Today we would be beginning our journey in Lima and then heading to Cusco in the afternoon. Cusco is where our journey would really begin. Its adjacency to Machu Picchu and its historical significance as the seat of the Incan empire made it a must hit stop for anyone travelling through Peru.
We were so tempted to go back to the amazing breakfast place we ate at the day before, but our desire to try something new caused us to press on. We found a cozy little breakfast place off of the main road called “Homemade”. I was told to eat a hearty breakfast because it would be difficult to get lunch today so I ordered a large veggie burger and sweet potato fries, not a bad breakfast. I also had a pineapple coconut banana juice that was more like a smoothie and came in a large pitcher. We later got a cab and embarked on that infamous drive from downtown Lima to the airport. Because it wasn’t rush hour, the traffic wasn’t so bad but the fast driving and frequent sharp turns made us feel like we were on a roller coaster.
When we got to the airport, our flight had been cancelled, which for some reason we weren’t too surprised by. Just the cost of doing business when you only get the cheapest flights I guess. Luckily, there was another flight to Cusco leaving a half an hour later so we were put on that one for no additional charge. With an extra half hour of down time, we decided to check out a nice looking restaurant inside the airport. The prices here were quite steep (and by that I mean they were the cost of an average meal in the U.S) but the food was really good and we could watch the world cup from our seats. Even though we never really got a chance to sit down and watch a game on this trip, it was playing in every single airport and restaurant so we felt pretty up to date on scores and team standings.
The flight to Cusco was absolutely beautiful. We flew through the Andes, and some of the white-capped peaks were so tall that we flew around them rather than over them. We literally flew through the mountains. We landed in Cusco that afternoon, a city 2 miles above sea level, and I was already gasping for breath. After experiencing the altitude in Quito on our last trip together, we knew that we needed to get some coca tea pronto.
Luckily for us, they had bowls of the stuff, for free in the middle of the airport. This was incredible. We didn’t need to buy them or even wait until we got into town. I was blown away by this, a leaf with such powerful medicinal properties it’s illegal in the United States and they were giving it away for free here! I grabbed a few leaves and snuck them into the back of my phone case for later. We would be doing a lot of climbing and you never know when you might need them.
After we grabbed our bags, we hopped into a taxi and drove to one of my all-time favorite Airbnbs. The host was so nice and gave us many recommendations of where to eat and what to see. The interior of the room was clearly designed for tourists but it still felt authentic. There were beautiful pictures on the wall from different parts of Peru and we even got a complimentary jar of coca leaves. Once we got some downtime, I would start blending these with the Yerba Mate and some Muna leaves to make what I call “the South American sunrise”. This would be a huge asset during some of our 5:00am wake-ups.
Once we got the keys, we changed quickly and headed out to the market of San Blas to enjoy the last hour or so of daylight. San Blas square, located a mere two minutes from our apartment, was a cool tourist hub, with some live music and souvenir kiosks. Already we could here some even louder music coming from downtown, so we decided to press on. We did however stop for a nice hot chocolate and coca tea. The coca tea my girlfriend ordered was about 50% coca leaves and 50% hot water. They really love their coca here!
We sipped our drinks and walked through the narrow city streets. Some of the parts of the city are left over from the Incans, but for the most part the city looks like it was built in the past 500 years or so. You will be able to point out the walls that were built by the Incans because many people will be taking pictures of them. The streets here are very narrow, but don’t go thinking they are pedestrian only. There are a ton of taxis that will try to sneak through here given half the chance. Make sure to always check your six and try to walk on the sidewalks when you can.
Eventually, these narrow streets opened up to the beautiful main square. We were fortunate enough to be in Cusco during Inti Raymi, or the festival of the sun. This is a celebration of the winter solstice, which in the southern hemisphere is in late June. Because of this celebration, the city streets were always packed with parades and performers of all kinds. It was amazing to see thousands of people dressed up in colorful outfits dancing around the city for hours on end. From where we came from, a parade would last only a few hours, but for here it was pretty much all day everyday. This was a nice welcoming into the city of Cusco, but later on in the journey it would get annoying as we would have to plan our routes around the parade.
Once the sun went down, we started to look for a place for dinner. We had heard great things about this place called “Green Point” the premiere Vegan restaurant in Cusco. This place did not disappoint. Because the restaurant had its own alleyway, it seemed like more than just a place to eat, but a community. Here people gathered from all over the world, preparing to embark on long journeys through the Andes, and others between adventures. We met a guy from Portland sitting next to us and we talked about our plans for the next few days. I’ve never been to Portland, but for some reason I always run into people on my travels that are from there. Of course the dilemma of vegan restaurants is that I never know what to get. So many amazing options here! There was one dish that basically included everything on the menu, and I joked that it is probably for the people who don’t know what to order. They brought me out a hot skillet with potatoes, corn, tomatoes, spinach, edible flowers, broccoli, bananas, cucumber and orange slices. There was also a few side dishes like avocado and tomatoes over brown rice, cole slaw and sauerkraut. This was the most elaborate meal I had ever had, and probably the only time I have ever ordered the most expensive thing on the menu. I could have taken this whole thing down if it hadn’t been for the appetizers I ordered, so instead I was left some nice avocado and rice to take home for breakfast the next morning. This place was amazing and probably my most highly recommended restaurant of the whole trip.
At night, the air gets so cold in Cusco, you will probably want to bring a jacket or at least a fleece with you. Luckily for us, our host knew we would be cold so he made sure that we had 3 layers of blankets. We headed home for a nice warm night of sleep, ready to explore the whole city tomorrow.