I arrived in Miami a little tired, but looking forward to a mani and pedi at Don Shula’s Hotel & Resort (Avada Spa for the ladies). After a relaxing couple of hours at the spa, I headed back to the airport for my late afternoon flight to Lima. After checking in, I made my way to the business class lounge and found that the lounge had a fabulous shower room and area to clean up. Perfect so a couple hours later I was able to jump on the plane to Lima at 4:30 p.m. in “clean” condition. Once on the plane, though, we sat and sat and sat. (Hey I thought this thing was supposed to fly.) Finally one faulty door light and almost 3 hours later we took off. Fortunately, I was sitting beside a really fun gal from Toronto (of all places) who was born in Lima and was traveling back home to visit family. She and I spent a bunch of our waiting time trying to figure out the American Airlines business class seats, which have more buttons than a NASA computer. It was like being on a carnival ride there were so many position configurations. I finally arrived in Lima after midnight and by the time I retrieved my luggage (yay it was there) went through customs and immigration (no red light check for me), checked into my hotel room literally across the street from the airport and got settled in my room it was close to 1:00 a.m. YIKES. Not sure when I will ever get sleep.
Prior to arriving in Lima, I had decided that it would be a good idea to take only my small bag with me to Cusco as well as a pack (I have one of those really cool fold up to a little square day packs in my suitcase) since I really did not need all of the clothes in my suitcase for my trip to Cusco. Anyway, despite the late (or maybe early) hour, I spent another half hour rearranging stuff to lighten the load to Cusco before jumping into bed at 2:00 a.m.
I was up again at 5:30 a.m., grabbed a little breakfast, stored my luggage at the hotel, and walked across the street to the airport for my flight to Cusco. (And bonus of bonuses, I found my Peru Christmas ornament in an airport store while waiting for my flight. Those of you who know me well know I collect Christmas ornaments so the only purchases I planned to make on this trip are ornaments.) Anyway, on to Cusco and what a beautiful flight. Since it was dark when I flew into Lima the night before, I couldn’t catch my first glimpse of the Andes. That was not a problem this morning. Lima was a tad foggy, but once the plane broke through the low hanging cloud cover … what a site! The Andes, the Andes lowlands and the little villages dotting the lowlands were visible from the plane.
As we approached Cusco, the skies cleared and it was a beautiful, very, very steep left hand bank into Cusco. We landed with no problem and the warm, thin air greeted me as I walked off the plane onto the runway. (Yes, this is a very small airport.) I picked up my luggage (yay again) and met my driver Rosalia for my trip to Ollyantaytambo – a little Andean village on the train route to Machu Picchu. Ollyantaytambo is also at a lower elevation than Cusco so it was recommended that tourists save the visit to Cusco and the Inca ruins located in Cusco until after you were accustomed to the altitude. So I chose to follow the recommendations and planned Day 1 in Olly for sleep, relaxation and sleep.
The ride to Olly was somehow beautiful, scarry and hysterical all at the same time. I saw women in typical Andean attire and a tremendous number of people who love to drive right at you despite the fact you are in a one way lane, and love to drive right beside you despite the fact there is no lane beside you. We were almost through Cusco when we got delayed at an intersection for some training exercises for the policia. Then the funny party – apparently the gentleman in the van beside our car believed it would speed things up or cause the policia to just end the exercises altogether if he laid on his horn every few minutes and shook his fist. I was almost on the floor from laughing. As we left Cusco and hit the farm country we saw dogs wandering in the middle of the road oblivious to the perilous life choices they were making and very woolly sheep (remember it is winter in Peru – although very mild by my standards – lows 60s). There were pollo (chickens) and goats and funny looking cattle (and lions and tigers and bears oh my). Sadly (Tali) no llama sightings yet. We also passed by many, many mom and pop fruit and veggie stands. I was dying to stop at a few of those once I rested up.
I arrived in Olly shortly after 11:30 a.m. and my little hostel (Hotstel Sauce) could not have been more inviting or cosy. Gorgeous wood, high ceiling beams, a lovely fireplace and huge down comforters on the beds (it gets very cold at night.) The proprietor, Graciela, was there to meet me and immediately handed me a pot of coco tea (to avoid altitude sickness) and encouraged me to drink a lot of water. I was escorted to my room, which had a fantastic view to the Ollyantaytambo Inca ruins. The Olly ruins are as well preserved as Machu Picchu, but far less well known. There was a little brook flowing past the hostel (I came to find out this is part of the ancient Inca water system) that sounded fabulous and lots and lots of street activity (which I find is very common in Latin American countries). I could smell the chickens some lady was cooking a few steps away and I could hear the children at the little school a couple blocks away. Absolutely lovely.
I spent the afternoon sleeping and woke just in time to see the sun setting over the Inca ruins around 5:00ish. I was a bit hungry so tracked down a restaurant recommended on Tripadvisor that had wood fired pizza. The pizza turned out to be quite good. I topped it off dinner with a large bottle of water (no drinking at this point as I was trying to avoid altitude sickness, and I was advised dehydration can exacerbate the problem), and then it was bed time for me.
I slept very well and woke up at 8:30 a.m. Yikes! I was planning on 7:30 a.m., but apparently I didn’t click the alarm button correctly on my clock (that better not happen tomorrow for my train ride to Machu Picchu).
After a fabulous breakfast prepared at the hostal, my guide Da vid (actually David, but his pronounciation makes it sound like Da vid) arrived for our tour of Ollyantaytambo and the Inca ruins. David, it turns out, is of Incan ancestory and a trained historian. This was already starting off well.
We made our way to the base of the Incan ruins where he informed me it would be 250 steps to the top. Normally … not a problem. In the thin air of the Andes… um that’s a bit of a problem. David was great, though, as we took regular breaks winding our way to the top of the Ollyantaytambo ruins. Along the way, David gave me a brief history of the Incas, the history of the ruins and a rundown on the various hypothesis of how the Incas were able to construct such architectural wonders. For example, the Incas constructed all of their temples, buildings etc. to incline inwards and with “give joints” for the purpose of withstanding earthquakes. The stones used by the Incas in building their structures were massive and the precise method for fitting the stones together is something you cannot believe until you see the structures. The construction was truly magnificent. After viewing the ruins, David and I took a stroll around the town. Ollyantaytambo is one of the few surviving and thriving Inca towns (where many of the townspeople speak Quechua (chech u wa). We visited a number of aqueducts and water systems created by the Incas that are still used by the townspeople, and we walked a number of the alleys that lead to homes for the Olly residents. I noticed a number of poles that held red and white flags hanging off the walls and asked David about this. Apparently, the Inca people still brew and drink beer on a daily basis (which is a tradition that dates to the glory days for the Incas). The pole with the flag means that the resident has brewed beer and it is available for sale. The Incas believe that their brew known as Chicha is particularly good for mens’ health. Not only is it apparently good for the prostate, it is also believed to be better than viagra! (Um… I’m learning way more than I signed up for….)
We ended the tour by visiting an Incan residence where they had a “herd” of guinea pig in one room. Guinea pig is a delicacy in Incan culture and while I already knew the answer, I asked the question anyway. “Are these pets or are these for food?” Uh that would be food Deborah. OK then (I immediately thought about the guinea pig we had as children… sorry Ernie you’re relations are Sunday dinner in Peru). I learned that the guinea pigs are typically sold to restaurants in the area when they reach 4 or 5 months old. The average Incan will only have guinea pig on special days like birthdays. (My guide told me that was a tradition for his birthday.) I looked at the little babies as I was leaving and thought you guys have no shot….
As we left the residence I saw what may be the funniest thing I have seen so far. On the roof of the residence were three symbols: a cross, a bull, and a beer bottle. “What’s that David?” “Oh you find those on the houses of most Incans. The cross is to keep Jesus happy, the bull is to keep the family together and the beer is an offering to the gods.” Are you freaking kidding me?! The Bull will LOVE that!