On Saturday I got up around a quarter to nine and had a nice shower. I woke Dave up and then went back downstairs and had breakfast of tea and fruit with Ana Maria. She and I arranged the details of our return to Lima the following Saturday. Then Dave and I packed up our bags, including one suitcase that we left with Ana Maria.
We got into a taxi at 10:30 am and were at the airport by 10:50 am. There was basically no traffic. Everything was smooth checking in, checking our luggage, etc. We walked over toward the gate and were told we had to pay an airport tax before we could go through security. That was pretty annoying but we did it anyway.
When we got into the waiting area, there was no gate yet assigned for our flight, so we waited in a general waiting area, next to a huge sign that said “Peru – Birthplace of the Potato”. Finally the gate was assigned to our flight so we moved to the waiting area for that gate, which was more cramped and full of passengers than the general waiting area.
One of the flight attendants came through the waiting area explaining to individuals that the flight was boarding by row. As I was explaining to Dave what he had said, a young American-looking woman seated across from us started explaining it to us as well. I told her that I spoke Spanish, so we knew. The reason we had puzzled looks on our faces was that we’re used to boarding by row, so we didn’t see why it needed explanation. She explained that they were used to flying Southwest Airlines, so this was actually different for them. We started talking to her and her boyfriend(?) and found out they were from Sacramento. It seemed they were in the same situation as we were – she spoke Spanish quite well, he not so much. We didn’t talk to them for very long.
The plane boarded late and didn’t leave until around 1:45 pm. When we got on the plane there was a stereotypical American tourist family, and the dad was VERY stereotypical and obnoxious. He was wearing a bright red shirt and an outback hat, and when we were on the plane waiting for everyone to finish boarding he was sitting on his seat facing the back of the plane, making obvious comments in a loud voice. The best was when he realized the flight had more destinations. “Cusco?!? I thought we were going to Puno?!?” I wanted to tell him to sit down and shut up but instead I got out my book and tried hard to ignore him.
The flight over the Andes was amazing – we flew over quite a few white-capped mountains and had a clear view almost the entire way. Unlike our international flights on TACA, our 1-hour LAN flight from Lima to Cusco actually served food. The sandwich was quite good and was very welcome since we hadn’t really eaten much all day.
We landed in Cusco a little after 3 pm and were hustled down a hallway straight to baggage claim. The airport had a very interesting layout in that the arrivals were completely separated from the departure waiting areas. The baggage claim area was very tiny, and we got our bags with few problems, other than the fact that I started to leave the airport without showing anyone our baggage claim ticket and we got yelled at. Dave wasn’t too happy about that.
We got outside at the airport and quickly found a woman holding a sign that said “Jenn Muller”. It was Yuleni, the woman who runs the hostel we were staying at. With her was the driver of the taxi she had brought to pick us up. It was a tiny little car, similar to a Ford Festiva (but it was probably a Suzuki or something else). We couldn’t see how he would possibly fit both of our backpacks AND our duffel bag into the back of the hatchback, plus fit me and Dave in the back, plus fit Yuleni in the passenger seat. Somehow we all managed, though, and as we drove into Cusco, I chatted a bit with Yuleni. She was surprised at how well I spoke Spanish, and was happy to give a mini tour of some of the sights we passed as we went along.
We arrived at Hostal Mallqui and Yuleni offered us a “matecito de coca” – a bit of coca tea. We were happy to accept and took seats in the simple dining room, where a man was trying to fix a lamp while watching a World Cup game. It was going into extra time, and we watched as Argentina defeated Mexico 2-1.
We hung out in the room a bit, resting and getting ourselves situated. Then we mustered up some energy to walk around the center of Cusco. It was sunny and the sky was very clear (in contrast to the smoggy and overcast air in Lima) and the weather was relatively warm.
The main plaza is called the Plaza de Armas (as in most towns in Peru). This weekend was a huge festival weekend due to the winter solstice that had just occurred. The celebration is called the Inti Raymi and has been celebrated since the time of the Incas. There was a huge sun erected in front of one of the churches, where there were also large rows of stairs where people could sit. The street was blocked off and there were bands playing folk music. It was rather crowded and we didn’t stay for long.
We went back to the hostel to ask Yuleni for recommendations on where we might go to church the next day, and where would be a good place to eat that had Peruvian food but wouldn’t be too expensive. By now it was starting to get dark. She gave us some ideas and we went out walking again.
We walked through the Plaza San Francisco that was just a few blocks from the hostel, and headed over to Avenida El Sol. We walked down this street for quite a while, passing currency exchange places, banks, artesans’ markets, and finally the post office. I wanted to know what the hours were for the post office, so we could plan to buy postcard stamps, but the hours weren’t posted.
We walked across the street and found the church where we hoped to attend services the next day. There were also no hours posted here, but there were a couple of guys coming out of the sanctuary and I asked them what time the services were in the morning. They said the services began at 8 am and 11 am and were 2 and a half hours long.
We wandered back up Avenida El Sol and passed the Coricancha, which had originally been a major Incan religious site but was mostly leveled when the Spanish invaded, and they built a monastery on top of it. From the street it is possible to see a lot of the original Incan wall. We didn’t stop for long, since it was dark and we were getting tired and hungry.
We wandered past the Plaza de Armas, where the festival continued. Our destination was another plaza a couple of blocks over, called Regocijo. Around the corner from a building facing this plaza was a small restaurant called Sabor de Casa.
This restaurant, Sabor de Casa, was exactly what we had been looking for. It was a pleasant dining experience – much more upscale than the hole-in-the-wall lunch place we went to in downtown Lima – but it wasn’t expensive like a lot of the restaurants facing Plaza de Armas. Their specialty was alpaca meat, which was advertised in the menu as being lower in cholesterol and overall more healthy and economical than beef. Dave and I tried different dishes that featured alpaca meat, and they were delicious. We also ordered a pitcher of sangria, which turned out to be more than 2 people could reasonably finish in one sitting. We splurged and had dessert (Dave had chocolate cake and I had an insanely moist cake called “Tres leches de vainilla” or 3 vanilla milks) and by this time we were completely stuffed. All this for 61.50 soles, or about $20.
It was getting quite chilly as we walked back to the hostel (the low temperatures in Cusco for this time of year hover around the freezing point), arriving around 8:30 pm. We had to ask again for towels – apparently it had rained all morning, which was a bit of a setback for the hostel hosts as they tried to do laundry. Finally we got them and were able to relax, and went to bed relatively early.