PRIMERA PARTE: Lima + Cuzco
Dia Uno: Lima
When you fly into Lima between the months of June and July, you most likely will look out your window to find that the lights of this 9 million person city are completely socked in by clouds. Once on the ground beneath the cloud cover, you realize just how humid the air is, as if it had just rained. However, Lima is a desert, and though it may feel and look like rain, it almost never happens.
We flew from Puerto Vallerta to Lima, Peru. We left behind the heat and beachy sun above the equator. On one transcontinental flight, we effectually flew from Summer to Winter. As we exited the airport in our shorts and sandals we saw Peruvians clad in coats and scarfs. Even in the ocean, the surfers were covered head to foot in wet suits to keep out the chill.
Our guide from Mountain Sobek Travel welcomed us with a history of Lima. Once the capitol of South America, Lima is actually very similar to New York City. An eclectic convergence of cultures and countries. He told us of the "two religions in Peru: Roman Catholicism and Soccer." As we drove to our hotel in Miraflores, a district of the city perched on a cliff that overlooks the ocean, we see barren land with sprigs of green palm trees and hills of vines. We learned that because Lima is locked between the Pacific Ocean and Andes Mountains it creates a strange coastal desert that is unable to naturally grow very many plants. The city of Lima imports most of the water for it's plants and crops.
After checking into our hotel, and coming to terms with only having wifi in the lobby, we set out for a late night dinner. At 2am, we were lucky to find a small outdoor restaurant that may or may not have kept open for us. Here we tried our first ceviche, a lemon & herb marinated raw fish, an exceptional dish. Muy rico!
Our day in Lima held many adventures:
- We explored the "hipster" part of the city, Barranco, with its art galleries and beautiful homes. A local restaurant was recommended to us - The Canta Rana (singing frog) and we waited almost two hours for a table. When we finally got the food we knew why - delectable lomo saltado (a salted pork with fries), fresh ceviche, and our first sips of Pisco Sours (the national drink of Peru).
- As we meandered the city, we found an ancient site of the Liman people. Hundreds of thousands of small mud bricks stacked into homes, temples, and alters, Huaca Pucllana was astounding. Now a large scale archeology project, it really shows the history of a city.
- Possibly our favorite spot in Lima was the lounge area of the Museo Larco (a beautiful historical artifact museum) - dim lighting, comfy couches, and fast wifi.
Dia Dos: Cuzco
Looking down on Cuzco from above, you might miss it, because it blends in with the browns and reds of the earth around it. As you descend closer, you can see the textured rectangular outlines of buildings stacked on top of one another. Once in the streets of the city, you realize you were mistaken, Cuzco might be the most colorful place you have laid eyes on.
First thoughts & experiences in Cuzco:
- This must be the most LGBTQ friendly city! In the first 5 minutes of driving I counted about thirty rainbow flags and banners. I quickly learned that the rainbow flag in the flag of Cuzco, representing the colorful diversity of it's people.
- "Llama" is much more authentically pronounced as "Yama."
- We met our trekking guides that would be hiking beside us for the next six days to Machu Picchu, Ian & Felix, both native Peruvians, and lucky for us, fantastic friends and knowledgeable company to have along.
- In Cuzco, we assembled our entire 12 person hiking group. Kitty & Jeremy, a little older couple from NYC, John & Sheila and their 13 year old daughter Bridgid, and the Alden clan: Holly, Tyler & I, Autumn, Brooklyn, Preston, and our new brother Wade. In the next week as we hiked alongside these individuals we would become dear friends with deep memories.
- Cuzco sits at 11,000 ft. Walking is difficult and running is out of the question. Many Peruvians eat cocoa leaves, which supposedly help with altitude sickness. I drank many cups of cocoa leaf tea, and kept a pocket of the dried leaves to munch on. Neither were particularly yummy, but they did cure my headache!
The Incan and Spanish influence is evident in Cuzco. We toured through a number of cathedrals and saw the conflict of nations in the history. Our hotel room looked out over the ruins of an Incan temple, and the Cathedral built on top of it using the Incan walls. My favorite part of the day was daring Brooklyn to try on a set of priest robes in one of the corners of a cathedral. With the help of a 3-girl coup, the heist was accomplished and my girl did not disappoint (although did you ever get your $100 from Autumn?!) That evening we discovered some amazing local gems. We ate roast guinea pig for the first time at a fun restaurant and found a really interesting bar where all the tables were bathtubs turned aquariums.
We had to drive three hours outside Cuzco to find the trailhead where we would begin our trek. We moved from paved roads to dirt paths that wound around mountains. We made a "last call for civilization" stop in a small village where we visited a weaving shop and learned how to dye alpaca wool.
Eventually we reached the trail head, hopped out of the vans and began assembling our gear. We loaded up the pack donkeys and grabbed our trekking poles. Then, alongside our group and two guides, we took our first steps toward Machu Picchu.