Cusco update

Sometimes I’m glad it’s just Sheena and I together, because I think traveling with us would be maddening… We’re still in Cusco and really, we’re having an amazing time now!  Cusco is still cold at night, and walking down Triunfo Street is still a nightmare, but almost inevitably we’ve learned this town and come to like it.  Adding to the new-found enjoyment, we have had a lot of reunions with friends.  Just when we were feeling down, we got a great note from Ahmed (who we met in Colca Canyon) saying he was staying around the corner.  Agathe and Martin (from Frutillar) arrived in town last night, and Sheena’s old coworker Mackenzie and her husband Eric emerged from the jungle and arrived in Cusco two days ago.  One of our (not so many) duties at the Explorer’s Club was to run the pub quiz last night.  Unfortunately, the super team comprised of all of our friends didn’t fare too well… but we all had a really good time!  I’m definitely looking forward to the next couple days, catching up with everyone and enjoying Cusco.

I’m hosting a Pub Quiz! Nothing like 25 people yelling at you when you accidentally give an answer of 29,200 to the question, how many people visit Machu Picchu daily? …

On a secondary note, our plans on how to do Machu Picchu have changed about 45 times (another reason traveling with us would be a pain)… when we first arrived in Cusco, we were told about the Salkantay trek.  It’s an alternative Inca trail (as in, alternative to the Inca Trail), and at the moment does not require guides.  To make the offer even sweeter, the Explorer’s Club has a deal with a local guy who owns cabins along the trek.  For only $80 USD each we can have three nights in cabins and all food provided.  We really agonized over whether to do this, but in the end decided that based on our Machu Picchu ticket reservation, our departure date for Salkantay was too soon.  This all changed AGAIN yesterday when I was informed that our MP “reservation” had only been good for 6 hours and since it had been almost three weeks… we didn’t have tickets.  So, the very sad news is that we will definitely not be able to see Huayna Picchu as those tickets are now booked through the end of May… but the upside to this is that we have decided to leave on the Salkantay trek this Saturday, moving our Machu Picchu visit to next Wednesday!  Hooray flexibility!

The South American Explorer’s Clubhouse. The clouds in Cusco are beautiful every single day.

 

high above Cusco

Yesterday we took a little day hike up through the San Blas neighborhood, to Cristo Blanco and the Q’enqo Chico ruins.

Saqsayhuaman from the outside. We were too cheap to pay the entrance fee.

Christ the Redeemer statue on Cristo Blanco. A typical scene; tour bus and older women selling (in this case) choclo con queso.

Incan stonework at Q’enqo Chico, above Cusco.

Epic clouds above Cusco. We would be treated to a thunder/lightening and hailstorm later in the afternoon.

first thoughts on Cusco

Cusco was a place that I was really excited about.  I had some warm memories of the city from my previous visit 6 years ago, but I guess I’m dealing with a little bit of reality spoiling things… Firstly, it’s pretty cold here.  We’re staying on the ground floor of the South American Explorer’s (SAE) Clubhouse, and are told that Cusco has a lot of underground springs which tend to make the ground temperature quite uncomfortable at night.  We did purchase a gas canister today for $40 soles, which should make things a bit less depressing.

Secondly, it seems that we got here at the start of the tourist season.  We heard that a month ago there was next to nobody here, and that the temperatures were unseasonably high… bummer.  The streets are packed with cusqueños hawking massages, photos and tours to the hoards of gringos.  Sheena overheard a foreigner ask his companion if massages had some kind of cultural significance to the city…

Cusco’s Plaza de Armas – it doesn’t seem that crowded in this photo…

On the positive side, the SAE is providing us with quite a bit of entertainment.  For some background: SAE is a non-profit, membership-based organization that mostly provides information on nearby treks, with an emphasis on DIY/economic travel options.  They have a nice office with great topo maps, a lending library, guidebooks and really knowledgeable staff.  They host lectures, pub quizzes, curry nights, and guided day hikes (all of which we are helping organize).  And they are overwhelmingly British… I actually think they are connected with British Exploring Society.

The clubhouse has four different rooms available for long-term rent, and this is where the entertainment comes in… Currently, these rooms are occupied by: a cross-dresser who told us this morning that he was fasting today; an overweight women who informed us last night that she only eats Inca Kola and Skittles for breakfast, and Kraft Mac & Cheese for dinner (seriously, everyday); an Alaskan native who has been studying Machu Picchu since the 70’s and managed to piss off most of the Peruvians with his (possibly controversial) research; and an older lady who is actually very kind and nice, but just a little bit batty.  We all share the kitchen, so I’m looking forward to finding out more about all of these characters during the coming week.

Possibly controversial Machu Picchu ideas? We’ll find out next week at Paolo’s talk.

[On a side note, we are seeing some similarities in personality between different expats we have met.  Mostly, expats who are running businesses tend to have questionable time management and organizational skills.  They have pretty broad skill sets (outdoor activity knowledge, mechanical and electrical skills, cooking, languages, extensively read), but their typical day seems to be mildly chaotic at best.  We often think that these people would make a killing, or at least have a pretty cushy existence, if they could operate a to-do list.  I wonder if this has contributed to them leaving their native countries?  Was their lack of organization too much of a hindrance back home?]

Sometimes traveling takes a toll, and we’re definitely in a small funk at the moment.  Again, the cold weather and tourist factor are probably to blame, but we also left a city that we loved (Arequipa) and replaced it with one that we haven’t quite figured out.  The good news is that we expect to meet up with some friends soon.  We have kept in touch with some of the travelers we met along the way, and staying in Cusco for ten days will allow us to catch up with them.  There are few things more uplifting than seeing a familiar face.

Cusco

We made it to Cusco!  The bumpy overnight bus wasn’t the most pleasant of rides, and the elevation has taken some getting used to (a little more than 10,000 feet here), but we’re pretty happy to be here!  We spent one night in a hostel high up in the San Blas neighborhood, which gave us an opportunity for some amazing views (see below).  Now, we’re settled into the dorm room at the South American Explorer’s clubhouse.  We’re volunteering here for about a week, helping them run their events (lectures, pub quizzes, hikes, etc) in exchange for some cheap accommodation and free lunch!  Once again, it’s nice to let our belongings out of their backpack-cage for a little while, and feel like we belong somewhere.