On the morning of Monday, October 29th, the group and I woke up at 5:30am to meet our driver. All of us were excited, anxious, and a little nervous about what was waiting for us on the Inca Trail. When you’re anxious, it’s hard to focus on the details and it’s easy to forget something along they way. That’s why it’s so important to make sure the tourism agency you book with handles EVERYTHING. And I’m not just talking about the guided tours; more importantly, I’m talking about pick up from the airport, the ride to the hotel, flights, transfers, train rides, and bus tickets. The less you have to think, the better off you’ll be.
Actually, that should be the motto for any trip to Peru: think less, do more. Eventually, that motto will transition to “carry less, do more” once we get started with the Inca Trail.
The Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, the Amazon, and the Nazca Lines get all the attention. They get so much attention in fact that Cusco becomes nothing more than an afterthought. This is pretty much the attitude we had when we got to Cusco — just a pit stop before we head to the Inca Trail.
Kim and I getting some sleep before our flight — waking up at 5:30am is just too early for us! Just wait until we have to wake up at 4am on the trail…
On the bus ride to our hotel in Cusco
An experiment in altitude sickness
We decided to turn our little pit stop in Cusco into an experiment. Mike, Kat, Andrea, and Kim would take Diamox (altitude sickness pills) while I would drink nothing but coca tea — coca leaves and tea are supposed to help against the affects of altitude sickness (coca tea is available for free at the hotel you’re staying at). I basically was the control group to see if Diamox is actually necessary for the altitude.
I felt great the first hour. We arrived at the hotel, dropped off our bags, and decided to walk around the town to get some food, explore, and get some souvenirs.
After just 10 minutes of walking around, my heart began to beat really fast, I was short of breath, and my head began to spin. I turned to my friends and saw that they were just fine. In just over an hour, altitude sickness had taken me hostage. But thank goodness for Andrea; she pulled out her magical pills and came to my rescue.
Recommendation from experience: don’t be foolish — take altitude sickness pills. Remember, think less, do more.
The quest for cui
Mike had but one goal in Cusco: to eat cui. What is cui you ask? Take a look at the image below.
Cui is Peruvian guinea pig. Think of it as a big rat served whole on your plate. Yum!
We found a great restaurant in Peru called Deva Restaurant. It’s a bit on the expensive side, but hey, you’re on vacation. Splurge a little. They had cui for lunch, but the waiter highly recommended that we get the chicken soup because it’s easy on the stomach, especially for travelers that just got to Cusco and leave for the Inca Trail the next day. If there’s one thing we didn’t need right now, it was a stomach ache.
The chicken soup was absolutely delicious. Do your stomach a favor and eat that chicken soup. You’ll thank me once you’re on that trail.
If there’s one thing that Peru has an abundance of, it’s souvenirs for tourists. They have shirts, beanies, cups, saucers, masks, and rugs made of alpaca fur (and of course, if you’re not careful, fake alpaca). Cusco has several shopping areas full of vendors that sell everything that a tourist could want.
The flea market has a bunch of pastries, raw meat, and hog heads hanging from pikes (not shown)
We bought these real cool bracelets at the flea market. Awesome souvenirs for friends that are pretty cheap.
Andrea wearing “real” alpaca
Lovely Kim doing some shopping!
The easy way to haggle for souvenirs
Always haggle with street vendors. They greatly jack up the first price that they offer because they know you’re going to haggle them down. A good rule of thumb is 20%. Whatever price they first offer you, you’re going to come back at them for 20% less. Furthermore, it’s best to get everything you want from one vendor because you’ll be able to haggle the price even lower, or perhaps get them to throw in some items in for free.
- Browse around the ENTIRE shopping area to find a vendor that sells as much of what you want as possible
- Ask the pricing for each item
- Thank them and browse around to let them know that you’re considering other offers
- Come back and say “all I have is X-soles (20% less than the original offer)”
- Because it’s “all you have”, it’s difficult to raise the price on you
- Haggle back and forth until you decide on a price
- Walk away if they won’t budge
- They may call you back into their store to give you the deal you want (happened to me)
- Walk away if they won’t budge
- Decide and pay for the items
We bought some pretty cool souvenirs, but I wish I had saved more of my souvenir money for the Amazon — they had much better gifts (like blow darts!).
We start the Inca Trail tomorrow
The adventure begins tomorrow! Mike, Cat, Andrea, Kim, and I meet the other 5 members of our group (for a total of 10 people), including the infamous Markko from Finland! This guy is a cross between Liam Neeson from Taken and Harrison Ford from Indiana Jones — probably one of the coolest people I’ve ever met.
And did I mention that you need to get lots of porters… lots and lots of porters. We had 13 porters to our 10 tourists… seriously. Till next time!