Hold your Llamas: Peru Part 1, Cusco City

Machu Picchu 

Kim lived three houses down from mine for most of my childhood. Our first meeting was on our own Lytle street, hiding behind our mothers' legs as they tried to shove us forward and bat away our shyness.

This year, we celebrate twenty years of friendship. We've always talked about going on a trip together, but to be honest, neither of us are particularly decisive so we've never buckled down and committed to an idea.

Then, this past summer, I moved to Washington, DC. I moved for a job-- but mostly for myself. That sense of urgency and need for something new that willed me to uproot my life in Atlanta carried through to all aspects of my life.

So we finally committed. Kim is an outdoorsy person. She's an avid hiker. She's driven cross-country solo and is an experienced camper. She even had a brief stint as a park ranger. Forget for a moment that I am none of these things. Peru seemed like the perfect destination for an outdoor adventure, and Kim seemed like the best companion for a trek through the Andes.

We booked plane tickets for one week in Peru - flying in and out of Lima, with internal flights to and from Cusco. After a quick Google search and a brief Facetime with a very kind representative, we also booked a 4 day/3 night group trek with SAS Travel in Cusco.

And that was the extent of our planning.

Before take-off: Reunited in DC

Upon landing in Lima, we used our ten minutes of free airport wifi to find a hotel for the night. After a few questions, some sloppy Spanish, and a shady cab ride, we arrived at one of the sketchiest hotels imaginable. Though we were seemingly the only guests, after a bathroom incident (the faucet came off the wall while showering), we were told to stay in the same room for the night. We were relieved to return to the airport the next morning and catch an early flight to Cusco. Doing some research after the fact, we learned that tourists are highly recommended to use Taxi Green for cab services and steer clear of any hotels in the vicinity of the airport. We had done neither of those things.

Luckily, we stumbled upon better luck in Cusco. Our taxi driver dropped us off in the neighborhood of San Blas - a good neighborhood tucked high away in the northeast corner of Cusco. The two of us went knocking door-to-door to check for hotel vacancies and were able to find a nice room fairly quickly.

Smiling after finding accommodations 

Coming from Washington DC, which is about 400 feet above sea level, I felt the change in altitude quickly. Cusco is at 11,152 feet above sea level. The air felt crisp and cool, while I felt heavily anchored to the ground. The hotel manager served us a pot of coca leaf to alleviate any possible altitude sickness. I didn't feel any major effects from the altitude, but I always enjoy a good cup of tea so I cleared my cup.

Tastes like green tea

Since our trek was scheduled to start the next day, we immediately set off to explore as much of Cusco as we could during our only full day in the city:

We worked our way down the narrow alleys of San Blas to Plaza de Armas, the main square and heart of the city.

Narrow streets of San Blas
Plaza de Armas

La Catedral: Built in the 1550s and home to an impressive collection of colonial art that mixes Catholic traditions with indigenous legends

We wandered Cusco for much of the day using a paper map given to us at the hotel. It's an easy city to navigate with endless sites to explore. Once the capital of the Incan empire, it was invaded in the 1500s by the Spanish before declaring independence in 1821. The city is now known for its archaeological remains and Spanish colonial architecture. It's also a major pit-stop for thousands of tourists (like us) who visit each year before making the journey to Machu Picchu.

Baby llamas are a tourist attraction