We arrived in Cusco at 8:00 am Saturday, excited to experience the Andean culture of Peru, but completely exhausted, sick, and experiencing mild altitude sickness. It was only an hour flight from Lima, and not enough time to make up for the lack of sleep we got the night before. Luckily, our room at Hospedaje Kuntur Wasi was ready and we immediately crashed for a few hours. Cusco is located at approximately 11,500 feet, and as our guidebook says, the altitude has to be treated with respect. The fact that we (me about 1 hour, Nick about 3) had very little sleep and have colds, probably didn’t help, but after some rest, Dramamine, and coca tea we were feeling much better. The only other thing we needed to do was get some warmer clothes so we walked down to the San Blas Plaza by our hostel to purchase some alpaca sweaters and leg warmers from the market.
I’m in love with my leg warmers! They add the perfect amount of warmth underneath my lightweight pants. Tomorrow we start exploring this colorful Spanish-built city in the Andes, but now a recap on our time in Lima.
Lima really caught us by surprise. We knew it was a large city- home to 8 million- but we also knew it sometimes got a bad rap for being dangerous. Nick’s former colleague is from Lima and always spoke of Lima like it was a hot mess of people trying to rob you. However, my friend Michelle spent 2 years in Peru serving in the Peace Corps, and she never spoke of Lima this way, so we were a little unsure of what to expect. But no one tried to rob us, not even in China Town. One guy told Nick that the only enemy of a Peruvian is another Peruvian, so maybe that’s why we weren’t bothered (kidding). Lima seems to have changed quite a bit from the old days, and is now a vibrant, historical, and energetic city with something for everyone. The area of Miraflores where we stayed has everything we have at home, from movie theaters and Starbucks, to department stores and 5-star restaurants. I can see why Michelle called it her oasis in Peru and it definitely replaced Panama City as best city we’ve visited so far.
Michelle prepared a great write up on Lima and Cusco for us, and after we checked out of the Doubletree, we went to the Flying Dog Hostel to spend the next 4 nights. We felt so energized and refreshed after our stay at the Doubletree that we didn’t even really mind that we had to stay in a cold room with a shared bathroom. If you are traveling on a budget and there is any way you are able to do it, we highly recommend spending a few nights along the way in a nice hotel. It truly did make us feel like normal people again, and allows you to re-charge your batteries and renew your energy for travel. To those who may not have traveled this way before it might seem odd that something as simple as night at a Doubletree could work this much magic, but after 2 months of sharing bathrooms, no hot water, uncomfortable beds, poor water pressure, cheap bed linens, etc, staying in a nice hotel really boosts morale. Just the customer service itself is refreshing and makes you forget you’re a backpacker. It reminds you of who you used to be, and that’s a nice feeling.
The Flying Dog hostel turned out to be ok in some respects, and not so much in others. It is the third backpacker hostel we have stayed in, and if you don’t know what a backpacker hostel is, it’s typically for backpackers and budget travelers and usually has a bar, common areas with tv’s and pool tables, computers, a kitchen, and sometimes a restaurant. Sometimes they have private bathrooms, though usually shared, and also offer dorm style rooms. Many of them also have tour companies in house. The advantages- meeting people, cheap rooms, friendly atmosphere, and common areas. Disadvantages- loud, shared bathrooms, spartan rooms, and inconsiderate guests. These types of hostels usually cater to a more party crowd, and these days Nick and I aren’t looking for the parties. So far this hasn’t been a problem at the other 3 backpacker hostels where we’ve stayed, but not at the Flying Dog. There are no quiet hours, the bar plays very loud music till 1 am, people shout and come and go all hours of the night. Our first 3 nights were ok but on our last night we had to move to another room, street side, and had to get up at 3:45 am for our flight to Cusco. Lima streets are very loud, and needless to say, it like trying to sleep in a bar on the street. Between the music and shouting and the street noise, we got no sleep and have decided not to stay in anymore hostels like this one if we can avoid it. Lesson learned!
Despite this experience, we really enjoyed Lima. We felt safe walking around during the day and early evening, had some delicious food, and even saw a movie and ate popcorn. That was a real treat! While we were in Lima, we decided to go ahead and get our Bolivian visas, since there is a Bolivian embassy in Lima and we’d heard it could be time consuming getting the visa on arrival. We went to the consulate on the second day in Lima, and were in and out in about an hour. All we had to do was fill out an application, bring our passports and extra passport photo, proof of accommodation, return ticket (on hold on American Airlines) and the $135 fee. This is unusually high for a visa fee, but we want to go to Bolivia so we had no choice. Overall, a painless process and now we’re all set to go when we cross the border from Peru.
We also visited historic downtown Lima, visiting the Plaza Mayor and the San Francisco Catacombs. The San Francisco catacombs are underneath the 16th century San Francisco Cathedral and for $2.50 are worth checking out. They have excavated a lot of the bones, which is a sight to see. This historic part of Lima is very pretty with it’s Spanish colonial architecture, plazas, and historical sites. China Town or Barrio Chino, is only a few blocks from this area so we decided to take a walk and check it out. What we saw of it was fairly small, but packed with people and what we expected- Chinese food and markets a plenty. We were starting to get tired from walking all day so we only spent about 20 minutes exploring before we hailed a cab back to Miraflores.
We have about 8 days here in Cusco before we start making our way to the Peru/Bolivia border. It’s hard to believe it has been 2 months already since we started this adventure. Time is flying by!
Freeman Fun Fact: You wouldn’t know it until you experience it, but altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness is one of the most annoying illnesses, and a distraction to the fun you’re trying to have. It feels a lot like a mild flu mixed with a hangover that no amount of water or food alleviates. The general rule of thumb is that up to 8,000 feet it is unlikely you will experience altitude sickness, although some do experience it as low as 6,500 feet. The highest altitude a human being can ascend without oxygen assistance is 26,246 feet, known as the ¨death zone¨ to climbers (although getting remotely close to this altitude without compressed air is pretty ludicrous).
A common misconception is that altitude sickness has to do with the amount of oxygen in the air, but the amount of oxygen in the air stays at 21% up to 70,000 feet. It is the density that changes with altitude, reducing the amount of molecules in a given amount of air. A breath of air at sea level contains more molecules than one at say, Cusco at 11,000 feet.
Symptoms may differ, but usually include a headache, nose bleeds, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, and difficulty sleeping. Taking medication like Dramamine, staying hydrated, resting, and keeping your sugar levels up are recommended to help alleviate symptoms. In South America, drinking coca tea is strongly advised, and after 24-48 hours you should feel better. That said, I can’t wait for tomorrow!