco has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983.

remains the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas. Also known as Qosqo in Quechua, the language still spoken by some Peruvians, it was founded around A.D. 1100 and became the capital of the Inca empire. Today, tourists and locals alike wander around the Plaza de Armas, the city's main rendezvous dominated by the imposing La Catedral and La Compania.

La Catedral

Just as in the United States, I come to Peru with the local elections reaching a feverish pitch. Banners announcing candidate's names are hung around private homes and businesses. The driver who's sending us to the hostal can't help but comment just how dirtier elections here have become. "Todo parejo", said the driver, referring to all politicians playing a dirty game.

Upon check-in at the hostal, we were immediately offered coca tea, supposedly meant to alleviate symptoms of altitude sickness. I drank two cups hoping my headache would disappear. The greenish fluid tastes surprisingly pleasant, with whole leaves floating on your cup. Coca is illegal in the U.S. as it's the main component of cocaine but for centuries in this part of the world, the Incas have used coca leaves in their daily lives, even considering it more precious than gold.

View from my hostel room

As soon as I entered my $20-a-night room, my jaw dropped at the vista below framed by the window. Roofs made of red terracotta tiles seem to go on and on until the hills that embrace the city. The domes and belfries are visible even as I brush my teeth. With its higher location in San Blas, room 209 at Hostal Amaru is one of those rare rooms with extraordinary views.

Inner courtyard of Hostal Amaru

After confirming with a hostal staff regarding my city tour this afternoon, I went to nearby Pacha Papa, a Peruvian restaurant recommended in the guidebooks I've read. The grilled river trout I ordered came with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables, all for 22 soles. It was a heavenly meal up here in this highland city.

Despite my nagging headache, seemingly not helped by several cups of coca tea and doses of Motrin, I pushed through with the city tour, stopping by Coricancha (Temple of the Sun), the Cathedral, the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman (pronounced roughly as "sexy woman"), Tambo Machay and Qenko. The whole afternoon was spent wandering around these historic places with a tour guide and a bunch of other tourists.

Fortress of Sacsayhuaman

My headache persisted even as we finished the tour. I stopped by the office of Andean Life, my trekking company for the Inca trail. I met up with Frank and my payment for the trek was finalized. Tomorrow evening, I'll be meeting the rest of the group who will undertake the Inca trail trek with me. Hopefully, no more headaches! 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...