Just a day of wandering, wondering.
The hump up to the Jesus Statue seemed more easier than the other day.
A hearty 15kms or so of preparation with Machu Picchu on the radar.
Naya’s relations turning up was the alarm clock we needed to rise and shine after hitting the sack at some ungodly hour of the morning.
Surprisingly, we awoke with no hangover considering all the abuse we had given our bodies over the past 60 hours – jet lag, altitude, coca tea, forgetting undies, pisco sour, Alpaca and dancing like no one was watching!
It was Naya’s actual birthday and they had turned up with a Pineapple cake to share and, cooked us another local dish of chicken, stuffed chilli, and yuka (a potatoe root from the jungle).
A couple of young Canadians rocked up for the airbnb hospitality in-time and “happy birthday” was sung again.
The remainder of the day was spent recovering, napping and, mapping out the next days activity – exploring Cusco.
The next day, Bronty escorted us to her favourite eating place for our second breakfast. We didn’t give it a second thought as the day of exploration involved a bit of ground under the boot soles.
Sidewalks and roads are cobbled and rubbed smooth from the centuries of wear. We happened upon the spot where thousands of pics have been snapped, the Inca stone with twelve sides. The craft of yesteryear at how the Inca people mastered the art of construction is mind boggling considering how old the architecture is.
Care was taken as we navigated the narrow sidewalks. Size of midriff does matter as to who gives way. Being mindful of the traffic is also important as a wing mirror can easily bruise a butt cheek or groin. Depending on the direction of the vehicle. Smaller steps were taken so as to ascend the step upward direction we were stepping. Breathing became rapid.
Cusco is just an unbelievable crisscross maze of streets and alleys. As is the wiring to electricity and the many different establishments standing shoulder to shoulder. Signage dangled from above. Hawkers peddling their wares for a sol or two were temperamental compared to Thailand – they weren’t in your face.
We wandered through the old quarter of Cusco, San Blas with colonial houses built with walls of Incan stone. Up up up we went. The orange half round shaped roof tiles became more prominent and widespread, as far as the eye could see. Bronty’s escort transitioned into accompanying us as it wasn’t her intent to have joined us on our little meander. She was quickly becoming familiar with what a ‘Ruru’ meander was, inspiring her with “one more set of steps”. We reached a point where she said “stuff it, we might as well go to the Sexy Woman” … it was always our intent, we just hadn’t communicated such.
They refer to the site near the big Jesus statue with arms extended overlooking Cusco (a smaller version of the one in Brazil) as the Sexy Woman. It’s real title is Sacsaywaman. And, the view standing under the big J of Cusco was just spectacular. Just a sea of orange.
Returning back down, we descended down steps with a larger gradient than on the way up. Some of the residences certainly were shanty type abodes. Walls made of mud; roofs held down with blocks; washing hanging from anything as long as the sun’s rays could be absorbed. Being grateful for what we have at home wasn’t hard to swallow.
We were soon back in the Cuzco city centre, the Plaza de Armas of Cusco. It used to be the Inca Empire capital before the Spanish conquest. They basically decimated any remnant of the empire to re-construct the circumference with temples, churches and mansions.
Today, tourist restaurants, jewelry shops and travel agencies occupy the lower buildings. Cafés and bar the upper.
We rested the legs rehydrating above the multi-cultural crowds. Children in school uniform dotted the plaza and we made the decision to walk home. Bronty continued to accompany us, versus taking a taxi. Still holding confidence in my ability even after my map reading had us back track a couple of streets a couple of times!
We arrived home having explored.
But it didn’t stop there. We ended up going out for a cheap and cheerful dinner with Naya, Bronty and the Canadian lads Adam and Nick. Then Naya drove us up to the Big Jesus again to view the city at night. The colour of orange glowed from the city light noise. And it was just as spectacular as the day light view.
Cusco is a city to be placed on your list of destinations to visit if thinking about pointing your nose towards South America.
Whether to holiday or … to live!
Arriving back to the apartment, Naya and Bronty invited us to join them for dinner.
Tomorrow was Naya’s birthday and so they were going out to celebrate. We’d had six hours sleep during the day and got confused that it was the next day after our arrival. We had arrived only twelve hours before. Cripes, surely the coca tea had left the body!
Flagging down a taxi ride was as simple as putting up your hand right out the front door. And cheap as, arriving at the venue in the heart of Cusco City.
The huge wooden doors facing a cobblestone plaza were like ones you see on a castle, constructed during the 17th century. We were committed to dinner and a little apprehensive about what was on the other side. This wasn’t the intrepid adventurer’s type of eating place when one is on a budget. We had to duck our heads through the door part of the larger doors, and into “The” Fallen Angel Restaurant and “The” Luxury Guest House, we entered.
This was a place where OMG and HF held hands. Before we even sat down, first impressions were that we were going to be eating crackers for meals the rest of the trip.
Naya is friends with the owners whom we were introduced to. They sat with us for dinner which was at an old claw-foot bath tub turned into a fish tank with a glass table top. The fish swimming just did their thing.
Drinks were ordered, and placed in front of us was a Pisco Sour. It’s a traditional beverage that all tourists have to try and the alcohol volume concoction is sipped. A new high enlightenment.
We ordered off the menu. Well, we didn’t, as our meal was ordered for us, being another traditional dish – Alpaca. But before we placed our napkins, we were invited to tour the place.
The artwork placement was a combination of ingenuity and frenzy creativity, with over 150 pieces exhibited by several artists in a rotary way. People who stay often purchase pieces.
The guest house has 5 eclectic, colour themed rooms that are individually decorated with whimsical touches, loft sleeping areas and kitchenettes. Actors Susan Sarandon and Antonio Banderas have signed the guest register. On separate occasions of course.
Returning to our bath tub table, we were in awe. It was beautiful and so I asked how much if we upgraded from our airbnb. We would be going hungry the remainder of the trip!
And then the entrée, main meal and dessert cuisine arrived. To sum up, it was authentic Peruvian dishes with flavours constituting the pillars of Peru, with flavours from the Coast, the Highlands and the Jungle of Peru.
We learnt that there are over 3,000 varieties of potatoes grown in Peru. Spuds used to be poisonous and over time have become domesticated so as to be able to be consumed. The varieties differ depending on the altitude.
And the dark purple corn we saw in the supermarket earlier in the day? Well, it’s not used for general consumption, but brewed to make drinks.
Another first to try for another time.
An extra dessert was brought out with a candle in for Naya to extinguish in one puff. And as we bid our farewell to the owners and a folder with the bill arrived, they had heavily discounted the experience, meaning we didn’t need to eat crackers nor go without food all together. The remainder of the adventure.
This was a totally unexpected and surreal encounter on the first day of our arrival. It felt like we had known Naya and Bronty for years.
That was, until they took us out some more. To the Wild Rover Backpackers Hostel.
Dancing on a table as others did on the bar was another OMG and HF first. We danced like we were 22 years of age again, knowing full well in the morning, we would feel like 102 years of age.
Except, it was already the new morning.
What first impressions could possibly be in store for us on day 2.
The elevation of Cusco is 3,399 metres above sea level.
The elevation of New Zealand’s highest mountain Aoraki /Mount Cook is 3,724metres. The only concern we had was whether we would succumb to the effects of altitude sickness which entails headaches and vomiting for which you can get at both altitudes.
By the time we scaled up the five flights of stairs to reach the airbnb accommodation, our elevation in Cusco was higher again and we were certainly breathless!
We got our airbnb host Naya out of bed. So too her Australian friend Bronty. That was after we buzzed every apartment because we couldn’t remember the apartment number so decided to use initiative and buzz them all hoping one would answer with a warm welcome “Hola” and click open the apartment entrance door.
Naya served us up a cup of Coca tea. Hot water infused with raw dried leaves from the coca plant. The herbal tea is native to South America and when consumed, it helps with altitude. Yay, our first try at a drug because if you tried to bring the tea back into New Zealand, you receive the rubber glove treatment from NZ’s border security.
We think it was working as our breathing returned to normal inhales and exhales. Either that or we were high and not from the altitude neither!
We met a brother and sister from Brazil who were airbnbing it at Naya’s as well. And Bronty was from Australia so it was a multi-national cross pollination of elevator pitch conversation. More sips of the coca tea and we had the world pecking order sorted out!
There was no hallucinating when I went to take a shower to realise I didn’t pack any extra pairs of underpants. I only had the ones on I was wearing. And they were two and a bit days worth of wear. Which was a second concern. Going ‘comando’ (not wearing any) at this altitude would have shriveled anatomy already wrinkling. Fortunately, Claire loaned me a pair. The things we do to make the best of a situation, moving right along.
We retired for some shut eye. Six hours later, still no effects of elevation and perhaps still the effects of the herbs. We needed to stretch the legs and so Naya gave us directions to a shopping centre and so, off we trod.
Dwellings were a combination of urban cosmopolitan and shanty. There isn’t a maintenance plan to upgrade uneven surfaces – whether footpath or roads. Dog shit lies where if fell from a dog’s arse and sometimes a pack approached so pretending to throw a stone deterred getting rabies. Traffic was manic and the smell of dumped litter from a condensed population was evident. The citizens of Peru are short and we think we saw our taxi driver from the airport over 100 times since exiting our abode.
The last paragraph was by no means a criticism. It was what we experienced in the twenty minutes it took us to reach the Mall. More importantly, with open mindedness, there is beauty in the genuine rawness of another countries heart. It helped us to bend our belief system away from the one we left behind a couple of days ago.
Except we found in the Mall itself, a so westernized world with all the brands and label shops. It seemed out of place yet, we had to maneuver so as not to have a head on with hordes of people shopping, it was crazy. I too found the stand in a shop to purchase half a dozen pairs of undies. A label I’d not heard of before.
The dark purple coloured corn in the fruit bins of the supermarket had us wondering. Soon, we were to be told it’s purpose.
But first, there was getting back out of the Mall and into the real world.
Did I mention that the toilet paper used to wipe one’s bum is placed into a bin beside the toilet itself. Only the poo’s and wee’s get flushed. With practice, the habit with come.
We certainly didn’t want responsibility for backing up that system!
As we tried to check onto our first flight departing at Christchurch Airport, the screen didn’t recognise our booking reference number. Eeeeeek. We proceeded to the check in attendant.
“Mr and Mrs Ruru – your check in counter is with Jet Star.”
We found the Air New Zealand attendant very courteous and obliging. Us dickheads will be reading the small print better going forward.
We encountered no further bugger up’s on our behalf for the remainder of the air time – Chch to Auckland to Santiago (Chile) to Lima (Peru) to Cusco, our final landing destination. In fact, we acknowledge Elaine our travel agent from Selwyn Travel – the meal with Jet Star, the empty aisle seat on the Pacific Ocean long haul; and again on the short haul; and lastly, the front seats to Cusco. The little bits of customer service beyond our expectations given it took us just on 30hours after initial lift off to final touch down were lovely.
Across from me on the opposite aisle seat as we prepared to depart Auckland on Latam Airlines, was a toddler, perhaps 2-3 years of age. He wasn’t cooperating with his Dad to be safely buckled up. They were Spanish and spoke limited English. Now, some folk may have rolled their eyes at the thought of what the next ten hours flying was going to be like. Not me, I hooked out the sick bag and quickly drew a Kiwi illustration and handed it to the youngun. A Kiwi, followed by a horse, a car, a cat, an aeroplane, a llama, and eventually a figure off the screen game on the console screen in-front of him. Within ten minutes after the last illustration and lift off, he was asleep. Buckled in.
Sometimes we don’t need to speak the same language to assist fellow humans when in need. Except, when it was our turn for shut eye, the little fella woke up and was wide awake. We got through it!
The transition time spent on the ground in-between flights is all part an parcel of the journey. We embrace just people watching and, aren’t shy to strike up conversation with total strangers. It made the time fly!
We landed into Cusco under the cover of darkness. After clearing border security, we hung around the airport for sunrise before doing charades with a taxi driver to take us to our airbnb host. Having it written down certainly helped. And, you definitely put your life in their hands as we pushed our way into traffic like the car was stolen. It took us some time to eventually locate the residence. The key was to stay calm and backtrack to the airport to use wifi worst case scenario. It wasn’t needed and again, we got there.
Travellers in a foreign land.
Except there is a great quote “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.”
Our adventure had truely begun.