Saturday, June 21, 2014

Inca Trail Marathon Adventure, Day 1

Up early(ish) for breakfast at the hotel -- above average breakfast, with lots of choices, including an omelet station. Lord knows I love an omelet station! We spotted many "fellow travelers" and exchanged hellos.

the Andes!
We had been told to go to the airport about 2 hours before departure, which seemed excessive for our internal flight. But the airport was surprisingly busy; between checking bags and getting through security, we really only had about 15 minutes to kill before boarding. BTW, the gift shops open early and stay open late. Let that be a lesson to you, Barcelona! There will be shopping on the way home!

There are a LOT of flights from Lima to Cusco. The gate next to us had one flight departing at 9:15, while ours departed at 9:30, and there were also flights at 9:45 and 10.

We saw they were boarding our flight so got on, never looking at our row numbers until we were on the jetway: row 1. Oops. We figured we had all been packed into the front of the plane, but nope: we were scattered in ones and twos throughout, with lots of empty seats.

Flying over the Andes, the ridges peeking out of the fog like islands in a white sea, kept us entertained. Well, that and the drinks and snack boxes that Peruvian Airlines provided. Very nice.

We landed in Cusco and of course were first off the plane… well, okay, third, because two guys sitting behind us dove for the door as soon as the seatbelt sign was turned off. The two of them plus their row mate had provided excellent in-flight entertainment, however, so we forgave them. the duo were traveling for 20 days and were trying to work out the fastest and cheapest ways to do everything. The solo guy was an American student who was halfway through a 3.5-month trip. Lots of amusing stories involving hostels, drugs, girls, and the World Cup. What's funny -- when the duo stood up quickly to be first off the plane, the American was annoyed and maintained the time-honored tradition of unloading by row.

The arrivals hall / baggage claim was noisy and festive -- why? Well, it's the Semana de Quinua. That's right -- it's QUINOA WEEK!!! There were traditional dances, cups of coca tea, and little packets of puffed quinoa -- think popcorn, slightly sweetened, and tiny.

It's Quinoa Week! It's Quinoa Week!!!!
A few nervous moments while waiting for the bags (again), but eventually they arrived and we made our way to the exit. We had been saying "how will we find Jenny?" but there she was, smiling away. We joined the rest of the 9:30 fliers and headed out to a bus. On the way there an enterprising photographer took pictures of each of us, and would turn up at the hotel the next morning, selling photos decorated with images of Cusco. Pretty smart -- and I think a few of the group bought theirs.

The hardest part of the morning was just getting out of the airport parking lot. We were sitting in the front of the bus so we had a great view of the maneuvering. But eventually we were out and driving to our hotel.

A parade was blocking many of the streets, so our bus had to wind around to get there, but it did give us a chance to see a float decorated with a giant llama and a monk, so that's something!

in front of the Hotel San Agustin
Got to the air-conditioned oasis of the Hotel San Agustin lobby, where we sipped coca tea, filled out hotel paperwork, turned in our passports for photocopying, and turned in money for the porters. Erik, the tour operator, explained everything super clearly, which was great and kept everyone mellow.

We were given our keys (Wil making a joke that the room can't be found since we were in room 404… ha ha), and headed up to our very clean and airy room: super clean bathroom, nice beds, plenty of warm blankets, dual power plugs, and a mini fridge.

our room at the Hotel San Agustin

I do love a toilet that has been "desinfected"...
We unpacked -- god I love unpacking in a hotel room -- which also served the purpose of quadruple-checking that we had everything we meant to bring.

We met back downstairs after the break to walk to lunch and start our "gentle day" -- a chance to get settled and start acclimatizing to the altitude. Lunch was in an Italian-themed restaurant, but we started with a round of pisco sours (mmmm, pisco sours…), had a delicious soup with quinoa, potatoes, and cheese, and then out came the mains: trout that had been flattened, breaded, and fried, served on a bed of quinoa and topped with a rich sauce, with steamed vegetables and either potato or yucca fries.

The veggie option? Spaghetti marinara. :( I'm happy to report (at the risk of spoilers) that this was the only disappointing meal of the trip. Hey, don't get me wrong, it was perfectly nice spaghetti, but still!

After lunch we walked a few blocks to get on our buses. We were impressed that the guides, Victor and Cesar, pointed out that if you took pictures of the girls in traditional dress, you needed to pay them. Someone in the group took offense at this ("I just wanted a picture!"), but Cesar (or was it Victor?) said, "these girls are working -- this is their JOB."

We were told that we needed to divide up into 2 groups for the afternoon -- streets are narrow, so big buses won't work. We had hoped to be on Cesar's bus -- he seemed smiley and very chatty -- but ended up with Victor, who seemed to know EVERYTHING except possibly how to be concise.

say it with me: "SEXY WOMAN"...
We drove up to Sacsayhuaman, up on a hill overlooking the city, where Victor told us a lot about the structure. It was interesting but we really just wanted a brief intro and to be allowed to wander around. We gave that feedback later in the day and were happy to note that future site visits were more loosely structured.

The ruins were astounding -- the stonework is so beautiful I don't really have any words -- I'll need pictures for that.

the start of a stonework obsession?


Victor showing us the Puma City
view over Cusco
Puma City panorama
Later we met up with the other group, "Cesar's Pumas", when they were taking group photos… but with a dozen different cameras, rather than just one or two cameras and sharing the shots. Victor and our fellow "Mountain Cats" felt we could be more efficient and did our photos as a group. :)

(most of) the group
the "teeth" of the puma -- the zigzag lower walls

We then headed back to the bus… slight chaos in that none of us could remember what our bus looked like on the outside! Some folks were pretty tired at that point, so one bus returned to the hotel, while we moved over to Cesar's bus and on to Tambomachay, which features an Incan spring and, for some reason, very cute cat-head finials on the boundary ropes. The water from the spring apparently is the water used in Cusquena beer…


Tambomachay complex
Tambomachay spring -- still the source of the water for Cusquena beer
"cat head" (okay, okay, puma head) finials at Tambomachay
It was already getting dark and chilly by the time we were through, so I think our visit may have been cut short.

Then back on the bus and down to the hotel. Dinner was on our own, so we decided to head back and explore a little. We were impressed by the number of vegetarian options available, but to be honest we weren't all that hungry. We did find a supermarket where we bought water, soda, some potentially ill-advised run, and lots of snacks. We lugged our haul back to the hotel, but then decided that since we weren't really hungry we would just go to the bakery next door -- where we had very nice empanadas before coming back to the room and essentially crashing.

And, umm, maybe I have gotten a little obsessed with Inca stone work…



Victor explaining at Sacsayhuaman

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