by Maureen Zupan '72, P'09
We left our hotel early and headed to the airport in Lima for our trip to Cusco (sometimes spelled Cuzco, but our guide told us that spelling was considered derogatory…so, sorry! I spelled it wrong yesterday). Along the way, Professor McKinney gave us a mini lecture on the development of the various civilizations in Peru…from the area we were leaving in Lima (likely a fishing-based civilization) to the area to which we were headed (based on agriculture and very dependent on weather cycles of rain and draught). And I am doing a great deal of disservice to all the information he actually provided! But it WAS early on a Sunday morning!
The airport is a modern, new facility, with many touches of "home": McDonald's, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts…even the H. Stern jewelry store from Manhattan! One feature that doesn't exist at home: an additional line to pay airport taxes (about $7 for each of us). Security for our domestic flight was VERY different from what we do in the US. The equipment was the same, but we were allowed to bring our liquids (e.g., coffee, water) through (no checking to make sure they were not problematic liquids) and we didn't have to take our shoes off. The line was FAST as a result.
As we waited for the plane (TACA Airlines), we all compared notes about our preparations for the high altitude that we were going to be in for the rest of our trip. We are all at least a little concerned about the dreaded altitude sickness. At our hotel in the morning, we were able to have coca tea that supposedly helps settle things down, and we've been told that we will be greeted with more of it when we arrive in Cusco. Some people are on altitude sickness pills; some have motion sickness patches; some are drinking powerade-type drinks; and everyone is trying to drink lots of water. It ain't easy!
Very soon into our flight we had dramatic first views of the Andes Mountains. And more differences emerged with domestic travel in Peru: we were offered a sandwich, a pasty and a drink (no cost for any of it!) even though our flight is only 90 minutes…and ALL of the flight attendants were male. Our adventure into the Incan empire has begun!
Had lunch in a local restaurant in Cusco: Alma. We started with potato soup with hot red chili sauce on top. Instead of mixing it into the soup, I scooped it all up into one spoonful (not knowing what it actually was) and swallowed it. After ten minutes of coughing, tearing up, sneezing, etc., I was finally able to resume eating. Everyone is trying to drink lots of water, but some people are feeling some effects of the hot high altitude. We asked our guide how much water was "enough": three liters per day.
The good news is that after lunch we started moving down altitude (after first peaking at 12,103 feet) on our way to Ollantaytambo which is "only" at 8,000 feet. This is Professor McKinney's way to get us acclimated to the altitude. We will be down lower for a couple of days before going back up to Cusco to finish our trip.
The ride through the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo is bringing us through country that looks a lot like Tuscany in Rome, except that off in the distance there are huge mountains, some with glaciers at the top. The road is narrow, curvy and bumpy. We are passing through small towns of mud brick buildings where much of the population appears to be enjoying their Mother's Day in barbecue parties. There are women colorfully dressed, some with young children/babies in backpacks made of colorful blankets on their backs. There are women dressed in traditional Peruvian skirts and tops and what look like top hats on their heads. Others have "cowboy" style hats; some have what look like modified sombreros. All are colorful. Our guide told us that buildings and clothing are colorful to counteract the often overcast days.
Although it is only a 90 minute ride to Ollantaytambo, the effects of all the water we are drinking has taken its toll, and we need to find a bathroom. The bus stopped so the men on the bus could use the "men's room," but we women had to wait for the next town (Urubamba) where we found a family celebrating Mother's Day around a picnic table next to their restaurant. They graciously allowed us to use the restaurant's bathrooms. Thank goodness!!
We arrived at a WONDERFUL hotel in Ollantaytambo called Pakaritampu. One member of our group has succumbed to altitude sickness, but everyone else is having just minor effects. Some of us walked into the town center, SLOWLY, as we were instructed to do because of the altitude. There is a beautiful square, but with a lot of traffic going through it. Suddenly there were all sorts of horns and whistles: a "convoy" was coming through. One vehicle in the convoy was a HUGE LONG tractor trailer pulling a BIG payloader. Unfortunately, a dump truck was parked where the tractor trailer needed to go and it wasn't able to make a corner. More horns blaring and police looking for the driver of the dump truck. After about ten minutes of commotion, he was found. The tractor trailer was on its way, SLOWLY because it literally was clearing the road with only about two inches on each side to spare!
We are surrounded by towering mountains with Incan ruins visible in many places. Tomorrow we begin exploring them. For 8 soules (about $2.50) some of us purchased Incan walking sticks. We are ashamed to admit that we bargained the young stall owner down from 10 soules.
Dinner at the restaurant with lots of laughs and stories being told as we continue to renew friendships and make new ones. What a wonderful group.