Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer, World Traveller
I know many of you follow my adventures on Facebook, so I apologize in advance for any words and pictures you may have seen before. We left Arequipa at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, traveling on Cruz del Sur’s overnight bus, and arrived in Cusco at 7 a.m. Thursday morning (an 11-hour trip). Since leaving Lima at 505 feet, we’ve gained altitude: Arequipa at nearly 8,000 feet, and Cusco over 11,000 feet. The temperatures have gotten colder too: Lima 78°/65°F and Cusco 62°/40°F. I’m now wearing my feather-down vest and Eddie Bauer parka during the mornings and evenings (and of course Tilley on my topknot).
It almost never rains in Lima (average rainfall is only 0.30 inches per year), but it’s raining almost every afternoon here in Cusco (averaging 36 to 40 inches per year). Cusco is heading into its dry season: May, June, July, and August. But the month of April is still rainy with precipitation, drizzle and occasional downpours are not uncommon. The biggest challenge, however, is the altitude. It does take some getting used to. Chewing coco leaves, or making a tea with them, helps. Cocaine comes from coco leaves, but chewing the leaves or drinking the tea isn’t like snorting cocaine.
Cusco is without a doubt the prettiest city we’ve visited since arriving in Peru 5-months ago. It reminds me of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico and Antigua in Guatemala. The population is about 400,000 people (so it’s modest in size), but larger than San Cristobal and Antigua, each with populations of about 250,000 residents. The Spanish architecture is stunning, and the plazas and squares are beautiful. Food and lodging are about half the price of Lima, and Cusco is pretty easy on the budget (our hotel is only $10 usd pp per night and includes breakfast).
Our room isn’t heated, but each bed has six (very) heavy blankets. It’s like climbing under the lead apron they give you in the USA when getting dental X-rays. Once you’re under the covers it’s pretty hard to toss & turn. The free breakfast is simple but delicious: huge, crusty, fresh-baked loaves of bread (similar to Sourdough or Shepherd’s bread); fresh butter & jam; robust espresso-style coffee with brown sugar & milk, and eggs to order if you want them (for just 2-soles). There is a small restaurant attached to the hostel, and we get an extra 10% discount for being guests. Joel had the skewered Guinea Pig tonight.
Yesterday afternoon we firmed up our plans to visit legendary Machu Picchu (one of the Seven New Wonders of the World) and Sacred Valley. The 15th Century Inca site sits at 7,950 feet in the Peruvian Andes, and from Cusco it’s a 2-day, 1-night trip involving: buses, trains, and our own two feet. We’ll be leaving our hostel early Wednesday morning and returning late (at 11:30 p.m.) the following night. I’m really looking forward to photographing these amazing places, and now that my travel lens (Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom) is fully functional again things should go well. For details on the trip:
Traveler’s note: If you plan on visiting Peru and Machu Picchu allow yourself enough time. Machu Picchu is a controlled site and takes a little logistical planning. Give yourself at least 3-days (minimum) to arrange buses, trains, entrance fees, etc. The easiest way to visit is to make your arrangements with one of the many tour agencies in town (our hostel has a tour agency on site). Budget travellers can do it for a little less (but not much), so I think the few extra Peruvian Soles are worth it. Our trip is $284 usd per person, and includes: roundtrip bus fare from Cusco, English/Spanish-speaking guide, roundtrip train fare, multiple stops in Sacred Valley, a 1-night stay in Agua Caliente, a full tour of Machu Picchu, and most meals. There’s an extra tourist visa cost of $21 usd (70 soles), snacks, and alcohol that are not included.
We’ll be in Cusco for at least two weeks, and then head for Puno at Lake Titicaca (at 12,500 feet). Another increase in altitude. We’re not suffering severe altitude sickness, but it is hard to catch your breath and mild headaches and nausea persist. Guess we’ll just have to use more Cocaine (just kidding). The hostel does offer free coco tea when we want it, so drinking more of it might help with the symptoms of high altitude. Regardless, as more time goes by we should start to acclimate again (we previously spent almost 2-½ months in Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca at 10,000 feet (and even ventured on a trek to 12,000 feet).