Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Peru Part 2: Arrival in Cusco

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Our flight from Lima landed in Cusco around 10am on Saturday morning. When we arrived at the airport we noticed several booths selling tours of the ruins and cans of oxygen (altitude 11,000 ft).  We picked up our bags and met Jordan, our Peruforless.com representative, outside the airport. He escorted us to our car with driver and we rode to our hotel. On the way we passed a couple of cool monuments, statues, and Coricancha (a Catholic church built on incan ruins). The ride from the airport to our hotel (near the center of town) was about 15 minutes.

Our hotel, Aranwa Cusco Boutique Hotel, was on a narrow street with stairs for the sidewalk. We sat in the lobby and gave the desk clerk our passports to copy (common practice) but not our credit card (also common practice). We were offered coca tea to help curb the altitude impact. We decided before the trip we were going to avoid coca tea if we could since it's made from the same plant cocaine comes from and can test positive for drug testing. Jordan walked us through all the details of our itinerary, told us how to contact the company in an emergency, and gave us safety and dining tips. Our room was ready for us. We had a nice modern room that was small, but well appointed, including pumped-in oxygen. The bathroom was huge with separate shower, sunken hot tub, towel warmers, and a heated floor. There were, however, no windows. Didn't miss them after ten minutes.

The plan was to take a nap once we got to the hotel but we were too excited to sleep. So we decided we'd walk two blocks to the Plaza de Armas and check things out. A little bit about Cusco: The city was the capital of The Incan Empire. They urban designed the original city in the shape of a puma and many palaces and temples were built around this plaza. Pizarro was declared the conquered of Peru here in the 1530's. The Spanish tore down the palaces and temples to build churches on their foundations. Today the plaza still plays an important role as the city's center for festivals, protests, and tourist hub.

We tried to have lunch at Jack's Cafe, which was 2 blocks away on a staired-sidewalk street. While climbing up we could feel the altitude. On the way up Dave pointed out the well-built Incan walls to Holly. At the time she didn't believe they were that old and remained unimpressed (photo borrowed from Angie Darren).

Jack's was packed so we waited a few minutes outside to try to get a table. While waiting a little kid started hitting Dave in the leg. Dave wasn't happy to find the kid had paint on his hands and was coloring his pants a weird green. Que Diablo? Fortunately the paint came out.

We couldn't hold out for Jack's anymore so we went back to the plaza and had lunch at Norton's. This was an English style pub in a second floor location overlooking the plaza. We sat outside for a while and took it all in, but ate inside because the direct sun was baking us. Sandwiches and bottles of water (no booze today as we acclimate) with tip: $14. After lunch it was nap time.

We headed back out around 6pm. The sun was fully down and it was fully cold. The temperature had to have dropped 30 degrees (average daily range this time of year is high 30's to lower 70's). We were freezing. We spent some time walking the square and checking out some shops on a few of the side streets. There were lots of shops and restaurants hidden from the street fronts in courtyards.

Earlier in the day the Plaza had an art festival. At night a stage was set on the steps of The Cathedral and a band was playing traditional Peruvian music. Lots of fun to watch. Vendors were walking around selling alpaca wool hats, mittens, sweaters, paintings/prints, decorated gourds, jewelry, and finger puppets. Knit finger puppets are a big item. One little boy tried to sell us some and took out 20+ items to show us while naming them. "Un perro. Un Puma. Un Condor. Bzzzzz (bee). Papa Smurf...". It was really cute and we feel bad not buying from him. We saw an officer shoo a child vendor away from us earlier so we weren't sure if we'd be promoting an illegal activity (evil finger puppet contraband).

We couldn't bear the cold much longer so we went to dinner at Inka Grill. This was a real pleasant restaurant on the plaza. They had a nice bar area and two floors of seating. They served a variety of potato chips instead of bread. Nice! We kept to bottled water and avoided uncooked veggies. Holly had pizza and Dave had grilled chicken with quinoa. We'd end up seeing a lot of quinoa and potatoes on the trip. Dave ordered a "Tour of Peruvian Chocolate" dessert that was served with a vanilla sauce. Everything was very good. with tip about $40.

Tipping in Peru is different. Restaurant prices on the menu include the 18% tax and 10% service charge. An added tip is generally not expected. We were adding another 5-10% onto the bill, or more if the bill was just really low to begin with.

After dinner we packed it in and got ready for our next day's departure to The Sacred Valley.

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