South America

Breathless in Cusco (In More Ways Than One)

Yesterday, we spent the day exploring Cusco, the oldest continuously inhabited city in South America. The city´s elevation is about 11,000 feet above sea level and, for those of you who are familiar, Breckenridge, Colorado´s base elevation sits at about 9,600. Cusco´s city layout was designed in the shape of a Puma, so nearly every road includes a walk up or downhill. We definitely felt the thin air while walking, and had to stop several times to catch our breaths.

We kicked off our afternoon with lunch and a beer in the sun at a restaurant called Makayla, which overlooked the Plaza de Armas, Cusco´s town center. Then, we ventured off for a self-guided tour recommended by our Lonely Planet guide.

The Incas originally built the city of Cusco, and when the Spanish conquered the city in the 1500s, they tore down the buildings and re-built their own city in its place. Some Inca walls still remain as part of the city’s structures, which makes for a beautifully historic walk around town.

Locals line the streets trying to sell their goods, which usually includes produce, jewelry and textiles. I actually paid two local women to pose for a picture with me while I held their baby goat. I was undoubtedly a prime target for their photo op, as one of the women practically shoved the goat in my arms after I kept ooo-ing and awww-ing at it. The women definitely got a good tip, as Eric and I did not yet realize that what we thought was a 50 cent coin was actually worth five soles (about $1.80 US). We actually paid the women about S15 total, when we thought we gave them S5. Regardless, it was definitely worth it for the picture.

What we did not prepare for was the lack of heat indoors. Cusco is about 75 and sunny during the day, but gets down to about 35 degrees at night. There is no heating system in our hostel, and while we packed plenty of fleeces and sweaters for an evening stroll to dinner, we did not consider the need to bundle up inside.

Last night, our hostel could not have been more than 50 degrees after the moment the sun went down. Since I did not bring anything but shorts and t-shirts to wear as pajamas, I bundled up in a fully zipped fleece and socks. Needless to say, it was a chilly sleep! Maybe I will have to buy a Peruvian quilt before the end of the trip to keep warm.

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