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Published: September 1st 2018
Have you had the experience anytime you have to catch a flight next morning, but you are not in hurry! No rushing for the cab, no worry about the rush hour traffic…just walk down to the terminal and check-in! You feel so relaxed, isn’t it? Here we go! Our flight to Cusco was scheduled to depart at 9 am. Lima highways are often choke-a block in the rush hours. The main reason we stayed in the Wyndham next to the airport in Lima was the ease of getting to check-in. Besides, our flight to Cusco with LCPeru was also confusion. I purchased the tickets from Expedia, who in turn connected me to a 3rd
party in Europe to get the tickets on-line. And I could not get through over phone to LCPeru from Calgary to confirm our flight. So we decided to stay close to the airport in case we needed to do some run around from one check-in counter to another. In any event, everything went smooth and we took off for Cusco on time. It was a short flight for an hour and half, but wow! What a change in the landscape! Lima is a coastal city next to
the Pacific Ocean and Cusco is approximately 11000 ft above the sea level on the Andes Mountains. The air is thin and visitors often suffer from the altitude sickness. We did our homework and we were prepared. We carried the prescriptive medications with us. Once landed, we also picked some dry Cocoa leaves stored in a bowl at the airport terminal. Chewing the Cocoa leaves is long practiced by the Inca people to avoid the Sorocheor altitude sickness. And we were advised earlier that one needs to acclimatize the climatic change for the first few days in Cusco before starting any strenuous activity. This is the gateway for traveling to Machu Picchu and many trek to Machu Picchu along the Inca trail for three nights. No, we were not planning any trek. Not this time at least. Instead, we chose a comfortable train journey to Machu Picchu from Cusco.
We came out of the terminal chewing the Cocoa leaves…first time in my life. The taste is a bit different than anything I knew, but one quickly gets used to it.
“Do you feel any difference?” I asked Suman
“No, not yet… I guess.” Suman said.
While walking outside, I felt a bit of shortness of breath’ but that could be quite psychological….”Nha, I’m fine,” I told myself. It was a nice sunny day with blue sky, a bit nippy, but not quite cold as one would expect in the winter days in the Andes. Our pick-up to Sonesta hotel was waiting with our name tag. Bingo, we were all set baby!
Isn’t it that a sparkling sunny day always transforms the mood? I looked around. The Andes Range circled the city landscape. Rising over 11,000 ft, the mountain looked a bit barren, but gorgeous! The houses are dotted all over the rolling hills of the mountain range.
The blue sky, the sunny day and a picturesque town with the ancient civilization of over hundreds of years – oh, I loved it and felt jubilant. We were soaking in every bit of sight and sound of Cusco while traveling to the hotel in our shuttle bus.
At an elevation of over 11,000 in the Peruvian Andes, Cusco used to be the capital of the Inca Empire from 13th
century until 16th
century. Then the Spaniards came and conquered Peru. History has left its
mark before and after the Spanish War. It is now a city with archeological remains from the Inca Civilization and is the tourist hot spot. Visitors here enjoy the festive atmosphere of the city, travel the landmarks like Sacsayhuamán, further to the Sacred Valley and Rainbow Mountains and then of course, the jewel of the crown – Machu Picchu. We were staying in the region only four days including Machu Picchu, but we tried to pack as much as we could within this time. Sonesta Hotel lies in the other end of the city, - very conveniently located close to a handful of nice restaurant, souvenir shops, ATM machines,- ideal for all the tourist needs. The girl at the front desk was a charming young lady and arranged a nice room for us on the 2nd
floor overlooking the town. So here is the plan; we check out from the hotel after two days, travel to Machu Picchu and check in again for a day upon our return and then we fly back to Lima.
“Sounds like a plan,” the girl at the front desk handed me the room key with a smile; she knows the right PR –
the room key and the smiley face goes hand in hand!
“You see, we are here for two days only, actually day and half. We will be out to Sacred Valley tomorrow. Sooo, what can we do today? Anything you may suggest?” I asked the girl
“Actually, you are here in a good day. It is off day today in Cusco because of the festival.” The girl was pretty fluent in English! I was impressed. I felt ashamed…I am visiting a country and it should be my obligation to learn their language; instead we are speaking in English and she is trying to accommodate our needs. You know, sometimes I think that we people from the Western World are too arrogant and snob…we think the whole world should follow us. To be honest, whenever I plan to travel to any Asian country, I try to learn how to speak the local language before I travel, nothing fancy but to make a brief broken conversation through self learning. But the Peru travel just happened all on a sudden and I didn’t have time to prepare as much as I would have loved to learn.
“Is it the Festival
of the Sun?” I asked.
“You did your homework right!” the girl replied with a broad smile. Then she continued, “Yeah…it would go for a week. Today is the traditional folk dancing by our Indigenous people. They come from outside Cusco and will gather in the Central Square, Plaza de Armas. Walking distance you know, just go and have fun there” The girl patiently gave us all the information with a lovely smile. We returned the smile and headed out to explore Cusco! It was around 11:00 am under a warm sunny sky. Surprisingly, it was not cold even at such a high elevation. Just a light jacket was fine. The town is not a big one…close to 400 square kilometer only. But beyond the city square, it has spread out in the surrounding mountain range. Plaza de Armas was a short distance from our hotel. The road was a cobblestone one with the shops and landmark sites of Cusco on both sides of the road. Tourists could be seen everywhere and the local indigenous people who comprise of many ethnic communities and different heritage were spread across the streets with their colourful dresses. We loved it. We took
a leisurely walk to the Plaza de Armas as we were careful not to stress ourselves to avoid the altitude sickness. We reached the Plaza in 20 minutes. And Wow! Was it a festival or was it a festival! I could see nothing but people everywhere I looked…various ethnic tribes wearing their colourful costumes moving like waves. One area was cordoned for dance and parade. It was a festive mood everywhere. And we were so fortunate that we came in the right time. Standing right in front of us and dazzling under the sun was the famous Iglesia de la compania de Jesus or Company of Jesus Church. We climbed up the stairs to the porch so that we could have a better view of the folk dance and the parade from the above. The whole atmosphere was charged with festive mood and it was indeed a showcase of the Inca heritage! Yeah, culture shock alright and we spent the whole afternoon soaking in the vibrant cultural display and then followed the crowd once the folk dance and the parade was over. The crowd dispersed in several directions and we walked around to check out the township. We walked past
the Ruins of the Inca temple Coricancha which was a marvel from the 15th
century. The walls and the floor of the temple were made of gold during the Inca empire. While strolling along the cobblestone roads my mind raced through thousands of years in the past when the rich Inca civilization, - a prosperous dynasty with the happy families content with its own culture and practice that spread across the Andes Mountain was betrayed and crushed. Gone with the wind! Spaniards came and the Incas trusted them; and yet they were violently uprooted with the breach of trust. The glory of a civilization vaporized in the hands of a bunch of invaders and created the history of tears. Today the walls of Coricancha sigh in the shadow and whisper the tale of their sorrows. I am not a history buff. But the history of sadness haunts me. We have walked backwards, we have ruined the prosperous nations, we bathed in the sorrow of others, and yet we have bragged these massacres as the glory of civilization. We have always done that. And we never learn from our past.
“Are you feeling okay?” Suman asked me
am fine, why?”
“You are awfully quiet.” I guess the cautionary sense of altitude sickness was still in her mind.
“No, just at the crossroad of civilization, don’t really know how to cross it.” I smiled.
We entered the hotel lobby and got startled for a second. A teenage girl was sitting in a couch with an oxygen mask and a hotel staff was helping her. “OMG…altitude sickness!” I said. Fortunately, whether it was the medication or the effect of the cocoa leaves…something must have worked miracle for us so far, - we haven’t had altitude sickness!
We went out for a lovely dinner at a restaurant close by and we hit the sack quickly. It has been a long day and we were tired like dogs. Perhaps the thin air also took a toll. Whatever it might be, we knew it was time to snug under a warm blanket! Next is sacred valley!
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