After a long night of air travel we finally touched down in Cusco and were greeted at the airport by the smiling faces of Gina and Adrian. A few months of planning and anticipation had finally culminated with the first official gathering of the High Elevation
Congregation in Cusco, Peru.
Our HEC crew consists of the world travelers Gina and Adrian, G's brother Bryan, and longtime Wisconsin friends Lance, Steve, and myself, guest blogger Selma Sue. The main purpose of our trip would begin in a few short days when we would begin our trek to Machu Picchu, but first we would be staying 3 nights in the historic capital of the Inca Empire at a whopping 11,200 ft while trying to acclimate to the high elevation.
Us Wisconsinites landed at 9:15 am and were whisked away to our hostel
by a van that Gina and Adrian had secured for us at the airport. We
arrived at the Pariwana Hostel and were barely inside when Steve
realized that he had left his brand new North Face jacket in the van.
By chance, Adrian had taken our driver's business card and after a few
phone calls our driver Jesus agreed to drop of the jacket a little later; crisis adverted. We checked into our 6 bed dorm and went up to the hostel's restaurant area and enjoyed a few cups of coffee and coca tea while catching up and discussing how to spend the next few days.
We finished our morning beverages and decided to take a walk around Cusco to get our bearings. Our hostel was located right in the heart of the
city and we took a quick stroll to La Plaza de Armas, the main historic
square that is flanked by two beautiful churches.
Our sightseeing tour was put to an abrupt halt when our eyes landed on Paddy's Pub -- the highest Irish pub in the world. We popped in for the first of many celebratory beers on our trip and raised our glasses to the start of what would be an epic adventure.
We spent the rest of the afternoon hopping from watering hole to our hostel and back, sipping Cusquenas
and munching on bar food. Before we turned in for an early evening.
We decided to do something productive the next day and set up a tour to the Sacred Valley. We ultimately decided that since our van driver Jesus had been so clutch in returning Steve's jacket that we would hire him as our private guide/driver for the following day. Our Spanish-English translator, Adrian, gave him a call and were all set
with a 9 am pick up time.
After a restless night of sleep listening to the bear-like sounds coming from Lance's bed, we got up, had some coffee, bread, and Gloria Strawberry jam, and got ready for our tour of the Sacred Valley.
Jesus picked us up promptly at 9 and we went over our choices of sights for the day. Many of the more famous Inca sites required the purchase of a tourist ticket for either $25 or $45 per person, so we opted to go the cheaper route
an just pay a small entrance fee to see some of the lesser renowned sites since we would be seeing our share of Inca ruins when we got to Machu Picchu.
We instructed Jesus to take us to two specific sites and then told him to take us wherever else he pleased. Jesus drove us up the hills looming behind Cusco to our first stop, a tourist market.
We aren't real big on shopping so after a quick stroll through the stalls,
and the obligatory tourist pic with a llama, Peruvian woman, and creepy
guinea pig, we were back in the van and on our way.
Our next stop was an unexpected surprise -- a visit to a sort of alpaca petting zoo/living museum. For a slight donation we were given endless bunches of leafy greens to feed the many llamas, alpacas, guanacos, and vicunas. We were basically the only visitors at the time and had a blast feeding the various types of camelids.
After we fed the animals we were taken on a brief tour showing us how the alpaca fiber was traditionally dyed and woven into various garments, all for sale at the store at the end of the tour, of course.
After our alpaca encounter we hopped in the van and were taken to a lookout spot for our first view of the Sacred Valley and then down to the town of Pisac to visit their famous market. As I previously said, we aren't thet into shopping, so after a quick walk through we posted up on the balcony at the Blue Llama and enjoyed a beer while overlooking the market.
We finished our drinks and then told Jesus thet we would like to stop for lunch soon at a park or lookout point. Before being picked up for the day we had gone to the grocery store and procured all the fixins for a picnic lunch.
We were surprised when he pulled into a nicer restaurant. Adrian asked him numerous times if he was sure that bringing our lunch in would be okay and he assured him thet as long as we purchased some drinks it would be fine. We hesitantly entered the restaurant and choose a table tucked away from the rest. We ordered a few beers, pulled out all our groceries, and proceeded to make ourselves sandwiches while trying not to get too much mustard on their fine table linens. It was fairly awkward to say the least, especially as the restaurant began to fill
with patrons. We ate our weird restaurant picnic lunch quickly and got
back in the van.
Our next stop was the Maras salt fields, a series of terraces built into the mountainside thet have existed since pre-Inca times. The white salt terraces made for quite the sight set against the
green and red mountains of the Andes.
We took a 20 minute walk around
the ponds of salt and then headed back to the van and then off to our last stop: Moray. Moray is an agricultural site thet consists of circular terraces built into the earth. We had a great time climbing
around the ruins, hiking down to the very bottom and then back again.
We got back in the van with Jesus and took a drive through rural Peru as we headed back towards Cusco and to our hostel. It was a lovely little day trip and was so nice to have our own transportation operating on our terms and schedule. We thanked Jesus for the great time and off he went.
We spent the rest of the evening at the hostel's restaurant/bar, eating, drinking, and playing Trivial Pursuit and
Taboo. When the rest of us hit the hay, Gina and Steve stayed to fully enjoy 'Retro and Drinking Games Night' at the Pariwana, dominating at flip cup and rocking out to MJ and Backstreet Boys.
The next day was our 'get it done' day, a day to make sure all was in order before hitting the trail. We definitely got our stuff done, but it ended up to be more of a 'football watching' day. We had no need to wake up early, but when you are sleeping in a room with 6 people plus the fact thet the sun rises in Cusco right now around 5:30, it is
almost impossible to sleep in.
We hung out in the courtyard of the
hostel playing foosball and ping pong while soaking up the morning sun.
After a chill morning we set out to get some last minute supplies for our trek, including bug spray and rain ponchos.
We then decided to pop into a tavern to get some grub and watch the NFL games. As the games and afternoon wore on the bar started to fill up with other Americans looking to cheer on their favorite teams. We got chummy with a fellow Packer fan who suggested a place for us to watch the game that night.
We spent the afternoon watching the Raiders lose a close one and the
49ers get demolished, much to Adrian's and Bryan's dismay. We had a
nice time watching the games with fellow NFL fans, with the exception of having to listen to the constant stream of swears and obscenities coming from this one douchbag's mouth. We left the bar and headed to the Llama Path office to get a briefing on our trek thet we would be starting tomorrow.
After getting all the details we headed back to the hostel to pack up our duffels for he trek and then headed out to the suggested bar to watch the Packer game.
The bar itself wasn't much, but it was playing the game since the current manager was a Packer fan from Burlington, WI named Paul. We had a few cocktails while watching the Pack dominate the Texans, but took it easy since we had to be at the Llama Path office at 5 am to start our trek. It was fun to watch the game with a fellow Packer fan, especially since he played 'Bang on the Drum', the Pack's touchdown song, after each of the many touchdowns that night. We bid farewell during the fourth quarter, got some Peruvian fast food, and hit the hay full of anticipation for the next
day. Tomorrow we would begin the main reason of our trip: a 5 day, 4
night trek to the sacred city of Machu Picchu.