Take My Breath Awaaay

by Ekua on August 27, 2009 in Peru

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July 24, 2009

The flight from Lima to Cusco offered the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen from a plane.  My first sight of the Peruvian Andes was a completely unique experience for me. After taking off, it was just moments before we left the grayness of Lima behind for misty valleys, bright blue skies, and rippling mountains.

But after about an hour, I was literally and figuratively brought back down to earth. After stepping off the plane, it wasn’t long before I felt the chill of the air and the lack of oxygen. At 3,300+ meters above sea level, Cusco was very cold and left me gasping for air. Unfortunately, the airport transfer I had arranged through my hostel was nowhere to be found. I dodged taxi touts while struggling to catch my breath, manage my backpack, and make a call to the hostel. When I finally got through to the hostel, it sounded like they had forgotten to arrange my airport transfer and they said someone would be there to pick me up in ten minutes. To get the actual time someone will show up for you in Peru, you need to double or triple the time they tell you. It was a relief when a driver finally showed up with a sign with my name on it.

Approaching Cusco

Cusco from ground level isn’t as nice as Cusco from above.  The bulk of the buildings were depressing brick and cement structures. I’m not sure if it´s true, but I’ve been told Peruvians are taxed if their buildings are finished so many are left unfinished. I’ve also heard businesses are taxed if they want to put up a sign. It’s hard to believe they have such rules when tourism is a major source of income for Peru.

In Cusco, I decided to stay at the Loki Hostel. I heard it wouldn’t be the most cultural experience and I probably wouldn’t get much sleep there, but I figured it would be a good place to meet people. I had reserved a large dorm, but there was a bed available in a triple with two girls from Denmark. My roommates had also just arrived in Cusco but had been traveling for awhile. They had been making their way north through Argentina, Chile and  Bolivia. They had tales of winter storms and surviving the coldest nights of their lives. To them, Cusco felt like a comfortable temperature and altitude compared to some of the other places they visited.

I heard it was a good idea to eat light when first arriving to a high altitude destination so I ordered a salad and sipped a mug of coca tea which is supposed to help with altitude sickness. During this time, it dawned on me that I was alone and had no one to meet up with for the rest of my trip. Looking around the hostel’s common areas, it seemed that everyone seemed to know everyone else and I was on the outside. I thought about how much I enjoyed life in San Francisco and wondered why I would leave behind friends and comfort to travel by myself in cold, uncomfortable places where I knew no one.

First night in Cusco at the Loki

It turns out that was one of very few lonely moments on my trip. Later, I decided to go up to the bar for happy hour. Within seconds I was meeting new people and hanging out with a group of Aussies and my Danish roommates. We exchanged travel stories and talked about about our lives at home. I had a great time and forgot all about my plans to get to bed early. Thinking of all of the new places to see and the new friends to make, I went to bed excited about the possibilities and thrilled to be traveling again.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Andi August 31, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Omg, how beautiful are the Andes??? It was so surreal when I could say “Andi is in the Andes” haha! It’s funny how when we travel if we’re alone for a day or something we start to stress, even though we KNOW that won’t be the case for long.

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Ekua September 2, 2009 at 10:18 pm

Haha, I didn’t know that would be the case, I was seriously nervous! Besides a couple nights in Vancouver earlier this year, it was my first true solo travel experience… but now I know and I am totally down to travel solo again!

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