Monday, February 22, 2016

The Road to Machu Picchu: Cusco

Cusco was the capital of the Incan empire and is situated over 11,000 ft high up in the Andes. It was great to simply walk off the plane and go straight to ground transportation - we packed lean and went all carry-on. After a 20 minute ride, we were dropped off at our hostel and rested for a couple of hours. I couldn't help but compare it to Lima and they contrasted greatly. Cusco looked older, crowded and poor compared to Lima, which had modern skyscrapers in the business district. Here are some immediate observations:
  • Most of the locals looked Indian.. As opposed to Lima, whose residents have European features.
  • I was tall! Standing at 5'7" I stood above most locals.
  • The elevation was initially a challenge. Although not debilitating, I experienced shortness of breath when climbing steps and when speeding up my walk. Misty was the lone unaffected person out of the UT cohort.
    • It was expected and by design our climb was 2 days later.. giving us time to acclimate.
    • There is a local remedy for elevation sickness - a tea made of an indigenous plant - illegal stateside (and everywhere else for that matter). I take pride in immersing myself in a culture and wrestled with myself on whether to try it or risk failing a drug test at my summer internship. Sadly, I did not partake and what a shame because as it turns out - I was not drug tested.
After some rest, and communicating with those at home, we began exploring. Luckily, the hostel was a few blocks from Plaza d'Armas (the main square that most Latin American cities have) and were able to snap some photos. By accident, we ran into the other crew. They weren't hard to spot, as all three Caucasian guys stood well over 6'1". We joined up for lunch - at a touristy joint serving pizza and burgers. Best believe I had the most exotic thing on the menu - ceviche. Actually, they had alpaca burgers, so that's slightly adventurous but for Cuy (Guinea Pig) - there were no takers.  

L:eft UT MBA at Plaza D'Armas, Top Right: The Market  Bottom Right: View for lunch:
Lunch was followed by a few hours of exploration: Mercado Central de and Convento de San Pedro and San Domingo church stood out. The market had numerous food stalls with meats, exotic fruits - the place we should have had lunch.. costs were a fraction of the earlier venue. The Convento de San Pedro was built on top of Incan ruins and the exhibit inside showcased the area's pre-Colombian and Spanish history.

In and around Convento de San Pedro
Someone in our party had never left the US and felt like Cusco was an assault on the senses - in a good way. After miles of walking, the travel began to take its toll. We all flew in on overnight flights. All three guys in the other party were already under the weather and had to deal with the thin air to boot. So we headed back to our hostels. Apparently, the guys slept for most of the late afternoon and evening. 

Definitely not in Rocky Top anymore.\
It was just us three again later as we looked for dinner later that night. We settled on a venue that had more traditional fare - away from the tourist-packed Plaza. I had pork belly and reacquainted myself with an old friend- pisco sour. 

Top: Cusco at night. Bottom left: exploring with classmtes, Bottom right: Pisco sour made the right way.
After dinner, Will and I forced ourselves to stay awake for Mayweather-Pacquiao! For the record, we were drowsy due to travel, not that lackluster prizefight. And for the first time in 48 hours, we slept in a bed. The next day would be mostly spent in transit.

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