January 29, 2017
When we were in Lima, we marveled at how much that city of almost 10 million felt like a small town. Despite our great affection for the city, we decided to curtail our shopping until we got to Cusco. As a general rule, we have found that smaller places often have better deals and more authentic crafts and memorabilia.
I am not sure what we were thinking. Sure, Cusco is 4% the size of Lima, but it is almost entirely driven by tourism. Manchu Picchu is one of the most visited sites in South America and Cusco is the biggest city near it.
Rather than feel more authentic, it reminds us of Bali: large numbers of westerners walking past shops selling trinkets, art, bus tours and coffee. We see signs for yoga, meditation and massage.
People that look authentically Incan from a distance quickly prove to be in costume and holding Alpacas awaiting a photo opportunity (with requisite tip).
In my previous life, I would have avoided such photos, but Virginia was very keen to hold a baby alpaca and Susie could not resist this one.
Cusco also had the ultimate hallmark of a place with too high a tourist-to-native ratio: you must pay to enter the churches. Every church in Lima was free to visit. Here, each major church or cathedral requires an entrance fee.
So while we have enjoyed this little city, we are ready to embrace the adventure of the Inca Trail. During lunch, Susie decided to share something she had read in Lonely Planet about this 4-day trek:
“Hiking the Inca Trail through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu is both arduous and awe-inspiring. Four days of cold, pain and exhaustion dissipate as the mist lifts to reveal the emerald peaks and terraced ruins of the mystical ancient city. “
Hmmm. That sounds like a mixed endorsement. But then they add a brief note about the time to travel.
“The best time to visit is May through September. Sure, it’s the busy season, but it is also the dry season. And trust us, you don’t want to visit during the rainy season.”
What? Double hmmm. I guess we need to amend the list of charms from “cold, pain and exhaustion” to “cold, wet, pain and exhaustion”. As I write this, a thunderstorm is rolling in.
I wonder what we have gotten ourselves into.
Each of us woke with altitude headaches. We purchased some medicine the tricks our bodies into thinking we have slightly more CO2 than we actually have, so our bodies work to get a little extra oxygen. We would be fine here in Cusco if we were just walking around, but since tomorrow is 10 miles and we will be at almost 14,000 feet within 2 days, we want to be extra ready. We also purchased walking sticks to reduce the chance of knee injuries as we descend and plastic panchos. Jaime (our guide) told us to buy them. We insisted we all own waterproof gear. “Trust me, amigos. When it really rains, nothing is rainproof other than the panchos.”
This will be the last blog I can post for 3-4 days. I will attempt to write a little while we are on the trail, but I will not have access to the web. Once we get back on-the-grid, I will share our joys and miseries (of which I hope there are few).