Monday, April 23, 2012

Arriving in Lima, Peru, January 19th

The 7 Seas Marina pulled into Lima Peru on the 19th and that marked the end of my cruise ship adventure and started another one.  While I really enjoyed the 2 weeks on the ship I was more than ready to get off of it.  I'm sure in the future I'll do it again, but it might be a few years.  The next morning I left the ship early (4:30 am early) and took a bus to the airport.  From Lima I flew to Cuzco, (or Cusco, depending on who you listen to), which is high in the Andes. 

 From sea level to 11,200 feet in about an hour is quite an adjustment.  Landing at the Cuzco Airport is also an adventure worth noting.  The single runway is perched on top of a mountain and the plane makes a couple hard turns around other mountains to line up with the runway.  I'm flying on Star Peru, which is a local airline, on a plane that is definitely of Russian design.  It has short stubby wings, mounted on the top of the fuselage and 4 big engines hanging from them.  My first thought was that I was flying on a converted cargo aircraft and I'm still not sure that I wasn't right.  The big engines are needed to suck in the thin air and to give some power to the short wings.  When you hit the runway with a thud the pilots stomp on the brakes and the plane screams to a stop in a short distance.  Which is a good thing because at the end of the runway is the end of the mountain and a long drop.

I had a guide waiting for me with a sign so I'd know him. A porter and Jordan (my guide) hauled my luggage to his little car and we were on our way to the hotel.   While I had been told time and again that there were weight restrictions on luggage and I was seriously over it, I didn't have any problems.  It's really tough to go from cruise ship for two weeks and the clothes you need, to an environment where all you need is a good backpack and hiking stick.  My guides and porters earned their tips.

My home for this week was the Casa San Blas Boutique.  First of all, it's clean.  The floors are polished hardwood and flat stones.  There's about 20 rooms on various levels.  The manager speaks excellent English.  I was the first American they had as a guest in a long time.  I met several Canadian's, French and German guests sitting in the lobby with my laptop.  The rooms have wi-fi (yay and it's free).  The staff really bend over backwards to make you comfortable.  I was met with a cup of coca tea (good for altitude sickness), and every night when I returned after a day exploring my bed was turned down, there were chocolates on my pillow and hot water bottles under the blankets.  (After all it was the rainy season there and cold by their standards.) This little tiny hotel is in the old section of the city and is a charming place to visit.  This part of the city contains the ancient Inca stone construction and is home to lots of artists making this historical area home for their artwork, weaving, pottery, carving and stone masonry.

The entrance to the Casa San Blas Boutique.

 The hotel's lower walls are all Inca stonework, some of it restored after an earthquake many years ago.  There is a small continental breakfast every morning, which can be a challenge.  Coffee is tough to enjoy since they drink their coffee as thick as espresso.  Yak milk is pink!  I don't care for goat milk on my cereal either.   But there are lots of different fruits and breads, fresh butter and local jams.  After the 2nd morning there the cooks had figured it out and there was a tea kettle of hot water I could use to cut my coffee with.   You do not drink the local water and I spent several dollars on water both for my room, my coffee/tea and to take with me on my day trips.  Even brushing your teeth with local water is not recommended.

The inner courtyard at the hotel.  That's me and my favorite guide.  She spoke English, Spanish and Quechua.  My last day there she took me way out into the country to spots most tourists can't see because tour buses won't fit on one lane gravel roads climbing up a mountain.

A typical street in the old city.  Notice the stonework
Walking the old city is a challenge.  The first couple days I had to deal with the altitude.  I never got sick but I kept a headache for several days and was thankful I'd packed a small medical kit, containing various remedies for head, stomach, even an elastic bandage for sprains.  The streets are one lane with raised stone sidewalks.  The rocks are round and flat, easy to slip on when it rains and the stone staircases are at an awkward height for easy walking.  When a car appears it's a scramble into doorways or flat against the building because the drivers here are crazy!

Lots of the shops are just little indents in the rock walls.  These big stone rocks from the Inca Empire each tell a story (or so the guides say) but nobody really knows what the story is, just that there is one.  Homes are built on top of or into the walls, using beams, tin, terra cotta shingles and in some areas palm thatch roofs.

 The back of the hotel contains a courtyard and church grounds.  The Casa San Blas means Church of San Blas.  San Blas is a Saint and the week I was there was his birthday.  The party started at dawn every morning and went to midnight every night.  There were fireworks every night and the first morning I was there the band started at 6 am.  The band consisted of lots of large tubas and big drums.  You didn't need an alarm.

The courtyard held lots of vendors selling local wares, food stalls, etc.  I wandered through the courtyard the first night and decided I didn't need to add to my overloaded luggage.  I was also reluctant to sample the food being offered because I'd already been warned off of it.  But the smells were interesting.  Roasted guinea pig is considered a staple.  Too greasy for me when I tried a leg.

Side streets of Cuzco

Side streets

The oldest church in the center of Cuczo.

 The middle of the historical section contains multiple churches, some dating back to the Inca Empire.  From the middle of the town square you can see 7 different churches that represent multiple faiths, from Catholic to Judaism.

Some of the churches are used for other things, like theaters or local schools

The stonework and the artwork was incredible inside.  NO cameras allowed.

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