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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cuzco

Tuesday night, after we finalized the tickets for Cusco, Carlos and I went down stairs to finish packing. I loaded my backpack full of extra socks, a pair of shorts, pants, and sweatshirts. When Carlos ran across the street to grab a couple of things from his house around midnight, I went to bed.

My alarm went off Wednesday morning at 3:45. Carlos's light was already on. Apparently he hadn't slept at all. I'm not sure if it was because of excitement or anxiety, but he was pretty tired. After we ate some cold pizza for breakfast, we went upstairs and woke up Christian, who then drove us to the airport for our five o'clock flight. We barely caught our plane. They were making last calls at the gate when we arrived. But we made it.

It was a quiet flight. I slept through take off, and most of the rest of the trip. I woke up just in time to catch a glimpse of the snow-capped crests of the Andes poking through the clouds. Those mountains make our sierras look like foothills. It was an absolutely incredible view.

When we landed, around 7:30, Urias, a friend of Christian's and a pastor here in Cusco, picked us up. He helped us load our bags into a taxi, and we drove to his house, rain streaking across the windshield.

At Urias's house, we were greeted with two fresh cups of mate de coca caliente, a tea made from coca leaves which is used to fight altitude sickness. After traveling from zero feet above sea level to more than 10,000 feet above sea level in a matter of a couple hours, we more than appreciated this, although Carlos said that after drinking it he couldn't see straigt. After all, it's made the same plant that cocaine is derived from. Anyway, after spending a little time with Urias, Carlos and I went upstairs to our room and finished off the night's sleep.

We woke up just before 2:00, and went downstairs to find Josue, Vani, Urias's niece, and her friend Mariana, a visitor from Argentina, finishing lunch. They were quick to serve us, and the girls offered to take us to the Plaza de Armas in Cusco that afternoon.

As we road the bus with our new friends, I was blown away by the scenery. Huge green hills for miles, covered by huge rain clouds. But when we arrived at the main square, I was breathless, and not simply because of the altitude. The cathedral of Cusco was directly in front of us, with the main protestant church directly to our right, both built in the old Spanish style. Vani was quick to point out that much of the downtown area was built on the same foundation that the Inca empire was built on.

We followed Mariana and Vani through downtown, climbing and winding through the cobblestone streets, walking past the huge square stones that the Incas had set in place so long ago. They showed us some of the important tourist sites, including the Piedra de Doce Angulos, La Puma, and El Serpiente, all rocks or patterns of rocks found in the Incan walls lining the streets.

Once the girls had finished what they needed to do in the Plaza, we walked with them back to the bus stop, and then returned to the Plaza ourselves to wait for Urias. We spent some time looking in different shops, trying to find a beanie for me. I was freezing. I had seriously underestimated how cold Cusco would be.

Here, it rains at any moment, almost every day. I believe, yesterday was the first time I have felt rain since last summer, more than six months ago. It was a welcome feeling. I've found that rain brings a cleansing, a release of some sort. It lifts the spirits. It washes away the old. It provides a space for the new, brings relief. And it's a comfort now as it taps our roof while I write.

After returning to the Plaza in the rain, Carlos and looked for a dry place to sit and wait for Urias. We ended up finding a Starbucks on the second floor of a hostel with balconies looking out over the square. From our table we had an incredible view of the cathedral. With the whole square lit up, lights twinkling in the rain, wet stonework shining, and warm coffee in hand, I'm not sure I've yet felt that relaxed during my time here. Carlos and I spent the hour talking about the last few weeks in Santa Rosa, about what I'll be doing when I get home, and looking forward to our time at Machu Picchu.

Around 8:00, we met Urias and planned out the rest of our stay. Tomorrow we travel by train to Aguas Caliente where we'll visit The Sacred Valley, stay the night, and the next day head on to Machu Picchu. We're both really looking forward to the adventure.

But, in typical fashion, we had our own sort of adventure on our way back to Urias's house. When we boarded the bus, it was nearly empty, and since our stop was the final stop on the route, we took a spot in the back. The bus soon filled up, so full that we couldn't move. Then we saw flashing lights. Behind us. Red and blue. The bus got pulled over. The traffic cop kept us all there for a good ten minutes. Eventually he let us go, but it gave a good laugh. Carlos said that something like that had to happen after our last trip.

When we got back, we ate a quick dinner with our friends, Vani and Josias. Tomorrow, we wake up at 6:00, and leave Cusco for Aguas Calientes at 8:00. So, for now, it's time for bed.

(This post was written on Wednesday night, but posted on Thursday, when we had internet.)

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