Fri 17 Mar 06

Once inside Jorge Chavez International Aeropeurto we were one of the first few people to grab our bags from the carousel and zipped through immigration without a second glance. The plan for today was to sleep in the airport until our 6:05 am Cusco flight, but we quickly discovered that there really weren’t too many available sleeping areas to be had. We couldn’t get to the domestic departure terminal (with its relatively nice padded chairs) until we checked in at the TACA counter and the counter didn’t open until at least 4 am we were told.

After walking outside and being met with a barrage of taxi drivers hawking their rides we eventually wandered upstairs to a food court where Mark bought an orange juice from McDonalds and I polished off my box of Wheat Thins while we watched a cleaning crew mop and buff the tiled floor and discussed what exactly we were going to do until “morning.” I brushed my teeth (wondering about the water quality) and freshened up as they say at a bathroom sink. We talked a little more and eventually I just lay down on the tile in the food court, clutching a luggage strap in one hand and using the other hand to support my face from the grime. Fell asleep fitfully for an hour or two.

Anytime I sleep in airports or other public places I’m reminded of a sleeping trick my dad told me about way back when. Basically if you’re in a situation where you don’t want to fall asleep too long or too deeply, hold a pen in your hand as you drift off. Inevitably as your body relaxes into sleep mode the hand will unfurl, allowing said pen to drop to the floor, ideally bouncing off with just enough noise to rouse you from a quick cat nap. Brilliant. I guess this doesn’t have anything to do with our current trip since I didn’t use that trick, but something I thought about.

At 4 AM we wandered down to the TACA counter where we discovered Weaver (who Mark and I were meeting from Ecuador) already in line to check in. Evidently, he had been in Lima since 8 PM yesterday and had slept behind some benches on the first floor. Weaver speaks Spanish like a native and was instantly helpful while we talked with the ticket agent. It was good to see him again and we exchanged travel stories while heading for the terminal.

Near the terminal we bumped into some sort of “Airport Fee” window where we were charged $6.05 extra to fly on our domestic flight. I guess everything airline related is taxed here. I would assume there will be some sort of similar fee to return to Lima. I already know there is a $30 fee to fly out of the country on our way back to the US. I suppose we have the same in the States, just a little more hidden.

That said, this all does seem a little more organized than other third world airports I’ve passed through, though probably just as arbitrary. I remember being in Burundi or Rwanda (Burundi I think) and being informed by some uniformed official that there was some sort of departure fee of $10, but somehow I just walked past the person taking the money. Or maybe there wasn’t any person at all.

Waiting in the terminal, I people watched, wrote in my journal, and read my book. It was somehow comforting every time I noticed a new English-speaking couple or group. A little taste of the familiar. A little feeling of if I ran into some sort of trouble there was another person I could explain it to.

When I watch Weaver interact in Spanish without a hitch or watch myself shrug at someone who just hit me with a stream of Spanish, I’m struck by how important it is to know a foreign language or two. If I had to I think I could get by without too many problems in a French-speaking country with a modicum of practice, but here I’m hopeless. And that’s more than a little frustrating. It’s frustrating to lose those safe lines of communication.

More and more I’m discovering that the travel I like best is travel that takes me on an adventure but leaves me with a tether of American life to keep handy. How very unworldly of me. But true. You just get used to the conveniences.

When it’s time to board our flight to Cusco, we all piled into a bus that zipped us across the tarmac to our waiting plane. Once on board we were informed that our flight would be delayed at least thirty minutes due to weather conditions in Cusco. After thirty minutes passed that announcement was essentially repeated. At this point I fell asleep in my luxurious exit window seat. Sleeping deeply and comfortably away from the cold tile of the airport. Waking only when the plane started to pull onto the runway.

I forced myself awake, not wanting to miss the aerial scenery, and then squinty-eyed, watched our distance above the hills extend. The plane bobbed a little while punching through the cloud cover, but then smoothed out nicely at 37,000 feet. I dozed in and out, then woke for good during our descent.

The view above Cusco was lovely. Thick green peaks broken up by white building with clay roof tops. Some yellow flowers or plants spelled out a giant number four on the side of one of the slopes and formed the shape of a giant flower nearby. I don’t know what that was all above, but interesting nonetheless.

We bounced a little on the landing and braked hard on a narrow runway before taxiing up to a tiny airport. Out luggage arrived in short order, scrolling in on a baggage carousel being serenaded by a presumably Peruvian band (who were also hawking their CD for $10 a piece).

Outside of te airport we settled on a $3 taxi ride to the Plaza de Armas. Weaver chatted up the driver and explained the type of lodging we were looking for. Our driver of course had just the thing. He took us to a sort of tucked away hostel near the plaza where we agreed to pay $7/night each and were greeted with Coca tea and an offer to help us plan (for a fee, naturally) our activities while in Cusco

We dropped our bags in our top floor room (three beds, mostly clean with a sort of broken down bathroom), then walked around the touristy area of Cusco, snapping pictures and avoiding shoe-shiners.

Lunch for me was grilled alpaca and an Inca Kola. When in Rome…

After lunch and a bit of a confused search for the bus station we all got on a collectivo and rode toward Pisac. Pretty miserable ride for me. Combination of a packed bus, being far too warm, standing and swaying, and I would assume the altitude. Felt like I was going to pass out about five minutes into the ride and I started pouring sweat. I’ve had this feeling on a couple of other occasions, so I knew I’d feel better once the freakish sweat cooled me down and I got a little blood back to my head, but still awful in the moment nonetheless.

About halfway to Pisac, we hopped off of the bus, into the country side and hiked around a variety of ruins in the hills. The ruins were small, but it felt good just to walk around (and up) and to get the blood flowing back to it’s rightful locations again.

And yes, for the most part they really do just let you walk all over the ruins.

We spent several hours walking between different ruin sites before deciding to walk back to Cusco via what looked like a fairy direct line straight down the hill side. Cutting across the switch backs of the road and accidentally stumbling through a backyard or two we eventually made our way back roughly near the plaza, located our hostel and crashed in the room for the night. Well, I guess I should say that I crashed. Weaver and Mark went out for pizza that turned out to be pizza without the tomato sauce (a recurring unfortunate food choice) while I slept.

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