18 March 2014 – Arriving in Cusco*
After months of travelling with all that is valuable on our backs, I have developed a paranoia that has come to a head on the night bus to Cusco. Fellow travelers have been telling stories of bus hijackings in the mountains on the road to the ancient city. Don’t get me wrong, these buses are kitted out with the highest security trackers, but that doesn’t help when your cruising through the highest hills where signal disappears. Here’s what they do – Armed scoundrels block the road and enter the bus that they know are carting tourists and travelers to one of the most popular destinations in Peru. Tourists and travelers who have cameras, laptops, phones, tablets and a number of other gadgets in their possession, not to mention mint cash dollars as all the tour operators in Cusco only accept the perfect notes as payment.
With my Saffa vigilance I immediately find places to hide our valuables all around my comfy sleeper seat. Passports squashed between the seat cushions, cash and cards stashed behind the flip screen in front of me with only my little cotton purse with a few notes resting in my pocket, just in case a gun is thrust in my face demanding a reward.
Satisfied with my preparation I am now able to drift off to a light sleep, startling awake every time a mountain wind threatens to throw this bus off a cliff face. Every so often the bus comes to a stop in the darkness and I am 150% sure that this is it, I’m about to get assaulted in Spanish when I’ve gotten away unscathed so far in my own country known for its senseless violent crimes. Just when I’m ready to fight, pupils dilated, heart pounding, the wheels start turning again and we’re on our way. This much stress can’t be good at this stage of the game and I really just want to get there already.
19 March 2014
We arrive to a cold Cusco, or is it? A few minutes later and the sun is shining a warm glow on us. Another hour later and it’s pouring rain. This is how the weather works in the valley and we learn a thing or two about dressing in layers while here. Not only known for its temperamental weather, Cusco is mostly famed for being the base from which one sets off to visit the ancient holy city of the Incas, Machu Picchu.
I don’t recall if I ever made it completely clear to T, but this has been the main destination and reason for our journey through South America. Years ago, I must’ve been 11 or 12 years old, I read about the Inca’s and their history, learnt that there was such a thing as the Inca trail and I promised myself it is something I will do before I die. And here we are, we made it!
It is important to arrive in Cusco 2 or 3 days before you set off on the trek to acclimatize and avoid altitude sickness that befalls many a traveler who arrives from the coast. At the bus station we are met by Paul, a young AirBnB host with ambitions to become the hospitality king of Cusco, first by renting rooms from both his sisters’ homes while constructing a small hotel out of his own home.
We tumble into a taxi and race around downtown while Paul tells us the only 2 things of importance to know in Cusco –
- When crossing the road do not look at the traffic light, look at the cars
- Always take a raincoat/umbrella, even if you’re just going to the corner shop, it WILL rain.
The driving is crazy, the roads narrow, pedestrians everywhere, chickens in the street, this town is busy. We stop suddenly, stumble out the car, the narrow sidewalk barely wide enough to keep all our stuff off the street. We are most definitely not in the touristy part of town, and this is exactly what we wanted.. A small, worn wooden door, painted blue, threatens to welcome us and I am not entirely sure this is what we had in mind when booking a room – this is not what the pics showed.
Behind door nr 1 is an inside/outside house – an interesting choice for a place where it constantly rains. We are warmly welcomed by Paul’s sister and nephew, who speak no English, but are quick to boil a pot for coco tea.
The single most important thing to remember when in Cusco, preparing to trek the Inca trail, is that coca tea is the best medicine for altitude sickness. Drink as much of it as possible, reasonably if course.
We feel a bit uncomfortable, as this is definitely not what we paid for. Not terrible, but not what we paid for. We are shown our room which is furnished with two beds, loaded with blankets and something tells me we’ll still freeze tonight. It doesn’t feel right, and I do not want to stay here. We can’t get hold of Paul and instead go on a mission to find food and possibly a hostel. Getting lost in the labyrinth of narrow pathways in Old Town we stumble upon a tiny Mexican eatery. Nachos, salsa, tortillas and a glass of wine later we are okay to spend the night behind the blue door and sort all this out in the morning.
20 March 2014
A traditional Peruvian breakfast is included in our stay, and this consists of spaghetti and cooked chicken strips in a salty stock, coco tea, bread and butter and some hard candy. Not what I would generally expect for breakfast, but it works. Paul arrives to take us to his other sister’s house, the one we booked at originally and all is right with the world again.
We spend the day getting the last supplies for our trek to the ancient city of Machu Picchu. All the very important things like chocolate bars, walking sticks and an extra rain poncho. Hunger pangs strike and we make our way to the famed Mercado Central de San Pedro – the massive market in the centre of town. Overwhelming activity, vibrant colours and something of everything is available here. We each buy an Alpaca wool hoody, gloves and beanies and settle in at the juice bars. There are a dozen identical stalls filled with fresh fruits of every kind. Here you can mix a smoothie to your heart’s desire and no combination is off limits. We ask for the day’s recommendation and it is met with a wide smile from our jugo lady. I ask what is in it, her reply, “Todos!” Everything! Including raw egg. It is the perfect liquid lunch, not to be missed.
Back at the apartment we pack the last bits and pieces in our packs, make sure cameras are charged, lenses cleaned and water bottles filled. I have never been camping..and I guess camping on the Inca Trail for 3 nights is as good a first time as any!
(I’m so excited I can’t sleep!)