Trying to breathe . . . in Cuzco

Posted on September 10th, 2011 by BreAnn

Since I spent my first half-day in Cuzco (Sept 4th) nursing a nasty Pisco Sour “aftermath”, I decided to try to make the most of my next two full days in Cuzco. My stomach still felt really unsettled for the next couple days, and I thought maybe it was still the effects from the hangover . . . later I would come to find out I was DEFINITELY suffering from altitude sickness. I also found it interesting that I felt as if I hadn’t worked out in months and was HUFFING AND PUFFING like crazy . . . at one point I was lugging my stupid suitcase through town on the horribly uneven cobblestone roads (by the way, I NEVER recommend taking a rolling suitcase to any foreign city, even though I do it myself!) because I had decided to move to a different hostel, and I had to stop numerous times to catch my breath ,  , , and I was totally sweating all over myself like crazy!  Insane altitude!  By the way, the reason I changed my hostel after that first night is because the first one I stayed at was SO COLD (again), had a horribly weak WIFI signal, and had a “community parrot” as a pet that SQUAWKED and SQUAWKED all day and night and drove me—and I’m sure everybody else—crazy!

Cuzco was an adorable little town, bustling with lots of colorful people and many of the native Peruvian people—mostly women—dressed in traditional red and pink clothing, many selling fruit and vegetables, flowers, and other goods on the streets. You would often find each women walking with a brightly colored bag (which was actually a huge woven blanket/rug that was tied together at the four ends) slung around her neck and shoulders with the main “storage” part of the bag on her back. Usually this area would be filled with her goods to carry for sale, or most often you would see a baby or small child on her back.  Some women in their traditional clothing would walk the streets carrying cute little baby lambs, trying to get tourists to take photos with them in exchange for money. Others were simply wandering the streets with a llama!—strange sight to see.  Being in Cuzco, I now was in the town of stray dogs

Stray/wild dogs napping in Cuzco

. . . mangy and “unkept” dogs littered the city, and you would hear them barking at each other all night long. I really enjoyed exploring the city and practicing my Spanish with the store owners.

At one point, I was sitting in the main square just taking a rest on a park bench, and a young, small Peruvian guy, Alex, came up and started talking to me. I was a bit standoffish and hesitant at first with him, but we started chatting quite a bit in Spanish (and a little of his broken English) and when I told him I was going up the mountain to look at some of the ruins up there, he said he could accompany me. I somewhat hesitantly agreed, and we were off!  He was actually a pretty nice guy, and I enjoyed the fact I could practice my Spanish with him and actually ask questions about what I was saying, if I was saying it right, etc, because that is the MOST helpful way to improve your foreign language skills.  He stopped along the way and pointed out different things around the town and gave me information about them.

At the top of the mountain/temple with Alex

We started on the hiking path, but after a half hour I was REALLY winded and the sky was getting dark and thunder rumbled in the distance and I was getting a bit frustrated because I was exhausted, it was hard to breathe, and I was still coughing a bit and getting over my cold, and I hadn’t anticipated being out this long for such a vigorous hike. I kept asking, “Quanto mas?” (how much more) and Alex kept telling me, “Relax,” which kept annoying me more and more because I was REALLY concerned about not stressing my body out too much because I wanted to finally kick this cold before my big 4 day hike! We checked out El Templo de la Luna (The Temple of the Moon), and saw a few farmers herding their horses and cattle through the fields. Finally a few hours later, got back down to the main area of Cuzco again . . . where suddenly Alex started in on hinting to me that I should give him a “propina” (tip).  I instantly got uncomfortable that after all this time, now he wanted MONEY from me!?—and I’m thinking it partly had to do

El Templo de la Luna

with the fact that I told him I have a boyfriend (which, by the way is something you always MUST tell any guy you meet when you are traveling alone as a female ANY foreign country), so I’m sure now he was irritated he spent all that time with me and he can’t even try to take me out or whatever because “I have a boyfriend.”  He was like, “Well you can at least buy me lunch or something for my time,” and I guess I DID agree with him somewhat on that one . . . I mean, afterall, he could have been doing a lot more productive things in the past 3 hours then giving me a tour of the city he has lived in his whole life, right?   Anyway, so I kept asking him to suggest a place . . .  I was freezing, exhausted, and really just wanted to go back to my hostel and take a nap and get WARM. He kept procrastinating, and we kept walking, and I was growing SO annoyed, I raised my voice a bit to him, and was like, “Can you PLEASE just find a place, so I can buy you a sandwich??” and once again he was like, “Reeelaxxxxx, relax!” which was NOT the right thing to say to me AGAIN, especially at that moment. I was pissed, and said, “I don’t WANT to relax anymore… I’m cold, I’m exhausted, I’m probably going to be more sick now, and you’ve made me incredibly uncomfortable because you’re asking me for money!”  To that, Alex replies, “FINE, have a nice time in Cuzco!” and he totally walks off!  I sat there somewhat stunned, thinking he would turn around, but he just kept walking walking walking. I sat there a little longer seeing if he would turn around, but then, even though I was feeling kind of bad about the situation, I quickly skirted off in the other direction, hoping to make a quick escape. . . . and I did.

Was finally able to go back to my hostel, get some food, and rest for the night and enjoyed it!

Poorer area of Cuzco

The next day, I spent a great amount of the morning and early afternoon skirting around town trying to take care of some money issues (to be mentioned in a separate post), and wandering around town a bit. I stumbled upon a much more “broken down” part of town, and I couldn’t believe how these houses were totally falling apart!!  I couldn’t believe people actually lived in these houses, as the windows were broken, the roof was unstable, and there just seemed to be garbage everywhere. And there I was the few days before, bitching about having to wear a scarf in my hostel, and these people can’t even afford to have a house with windows . . .  SIGH.

I spent a good part of the day, then, trying to find a way to get to Pisac—one of the towns nearby that is part of the “Sacred Valley” area that has some sacred Inca ruins. Every tour company I stopped into told me it was too late in the afternoon to get a bus to Pisac, as they set up tours a day or two in advance . . . so then I looked into taking a local bus there instead. I got directions to where the bus station was, and set out on a LONG WALK to try to find the bus station . . . but when I got there, I didn’t see any bus station. Hmmmm.  I had walked REALLY far out of town to an area that wasn’t looking the best, and it was starting to get late (3pm or so), and I was frustrated with the whole ordeal and disappointed in myself that I hadn’t just booked a tour the day before or something so I could at least visit part of the Sacred Valley!  I decided to flag down a taxicab and negotiate a price. Found a guy that would take me to Pisac for 30 soles, which is about $12 USD. Nice!  I was happy with that… especially since I found out that it was about a 40 minute drive over the mountain!

Pisac – part of the Sacred Valley

Long story short, I get to Pisac town and discover that the ruins take like 2 HOURS to hike up to the top to!!  And by now it was like 4pm and the sun was setting, there weren’t a lot of people around the ruins anymore, and I actually had to be back to Cuzco for a meeting that night for my upcoming hike. SIGH. This is why I plan things ahead of time normally!!  I decided to go ahead and hike PART of the Pisac ruins, just so I could feel like I DID SOMETHING, and then came back down. I was lucky to catch a local bus this time back to Cuzco that cost me only 2.50 soles (like 80-90 cents!), what a great deal!!  Well . . . except that it took like an hour and a half to get back and I was TOTALLY late for my meeting!  However, meanwhile on the bus, a Peruvian woman with her child sat next to me and we spoke in Spanish awhile with each other, which was nice. She was trying to teach me some Quechua—which is the local language of the indigenous peoples of South America—but I couldn’t really remember any of it.

Later that night, I had to repack my suitcase in preparation for my BIG four-day hike that would start the following day! I wanted to try to get done quick and get some sleep since they would be picking me up AT 5AM!!!  But unfortunately I didn’t finish and get to sleep until almost 1/2 am. SIGH.  Oh well, I’ll sleep when I’m dead, right?

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