Cusco Day 1
19.01.2008 - 26.01.2008
Day 1 - Arrival to Cusco, Peru:
The first thing we were told to do upon arrival to Cusco, Peru, was rest. But then what kind of travelers would that make us? So not realizing how 11,000ft above sea level can really affect us, we did the opposite of rest. We went straight into town to try mingle with the locals and have a bite of some Peruvian cuisine. Besides "Hola," and "Que Pasa," our Spanish skills were minimal. We simply thought that English was a second language, and everything would be smooth sailing. Boy, were we wrong. Our trip to the pharmacy was interesting. The conversation with the clerk went as follows:
"Hola! Que pasa? Ooouch, Boo-Booo, Aaaaaaaaaaauuuu," I said.
The man behind the counter looked back at us with a big grin on his face and said, "Que?" Again I tried to explain that we were in pain, and therefore kept repeating the word, "Ouch." It took us a while to realize that the word "Ouch" is simply not used in Peru, but we did score four capsules of what we thought was Aleve. You might wonder why it is that we went to the pharmacy looking for drugs. Well, how could we not? Everyone said you don't need a prescription for anything in Peru, and we just had to test that theory out. All jokes aside, Michelle had pulled her back muscle a week before, and we needed to get her in shape for our trip to Machu Picchu the next day.
After half an hour spent on getting Aleves, we headed to a local restaurant, which looked more like someone's private kitchen. Our waitress was a young girl, and the chef couldn't have been much older. Both looked like they were about 16 or 17. The menus hanging outside we thought were self explanatory. We pointed to a picture that looked like a giant hamburger. While we sat at the tiny table waiting for our burger, we couldn't help but notice the overabundance of stray dogs, everywhere! Every breed you can think, they were there. Just hanging out all over the places, running inside the restaurant and out, looking for scraps. This made me so sad, but I had to work hard to restrain myself from petting the poor pups. We didn't get any vaccinations for this trip, at all! And if we can't drink the Peruvian water, who knows what kinda bacteria the dogs carry! Neither of us were ready to spend the entire duration of the trip hugging the toilet seat, (unless it was due to a major hangover).
Finally, the waitress returns, this time with two bowls of a strange substance. We later realized that it was some sort of a homemade stew, with a few foreign looking vegetables and bits and pieces of what we hope was beef. Of course we had to eat it; otherwise we would totally insult the 17 year old cook. The soup was bland, the veggies strange, but luckily we didn't get sick! We are still patiently waiting for our burger. At this point, the Aleve's we purchased earlier begin to kick in. I'm sure you're all wondering why I took them, if it was Michelle's back that was aching. Well, how could I not? Foreign pills in could make for some very interesting adventures…but to our disappointment, all we felt was a little bit of a tingling sensation and some goose bumps, which could have very well been related to the strange soup. So, finally, our waitress returns. Unfortunately, no burgers in site. Instead we get one sandwich, with a tiny paper thin piece of breaded chicken inside. Interesting, we thought. Immediately we scraped all the lettuce and tomatoes off the bread, and dug in. This lunch experience will go down in history as the most interesting and at the same time, totally confusing meal.
As we make our way back to the hostel, we realize that we have a Cusco city tour planned for us. (Note: still no rest. I bring this up because in order for our bodies to get accustomed to the high altitude, the first day in Cusco they say has to be spent just laying around and drinking Coca tea.) We wait for our guide to arrive at a nearby convent. This is when we first realized that Peruvians really have no sense of time. The trip was scheduled for 11am. Our "English" tour guide arrives an hour later. While we wait, we take numerous pictures of the locals, the tiny cobble stone streets, and stray dogs, of course. So in the convent we go. We are expecting to see some really cool stuff inside, after all we did pay 10 soles (which is only about $3US, but still). We walk into what seems to be just a courtyard, with a bunch of large stones inside, that I think were dated back to some time before Christ? Regardless, it was either the Peruvian Aleves or the soup kicking in again, but like rebels, Michelle and I fled from the group. We waited for everyone inside the bus until our next destination. Another church. For a non-practicing Jew that I am, my family definitely wouldn't be proud. We attempt to go inside with the rest of the group so we don't look like total American gringos who are uninterested in the culture, but both of us nod off standing up while the tour guide describes the "choir" room. For safety's sake, we decide it's best for the two of us to stay sitting down in the bus. Slowly, the altitude sickness creeps in. Feelings of dizziness and confusion begin. At this point, some sort of cool drugs would definitely come in handy. The two of us sit back in our seats, unable to move, at all. The next destination is to some site with ruins, name unknown as our hearing began to decrease. We get out only to use the bathroom and run back inside the bus fearing that someone from the tour group will start a conversation with us. The tour continues, and it's yet another site, with ruins. Honestly, a rock is a rock. So again we sat back and prayed that the tour end immediately. We get out once more, because the soup we ate before and the paper thin piece of chicken were really not enough, and our stomachs were aching for more. We purchase a pack of cookies with a chocolate filling inside, made by Nestle. We knew this couldn't poison us in any way. While we are munching on the scrumptious little treats, I take a picture of 4 or 5 local women with their family vehicles, also known as llamas. I turn around as one of them gets up and begins to pursue me. Apparently, they aren't just sitting there for the fun of it. This is how they make their money, off of tourists like me who think they look "cute." I run towards Michelle, hoping she will protect me from the older Peruvian woman. Unfortunately, Michelle was busy getting harassed by another local Peruv who was trying to sell her 5 hats for the price of 3. Thankfully, Michelle learned how to say "Too Expensive," and all I heard for the next 5 minutes was "Moi Carro, moi carro." We return to the bus, and completely pass out.
After endless trips to ruin sites, finally the bus drops us off at Plaza de Armas, the happening spot of Cusco with a bunch of restaurants, backpacker bars, and souvenir shops. The two guys we're traveling with tell us about a restaurant that was highly recommended, and we follow. First night in Cusco, we're all totally excited to try all this cool "Peruvian" food we were warned about. We order a Roasted guinea pig (honest to G-d), a baked Alpaca dish, which is Llama meat, and Michelle keeps it safe with some lamb. In addition, we purchase the most expensive bottle of Peruvian red wine. Out comes the food, thankfully I wasn't the one who ordered the guinea pig. Our brave travel buddy John had the honors of tasting this rancid piece of meat. I mean it, it was probably the most awful thing I have ever tasted, including the strange soup we ate earlier. It was chewy and the seasoning was totally off.. For those that know me, I normally don't ever complain about food, but this was an exception. I simply couldn't do it. Michelle goes in for the bite, and spits it out into her napkin almost instantaneously. John is stuck with a plate full of guinea pig. Alpaca was actually not too bad, but I definitely drank a lot of the wine to help the food go down smoothly. An hour into our meal, I feel my skin begin to burn. Strange, I thought, as we spent most of the day INSIDE the bus, so how in the world could I have been burnt?? No, no, this was definitely not sunburn. It was the dictionary definition of AMS, acute mountain sickness. The exact mechanisms of AMS are not completely understood, but the symptoms are thought to be due to mild swelling of brain tissue in response to the hypoxic stress. If this swelling progresses far enough, significant brain dysfunction occurs. (I do not need anymore brain dysfunction, that's for sure!) This brain tissue distress causes a number of symptoms; universally present is a headache, along with a variety of other symptoms which for me were a ridiculously high fever, sweating, chills, burning face, frizzy hair, total lack of sense, and etc. Any normal person would probably head in for the night after these symptoms occur, but not Michelle and I. We eat our dinners, get up, and walk on over to a bar next door to watch the Giants / Packers game. And who do we find there? A bunch of Americans who are either Giants or Packers fans, duh! So we each get a Corona, which tastes a bit off. This is due to the Peruvian lime that is floating inside. We drink, hang out, make friends with a traveler from Wisconsin, and smoke a cigarette, BECAUSE WE CAN!
After my face starts feeling like it's about to melt off, I tell Michelle that it's best we go back as we have a 6am wake up call for Machu Picchu. So we grab a cab for 3 soles, and it takes us back to our hostel. All gates are closed and the only key we have is to our room. We have no way of getting inside the premises. We begin to panic and envision the two of us spending the night on the lonely and cold Cusco bench. Finally, we realize that we had to ring the doorbell in order for someone to buzz us in. I hope you all understand that the reason for our retardation is due to the lack of oxygen and damage to our brain tissue.
Stay tuned for Day 2 adventures!!!!