So, I am currently sitting in an internet cafe in a tiny town (pop. approx. 3,900 though it feels like far fewer!). It is so ironic that you can be in the middle of the Peruvian hills, amongst people that are still so rooted in their heritage, and yet be sitting next to 9 and 10 year olds on facebook..). While this town is considered to be a heritage site because of all the Incan architecture still in place, the restaurants and stores take Visa. Oh, how the world works..
Anyways, here is a summary of the last few days – which have been a whirlwind! I will be posting for today, and the Inca Trail, in 3 to 4 days time.
LIMA (Population approx. 9 million)
The past few days have been a whirlwind! On day 1 of our tour, we all met and spent the afternoon wandering around downtown Lima with the ¨Lima¨ tour guide. We got to see the official changing of the guard ceremony, and learned a lot about the history and current political situation of this very unique country. It is certainly complex and quite tragic in terms of what the native Peruvians have had to live through and fight for.
The group is 15 in total (guess who´s the odd number? Haha …). There are 2 other Canadians (from Toronto), quite a few from the U.S, two couples from Australia, and one couple from England. It´s a good mix and so far things have been going well. After downtown Lima we took cabs to Barranco, which is the Bohemian district of Lima. It was pretty artsy and quite beautiful, with restaurants and ¨summer houses¨ nestled into the hills and over-looking the ocean. We didn´t make it in time for sunset, so headed back to Miraflores to have a big group dinner near the Plaza. We got to try Pisco sours (their signature drink), which I thought tasted like a melted Margarita .. and had some seafood. Given we were heading to Cuzco the next morning, it was not recommended that we drink (i.e aclimatizing to such a high altitude can be difficult and alcohol intake/heavy food does not help!)We also tried the churros here, which are similar to those I´ve had in Vancouver (we really are lucky with the variety of international foods available to us).. the difference was they were filled with caramel! Delicioso! Bed after that as we were getting up at 5am to catch a flight from Lima to Cuzco.
CUZCO (Population approx. 400,000; elevation 3326 m)
We arrived in Cuzco by 10am and were picked up by our tour guide (born and raised in Cuzco) Maritza. After arriving at our hotel and settling in a bit, we were taken around for a city tour. I could tell right away that the air was thinner, and all of us noted how much more difficult it was to get adequate air in our lungs. It feels like you are short of breath and somewhat out of shape, breathing heavily after a few stairs up! This did go away by our second day, but for me the first evening was ridden with indigestion and feeling like my food was not going down! They say you are supposed to eat lightly for the first few days, even on the trek (though by the sounds of it there will be 3 hot amazing meals plus snacks), because heavier food will utilize precious energy that your body needs to work.
Our city tour was really amazing! Cuzco- the ancient capital of the Incas – is not as small as I had imagined it. There were ATMs, an Irish Pub, and quite a bit of traffic. On the other hand, the people here look very indigenous and still speak Quechua as a first language (though the younger generations are apparently losing this .. 😦 ). The architecture is a mix of traditional Incan, and European (the Spanish conquest being responsible for the latter). I will post pictures in a few days. We completely lucked out in our timing – we arrived on a Sunday, and were fortunate enough to see a celebration in the streets, with locals dressed in masks and costumes .. Our tour guide explained this was a sort of ritualistic mockery of the Spaniards, who have been a somewhat bitter memory in the Incan history, since their conquest. Ever since the ‘rediscovery’ of Machu Picchu in 1911, Cuzco has changed from a provincial backwater into Peru’s foremost tourist hub.
When we thought the festivities were over we turned the corner to find huge masses of people in even brighter dress! Sunday happened to be the 1 year anniversary of one of Cuzco´s largest markets, so there was a parade that lasted for hours and filled the streets for blocks! Everyone was involved: children, women, men … Everyone was adorned in the brightest costumes, and music rang in the streets. We had lunch in a restaurant by the main Plaza and got to enjoy the festivities as well as tour the local markets after (both food and other goods, such as silver and leather). I was able to use my Spanish in the markets, but many of the vendors also spoke English. The people are lovely and not too pushy at all. We will definitely come back when we return from our trek in 4 days.
This morning we headed by bus to Sacred Valley and Ollantayambo for some local interactions, and will spend the night here before we begin the trek in the morning. My pictures and updates from yesterday, today, and the trek will arrive in about 4 days, as there will obviously be no internet access on the trail.
Thanks for staying posted and I look forward to sharing more in a few days!