We arrived in Cusco in the evening on the 20th and we got into a taxi to take us to our hostel. Challenge #1. Our driver drops us off and says our hostel is the door where we were dropped off but it was a closed dentist office. Our driver leaves and we are stuck not knowing where the hell we are.
We wander around for about 15 minutes or so and we find a sign with the name of our hostel. So we enter and it leads us down a dark creepy ally. The sign says number 4 is the hostel but we only see numbers 1 & 9. As we walk back and forth we see a local woman and ask for directions. She indicates our hostel is literally right next to us and the number 4 is markered on a doorbell very faintly, so ya not very noticeable. We finally check in and chat with our Dutch bunk mate for a little bit and then pass out after our long day of travel.
We only had one night booked there and they were full so the next morning we had to check out and find a new hostel. I found a little B&B and we made our way to this other place. On our way we got lost (again) because half of the streets in this crazy city are not marked. A local man sees us and jumps in to help and he then calls over four other Peruvians to help us find our hotel since it is not near the center of the city. We find where we need to go but it was incredibly nice and thoughtful for these strangers to help a couple of lost white girls out. Once we get to the B&B we find out it is only one bed instead of two so we decide to try it out since it was 10 soles (which is a whoppin 3.60 USD) cheaper for each of us. After one night we realized we were crazy and we needed our own beds.
We are in Cusco for about eight days which is absolutely necessary since the elevation is so insanely high. Just walking to the fourth floor where our room is makes us winded, the air is so much thinner here than we are used to. Upon exploring the city, Michelle and I both admit we love/hate this city. The street vendors are amazing and most of the people are incredibly sweet with the exception of Cusco drivers. I honestly do not understand road traffic/pedestrian rules here. Cars have a red light, pedestrians have a green light but cars still go and do not stop for people walking, it really is quite frightening. Another thing that is quite horrible about this city are the smells. I admit I have a weak stomach and strong smells get to me. Each day when we leave our hotel and walk the 30 minutes to get to the towns center we walk by the famous San Pedro Market. A great place for crafts, souvenirs, clothes, produce, grains, and a raunchy public bathroom and foul smelling meat. Every time we walk by I almost vomit and can't breathe through my nose. But an upside to this city are all of the artisan markets and local people selling homemade items or produce they grew. It is hard not buying everything. I hate shopping in malls and in the US but markets and supporting poor local people is a different story.
We each bought a pair of "gringo pants" but whatever I am in love with the linen pants and they are super comfortable. Our goal is spread our shopping out, it's only been about three weeks and we have decided to go to Bolivia as well, which is cheaper.
On our second day in Cusco, we meet up with our new Irish friends for a final hoorah! We wander around the city for a bit and of course find our way into a an Irish pub, in Cusco, where we literally spend about five hours there. The boys kept drinking beer after beer, Michelle had 1 pisco sour and I drank juice...woo party hard! As we were there two other Irish travelers join our group and at first they were entertaining until it went down hill. It was a young couple and the girl got so incredibly drunk and kept drinking that she turned into one of the most obnoxious and rude person I have met. But her boyfriend was worse and telling us how he gives out fake business cards saying he is a travel writer who wants to promote hostels/restaurants/whatever and in turn gets things for free. I understand traveling on a low budget but that has got to be one of the most immoral things I have ever heard someone do. These people are so generous and have so little, it deeply upset me when he was boasting about his "cunning idea". But enough about rude people. I still had fun with my five Irish boys and at the end of the night we go our separate ways.
The next day Michelle & I took a free walking tour of Cusco which was far better than we originally anticipated. For two and half hours we got to hear more history, which is sadly all bad. I know people are familiar with the Spanish Conquistadors and sadly human history is incredibly repetitive with conquerors and genocide. But truly what the Spanish did was the worst of human history in my opinion due to the mass scale of all of Central and South America. These men claimed to be on a mission from God and doing his work, which really meant slaughtering innocent people, or enslaving them and taking treasures such as gold and silver from them. No matter what religion you do or don't believe in there is no justifying what the Spanish did. I believe people can have their faith, their beliefs but it is never right to force it upon other people. I love seeing these people and how they live their lives but it also saddens me that they have beliefs now that were forced upon their ancestors.
We also learned about a magnificent man named Tupac Amaru who fought for his peoples freedom. So of course in return the Spanish capture him, torture him and kill him publicly in what is now known as Plaza de Armas in Cusco. This man is so famous for his fight for the Peruvian people that people have named their children after him, anyone heard of Tupac Shakur? Of course you have. His mother was a member of the Black Panthers, an African American civil rights group in the 60s and later. His mother was inprisoned while she was pregnant and was released right before she gave birth to her son whom she named Tupac. History is one of the subjects that I love but also hate because it just reminds me how horrible some people can be, no matter what color, religion or gender they are. But back onto happy thoughts about our walking tour... I digress a lot on subjects I am passionate about.
The tour was about two and half hours and we walked to new parts of the city and our eccentric guide, Marco, gave us insider tips. He also brought us to this man's house/workplace where he creates wooden instruments such as panpipes, guitars known as charangos, with or without an armadillo shell and flutes all from scratch. It takes him a year to complete one guitar because the wood needs to completely dry and he doesn't use any machines or technology. He is one of two Luther's in all of Peru. He was probably in his 50s or so and it was great to hear him play music from the instruments he made. We continued on and got to a beautiful viewpoint of the city of Cusco where two men were dressed in Inca attire and playing beautiful music with various instruments such as a shell like a conch shell. And of course Michelle and I had to take pictures with them haha, such tourists. We ended the tour at a little bar where we got a free pisco sour, which I admit tasted pretty good. Overall a great way to spend some time in the city without spending a cent.
This entire post isn't as eventful because for three days I was in and out of bed practically all day due to stomach illness. I have felt good all trip (except the bus ride where I was hungover haha) until a few days after Cusco. Just in case I took my altitude sickness pills and I think they are what made me feel so awful. I couldn't really eat or move without feeling totally pitiful, also I have been sleeping incredibly poorly which could be adding to how crappy I felt. But I believe the worst is behind me. On our last day in Cusco before we start our trek we checked out of our B&B and came to the hostel we stayed at for our first night. Afterwards we went out for lunch (I had been living off of water, a bottle of sprite and some crackers for a couple days) so a nice big meal was much needed. We went to a pizza place, just cause we were skeptical of other foods since we both have been feeling under the weather. While there we try our first Chicha Morada, which is a national drink here composed of purple corn, pineapple, cinnamon and who knows what else. It was tasty but I'm glad we got a glass to share since it is pretty sweet and my stomach is not 100% yet. After lunch we made our way to rent trekking poles for our trek. But the highlight of the day was the Cacao Museum :) We tried cacao tea, the husks of the cacao seed are brewed and it was delicious chocolate tea. We wander around for about an hour reading the history of cacao (chocolate) and current facts about production. Peru is the 13th largest cacao supplier of the world but the top suppliers are mostly Ivory Coast, Ghana, a few other African countries and South East Asia. But in South America, Ecuador is the biggest producer so that'll be exciting when we get there muahaha. It was so hard to not buy everything and eat tons of chocolate but we were good. We only got six small pieces each.
Thus concludes the Cusco segment, well part 1 really since we will be coming back after our Salcantay Trek and visiting the Sacred Valley. When we return it will be more event filled with trips to museums and Sacsayhuaman, the Inca ruins within the city. So I will be out of contact for at least a week but my next post will be about Salcantay and Machu Picchu. This is what I have been most excited about for the entire five month long trip so glad it's time!