Day three marked our second flight during the trip from Lima to Cusco. Cusco is in the mountain region of in-land Peru and it takes about an hour by tiny plane to get there. We had a quick breakfast and met our driver around 8 AM to head to the airport. Driving in Peru is an experience in itself as basically all traffic signals, aka stop signs, lights, yield signs, are merely suggestions. We were in 4 near death situations just on the drive to the airport. Eeek! Thankfully, we arrived in one piece, made our flight, and arrived in Cusco around 12:30 PM.
Our next tour guide, Julio, met us at their airport for our bus transport to the hotel in the upper section of Cusco. The ride was really interesting as Julio explained the local housing structure. Since Cusco has become a more popular tour destination, the cost of living has grown substantially. The locals make very little money and cannot afford to buy fully completed houses, thus, most of the houses in Peru are works-in-progress. There is a bottom floor, and sometimes a second or third floor, in each concrete structure, with metal framing wires sticking out of the roofs that were the hight of another floor. The families typically share the buildings with their siblings and add floors when they can afford it. It really made me feel blessed and thankful to have what I have.
Anyways… we were dropped off at the Hotel San Agustin – a beautiful hotel with a huge atrium and very comfortable rooms. The staff gave us some tea to help with the 11K altitude acclamation before we took off to explore the large square up the street known as the Plaza de Armas. The cobble stone square has an amazing fountain in the middle, is surrounded by shops and cathedrals, and has these adorable little old Incan ladies in traditional garb with baby lambs and alpacas. I couldn’t help by take a photo with one of them.
We found a great modern burger place with a Peruvian twist called Papacho’s on the border of the square. It not only had a fantastic view, but the best onion rings we have ever had! In addition to the memorable onion rings, I enjoyed a veal sandwich and took a bite of my father’s alpaca burger – yum! Within a non-bug, reasonable scope, I always try to local food as you never know what deliciousness will surprise you.
With so much food in our stomaches, we took off walking to an alleyway off from the square where most of the local markets were. It was actually quite cold in Cusco, more in the 50’s rather than the 70 degree weather in Lima, so, in addition to gifts for friends and family, we stocked up on scarves, jackets, and gloves. You will probably notice my warm, new, knitted, and somewhat alpaca fashion moving forward in my future Peru posts. I say “somewhat alpaca” because the market sellers claimed their products were 100% alpaca wool but, considering the price and the fact the some of the labels read “30% alpaca”, I was skeptical. All of the items we bought were very haggle-able and we bought most things for $5-$10 USD – some great deals!
After an hour or two of shopping, we walked back to the hotel for a quick nap before our evening plans. The altitude and 7 AM wake-ups really take it out of you! We had reservations at Tunupa, a buffet restaurant in the main square with a traditional Cusco dance show. The buffet was full of ceviche and other traditional Peruvian dishes that were all quite tasty. On top of that, we had some Pisco Sours to lighten the mood and get us ready for the craziness to come.
The band was made up of a singer and two instrumentalists and there were two female and two male dancers. The dancers would dance a traditional piece for a song, run back and change, and then dance in a different style. They did this 6 or 7 times and got the crowd up and about to dance as well. It was a roaringly fun time, especially since they played a catchy song called “Pacha Mama” or “Mother Earth”, which we thought said “Punch your mama”, that we kept singing all night long. My mama loved it so much she bought the CD…
With warnings of the sun’s face-scorching capabilities in the thin Cusco air, we stopped to get some colorful hats for the next day’s ruin tours. My sister and boyfriend came to the conclusion that I look funny in hats, a fact I’ve come to accept over many years of trying, so naturally I bought the brightest hat I could find just for fun! With hats in tow, we walked around the square and admired the city lights before heading to the hotel for much-needed sleep.