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Sunday, June 23, 2013

My Peruvian Adventure - Cusco, Peru

What a whirlwind of summer activity since Peru!  I’ve barely had a chance to catch my breath to write this blog post.  Lucky for you I’m stuck in the Denver airport watching giant shocks of lightning flash nearby.  Looks like I’m going to be here awhile so might as well knock this baby out.

Saturday May 25, 2013

We arrived early into Cusco, Peru, after a very easy flight from JFK (with a stopover in Lima).  The Lima airport was a little trying, as usual.  At least this time my checked bag actually WAS checked all the way to Cusco but I still waited at baggage claim just to be sure it didn’t show up.  

The hostel had a car to pick us up but we ended up waiting 20 minutes because the other group they were picking up took forever and then didn’t even end up coming with us.  Rude.  We finally arrived at Mama Simona’s Hostel and were shown to a very cute two person private room with our own bathroom.  The only problem was the comforter was filled with feathers which I am extremely allergic to.  Our two nights here resulted in me wearing all my warm clothes to bed to account for a lack of comforter.  Beware!  We grabbed some coca tea immediately (one of the best parts of Peru!) to help acclimate to the altitude (I have no idea if this actually works I just really enjoy the taste).


It was only about noon so we adventured out to enjoy the afternoon sun in the main plaza area and grab cash from the ATM.  I stupidly thought that when I clicked “US dollars” and selected $300 that it meant I’d get $300 US worth of PERVIAN currency.  Instead I got $300 US dollars and was charged $5 transaction fee.  Great.

We were starting to get hungry and Lil Sass (you may remember her from my Croatian adventure last summer) had never been to Cusco or the Saturday market so we decided to eat there.  It is at this point that I introduce you to two of the colorful characters that I came to know on this trip – Teach and IHeartCanada.  So named because “Teach” would later teach me how to make a pisco sour (the directions were in Spanish) and “IHeartCanada” because, well, he does.  Teach and Lil Sass are fast friends from high school. 

We made quite the foursome as we descended on the Peruvian market.  At the back of the market, past all the stalls, is a bustling “fast food” area where you sit on a bench in front of a stall, order your food and sit there on the bench eating it next to a hundred other people doing the exact same thing.  I’m still unsure what I ordered but it involved egg, pepper, chicken, French Fries and onions and was delicious.  There was a green sauce I put on part of it but it made the dish too salty so I stopped.  Cost?  About $2 for a huge meal.

After gorging ourselves we spent the rest of the day wandering around shopping.  I discovered these AWESOME sneakers and poor Lil Sass was forced to go into about 20 shops as I looked for the perfect pair.

Soon we tired of shopping and went looking for food.  When I was in Cusco back in March 2010 we’d found this amazing restaurant called 2 Nations on some random alley way tucked back behind the main plaza.  It was thus called because you could either order incredible, local Peruvian food or equally delicious food from other parts of the world (aka hamburgers).  It was owned by an Australian named Matt and it was the greatest place ever.  I’d even left my mark on the graffiti wall that ran along one side of the restaurant.

Incredibly, three years later I remembered exactly how to get to it (I've provided a map for the rest of you).

And to my deep sadness I walked into a new restaurant called Rosas and the graffiti wall was gone.  I was SO bummed until I started talking to the waitress who informed me that they were family friends of Matt’s and that he still technically owned the restaurant space but had allowed them to put their own spin on the decorations, etc.  I told her that as long as the Lomo Saltado with alpaca tasted the same I didn’t care.  And boy was it as good as I remember.  I swear this restaurant is the best place ever.

Knowing that we’d be embarking on the Inca Trail on Monday this was our only night to “get loose” so we wandered around until we happened across the Museo del Pisco.  I’m still unclear how it got this name considering the only “museum” element about it was a massive drawing on the wall of how pisco is made.  Regardless we sat down to sample the local liquor.  

The menu had a couple of options.  You could do a tasting flight of piscos, order from a list of existing cocktails or select a flavor of pisco (such as cinnamon, hot pepper, mint, etc) and they would create a drink for you.  

I choose “cinnamon” and then asked them to use that to make a Valicha (Pisco, Apple Liqueur, Ginger, Green Apple, Lime, lemongrass and soda water).  It was SO good.   Didn’t taste that strong but between the potent pisco and the altitude it only took one.  Good thing because at 22 soles a piece they weren’t cheap.

This was enough to make us want to pass out (losers) so we wandered back to the hostel to sleep.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Next morning we were up bright and early and spent the better part of the morning eating ice creams in the plaza enjoying the sun.  Cusco is a town that is excellent for just hanging out and people watching.  A little girl was chasing the pigeons, a little boy came over to flirt with us, and Lil Sass was asked at LEAST 15 times if she wanted her shoes shined.  Finally she was overcome with guilt that her black leather flats were apparently shamefully dirty and acquiesced.  This just immediately prompted them to start offering her watches. Haha.


In other news I managed to track down the perfect pair of shoes (okay fine I bought two pairs because I was obsessed).  I’ve since worn them multiple times back in NYC so whatever…. WORTH IT.  I also commissioned a Peruvian woman to knit an amazing Jets colors hair for my friend who’d helped us plan this trip.  She knit the entire thing in FOUR hours.  Crazy.

I’d told Lil Sass that you could find super cheap massages around the plaza so we bartered a woman down to 25 soles for an hour long massage.  It was okay.  Not as good as I remember but definitely a relaxing pastime early in the afternoon.

As is our custom it’d been two or three hours since the ice cream so we decided to eat. Again.  We decided to pick a random street off the plaza and select the first place that looked interesting.  Every place on the street we selected looked the same and were super cookie cutter so we were about to give up and pick a new direction when this random guy our age asked if we wanted some BBQ.  This piqued our interest so we followed him down a side street (yes we respond to shady offers like idiots) and found ourselves in someone’s personal backyard where they were having a massive BBQ.  COOL!  


We ended up having the BEST chicken with potato fries and tomato and a giant jug of beer.  Next to us was a table of four old dudes who were wasted and kept saying funny things in Spanish to Lil Sass (she speaks Spanish fairly fluently.  I speak… ZERO).  Apparently they said we exercised too much because our muscles were too big for girls.  Haha.

After wandering around for awhile we met up with Teach and IHC for dinner.  We tried to take them to Rosa's (no joke I would eat here every night) but it was closed so we ended up at some random restaurant that Teach and IHC has eaten at the night before.  It was cheap and the soup and stuffed peppers were really good.  The alpaca was eh.  I'd bother to tell you the name of it but I have a strong feeling that every place on that street looks and tastes the same.


We then hurried to the SAS office for our pre-Inca trail tour orientation.  Our main guide, Hilbert, seemed SUPER serious and his sidekick, Oscar, seemed quiet.  As for the rest of the group (who we would come to refer to as “la familia”) there was….

  • Dr. Llama – so named because he is actually a doctor and because he would later tell a hilarious joke about llamas
  • Lifesaver – so named because he would later save Dr. Llama from certain death
  • Spider-Man – so named because of a certain nighttime visitor
  • Mud Butt – so named because well…. Let’s just say he left his mark on the trail many times
  • Selfie – so named for perfecting the “selfie” iPhone photo capture
  • Fuzz – so named because of the special fizzy drink she taught me how to make
  • Fuddle – so named for his ability to fiddle around doing we-are-not-quite-sure-what but damn it looked important!
The group was rounded out by Teach and IHeartCanada.  Below is the important information that was provided during the orientation.  It was actually VERY informative so I highly suggest paying close attention and taking notes because it clarified a lot of things that the confirmation email I received did not.

  • 5:35am pick up from hotel/hostel
  • 1.5 hour bus ride to Ollantaytambo (oh-yun-tay-tambo)
  • Along the way we stopped for breakfast
  • Breakfast is the last stop to buy supplies.  We purchased ponchos, hand sanitizer, playing cards, gloves and Gatorade.  The hand sanitizer would prove to be one of the smartest purchases of the trip yet it was originally an impulse buy.  We were also told to purchase Aqua de Florida which is a liquid that you rub on your hands and breathe in and it helps clear your nasal passage for easier breathing at high altitudes
  • At the trail head we would receive our walking poles and mattress
  • Show passport before entering trail (you must have the one you booked the tour with even if it is expired.  It also has to be the official passport not a photocopy).
  • You hiking for 6 hours (up and down)
  • You can buy water along the way on Day One
  • 4:30am wake-up call
  • Day two is the hardest day as it is 4 hours straight up and then 2 hours straight down at the highest altitude  you will reach on the trip
  • Very slippery so you will definitely want to use the walking poles on this day
  • Coldest camping site
  • 4 am wake-up call
  • 11-12 hours of hiking (longest day)
  • Pass multiple Incan ruins
  • Camp site has a toilet and shower but the water is FREEZING cold
  • 3:30am wake-up call
  • Easy hike but the first part is in the pitch black of darkness so your headlamp comes in handy
  • You reach the Sun Gate that looks down on Machu Picchu around 7:30am just in time to watch the sunrise over the ruins
  • 830 tour of the ruins
  • The bus down to Aguas Calientes is included
  • Meet at the Viajeros Hostel by 2pm for included lunch
  • If you hired a private porter they deliver your duffel bag to the hostel
  • Transfer belongings from the duffel bag to provided rice bags
  • You can get your train ticket from the hostel person
  • If you did the regular Four Day tour then you would take a train all the way back to Cusco that night
  • For those who chose to do the additional night in Aguas Caliente you have the rest of the night as at your leisure (dinner not included)
  • Breakfast included in your tour package (as is the cost of the hostel)
  • Wake up bright and early and either return to the ruins to hike Huayna Picchu and train back to Cusco later in the day or wake up early and catch the 8:50am train to Ollantaytambo
  • If you take the early train than you have to find your own transportation from Ollantaytambo to Cusco which you can get for 10-15 soles.
We then received our duffel bags and sleeping bags (we had paid for personal porters and sleeping bags – neither are included in the base tour price) and were told to remember the number on the bag so that we could find it at each campsite.  They also pointed out that the personal porter can carry 9 kilos of stuff but the sleeping bag and duffel itself account for 4 kilos leaving you with 5 kilos of your stuff.  They also told us we should waterproof bag all the items in our duffel.

In somewhat of a daze from all the information we scurried back to the hostel to prepare for what would be a life-changing experience.


  1. Looking at your photo of the market food gives me this intense sense of longing akin to being in a long distance relationship with a beloved partner I'll likely never see again.



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