Day 5: Getting to Cuzco

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January 16, 2013 by jiejie768

After a wonderful Christmas in Ayacucho, our large traveling party left Ayacucho with our sights set on Cuzco and Machu Picchu. To catch up on our visit from the Andersons and Collinses to date, click on the links at the bottom of this post.

After a rainy start to our exploration, the sun came out in the late afternoon. Here a hill full of residential neighbourhoods rises behind Cuzco's Plaza de Armas.

After a rainy start to our exploration, the sun came out in the late afternoon. Here a hill full of residential neighborhoods rises behind Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas.


Day 5: Getting to Cuzco

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, a nervous few minutes on the street corner waiting for taxis at 5:15 a.m. on Dec. 26, turned into a wonderful surprise as Alejandro and his cousin rounded the corner in a city bus to make sure we all made it to the airport.

This was an important first step as our trip to Cuzco hung on a very close connection in Lima. It is impossible to book a direct flight from Ayacucho to Cuzco, despite the fact that it is, as the crow (or plane) files, about two-thirds of the way directly in between Lima and Cuzco. Thus, our group had to fly to Lima (45 minutes), then board another, separately booked flight to Cuzco (one hour).

This is not a huge deal, but it’s complicated by the fact that there are only two flights from Ayacucho each morning: one at 6:35 a.m. and another at 6:50 on a different airline. Furthermore, flights from Lima to Cuzco end at 9:05 a.m., meaning our window to get to Cuzco in one day was rather small.

Additionally, through a quirk of the Anderson’s arrival, we were on a different airline on each leg of the trip, so once we got to Cuzco, we’d have to get our bags, re-check them and again go through security (the Collinses had no such issue, they left 15 minutes later than us, but had their bags checked through to Cuzco as they were on the same airline the whole way). Assuming our flight made it to Lima by 7:30 as indicated on the tickets, we would have plenty of time to take care of everything and make our plane to Cuzco with time to spare.

I was pretty nervous about this whole arrangement for weeks in advance. The flight from Ayacucho that we were on is dependent on a 5:15 a.m. flight from Lima arriving on time — no guarantee this time of year as many mornings are extremely foggy and flights are often delayed for hours or canceled outright as a result. Another concern I had centered around the flights not going to a terminal at the Lima airport. On a previous flight to Lima (one without a connection, thankfully), Meg and I had landed at about 7:30 but did not make it to the airport until about 8:30 because the shuttle that took us from plane to baggage claim didn’t leave in a timely fashion.

In the end, all of my worries proved groundless. Our flight out of Ayacucho left on time, and we had more than enough time to not only check our bags, but also grab some Starbucks and a bite for Dan in the Lima airport. Additionally, Ty’s digestive issues were kept at bay, and, though not completely healthy yet, he made it through the travel part of the day relatively unscathed.

By the time we touched down in Cuzco (about 10:15 a.m.), my nerves behind me, I was finally able to be truly excited about this part of the trip for the first time. Our schedule gave us that day in Cuzco followed by an early morning and a train to Aguas Calientes, which is just a 20-minute bus or 90-minute hike to Machu Picchu.

Before heading out on the town, we checked into our hostel — Los Niños — a special request of Kathy’s. In addition to being a cozy and comfortable place to stay, the proceeds from the operation go to fund an educational program for children in need (a goal that is very near and dear to Meg’s and my heart).

Though are rooms weren't ready just yet, after an early start the group was just happy to make it to Los Ninos Hostel in Cuzco. The gorgeous courtyard provided a wonderful setting for our first meal in Cuzco.

Though are rooms weren’t ready just yet, after an early start the group was just happy to make it to Los Niños Hostel in Cuzco. The gorgeous courtyard provided a wonderful setting for our first meal in Cuzco.

Just happy to be there. After a hectic morning of travel, Kathy and Katie rejoice at having finally reached our destination: Los Ninos Hostel in Cuzco.

Just happy to be there. After a hectic morning of travel, Kathy and Katie rejoice at having finally reached our destination: Los Niños Hostel in Cuzco.

As we were pretty early, our rooms weren’t quite ready, but we grabbed a couple tables in the sun-drenched courtyard and ordered a pretty decent lunch from the in-house restaurant. By the end of the meals we had rooms, deposited our belongings and gathered (minus Ty, who was still recovering) for an afternoon out on the town.

Shortly after leaving our hotel under a bright blue sky, the weather turned and we were caught in a fairly substantial downpour. Undaunted, we simply ducked into a few stores along the way. Our first official order of business was picking up our train tickets (already bought and paid for) at the PeruRail office so that we could be on our way the following morning.

After that was taken care of, we headed off in search of Cuzco’s artisan market. A few wrong turns and directional inquisitions later we had found our mark. Everyone spent a good while looking over the alpaca-wool wares, souvenir T-shirts, knick knacks and other goodies at the market. Lolo came away with a purple alpaca-wool hat, and Pam and Tom bought blankets and slippers for for various family members back home.

Lolo shows off the new alpaca-wool hat she bought for the bargain price of 12 soles ($5) at the Cuzco artisan market.

Lolo shows off the new alpaca-wool hat she bought for the bargain price of 12 soles ($5) at the Cuzco artisan market.

After the market, our group headed off in pursuit of a variety of different goals. Pam and Tom headed back to the hotel to get a bit of rest. The Collinses, Daniel in tow, headed over to the vegetable and spice market to check out the food wares, and Meg, Lolo and I went in search of a backpack for Pam. After we found our backpack, we met up with the Collinses and Dan in the veggie market before turning toward the hotel.

Three vegetarians, Katie, Kathy and Meg, pose with soy chicharon purchased at the Cuzco food market. Chicharon is usually fried meat of some type.

Three vegetarians, Katie, Kathy and Meg, pose with soy chicharon purchased at the Cuzco food market. Chicharon is usually fried meat of some type.

Meg and I, however, were distracted by the giant grocery store across the street (grocery stores in foreign countries are a fascination of ours) and convinced Kathy, Katie and Lolo to join us in our investigation. It was a fairly disappointing trip, as, though everything else in Cuzco was more enjoyable than Lima, it’s grocery store did not have the variety and selection found in the capital’s Wong, Metro and Tottus mega markets.

Once again on the street, Kathy and Katie headed back to the hostel for a 5 p.m. tour of the hostels educational operation while Meg, Lolo and I went off in search of Starbucks. By now the clouds had cleared and the scene in the Plaza de Armas was bright and sunny. Starbucks in hand and energy renewed, the three of us spent a few hours hunting for stickers and other such souvenirs. Meg and Lolo each found a Che-Guevara-esque cap that they liked and deemed prudent given the next few days were to be spent hiking under a fairly fierce sun. I attempted to find a purple Peru T-shirt, and thought I had, only to notice a grease stain and return it for a(n unusually easy) refund.

The cathedral stands tall in Cuzco's Plaza de Armas.

The cathedral stands tall in Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas.

Shopping accomplished, we went back to the hostel to meet up with the rest of the group for dinner. When we got there we found a rather tired bunch. The Collinses, in fact, opted to simply eat at the hostel’s restaurant, and we strongly considered following suit. But Dan found the menu lacking, Tom and I wanted a hamburger, and Ty, feeling much better, wanted to get out and see a bit of Cuzco before we left the next day. After perusing our guidebook and tripadvisor.com for suggestions, we settled on Aldea Yanapay: a restaurant with burgers on the menu, good reviews, a circus theme and board games on the tables. It sounded like a good time … it wasn’t.

When we arrived, we were told that they could not seat our group of seven, but we foolishly soldiered on when offered to sit at two separate tables. Tom and I each ordered our hamburger while Meg opted for falafel and ordered some stir-fry chicken for Lolo. Pam, Dan and Ty were upstairs and ordered, I think, soup. Shortly after ordering we were told that they were out of hamburgers and we should change our orders (we had been warned before ordering that they had also run out of pizza, which made up about 30 percent of the menu). Tom and I switched to lomo saltado — stir fry beef — which was twice the price of our previous order (no mention of discount due to inconvenience). The one highlight was Ty met the actor who play’s the Ruxin on FX’s “The League” a sit-com about a bunch of guys in a fantasy football league … I did not meet Ruxin (Nick Kroll).

Things pretty much went downhill from there as our food took an incredibly long time to reach us (for the record, the lomo saltado was pretty darn good, though I still want that burger). Things were not going any better for our companions upstairs, and, by the time we left, it was a pretty grumpy group of Andersons we put into a cab headed back to the hostel. I was feeling kind of discouraged as Meg and I walked through plaza toward the hostel.

Obviously, it wasn’t as if anyone was mad at me, but I felt, at least a little bit, like the host of this group as it was Meg and I they had come to Peru to see. The high volume of negative reactions was getting to me, and I was afraid that everyone was (and would continue) hating their trip to Peru. I was, of course, being silly, and by the time we reached the hostel, Meg had talked me off the proverbial ledge.

We got back to our room, which we shared with Ty and Lolo, showered and got ready for the next day. We were only allowed to carry about 11 pounds of baggage with us on the train (they NEVER checked this, by the way), so we scrambled to reduce our luggage to what would be needed for the three days, two nights in Aguas Calientes and headed to bed. The alarm clock was set for 6:15 the next day, and that would be our latest wake-up-call for a while. But we were headed to Machu Picchu, so who cares, right?

Catch up on a our holiday vacation with the following links:

  • The Andersons arrive: Yeah, that happened …
  • Day 2: Christmas in the Campo: This time things go right
  • Day 2: Returning from the Campo
  • Christmas Eve, Part I: Acquiring (some of) the food
  • Christmas Eve, Part II: The KATC Christmas Party
  • Christmas Eve, Part III: Mass, Socks and Fireworks (Oh, My!)
  • Christmas in Ayacucho
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