Friday — April 3My plans for Cusco did not include laundry. At least not as the first activity upon arrival in a city filled with lots of interesting things to do. The plan was to check-in to the hotel, rest a bit — something we don’t usually do, but at 11,000 ft (~3,350 m) above sea level you need to adjust your pace a bit — and then go for a stroll around the city. Best laid plans and all that — sigh!So, why am I sitting in a room in which every available surface is covered with damp clothes, waiting for Mui to return from a nearby lavanderia (laundromat of sorts)? It seems that our bags were amongst the ones we saw sitting in the rain at the airport in Atlanta. We noticed our bags were a bit damp when we collected them in Lima last night, but we were too tired to pay much attention. I’m sure you can imagine my reaction when I opened the bags a little while ago to find the contents ranging from damp to downright soaked!!! I’m not sure why we didn’t line the bags with a plastic liner like we usually do. Maybe it was because on all those trips where we did take the precaution, we never had a problem. We’ve learned a lesson that we won’t soon forget.I have about an hour before Vidal comes to pick us up for a stroll around Cusco; might as well put the time to good use and add to the blog by going back to our arrival in the city that the Incas considered to be the “navel of the earth” — the capital city of the great empire. (That “navel” thing … must be a literal translation; it should probably read “center.”)We were wheels down at Aeropuerto Velasco Astete at 9:40a. With the aircraft only half-full, and most passengers staying aboard to continue to the next destination, we were off the plane in no time. It didn’t take us long to get our bags, and within a few minutes, we were outside the terminal where Vidal was waiting for us as promised.A private van took us into town and up into the San Blas neighborhood where our hotel is located. We received a warm welcome at Los Apus. No sooner were we seated at one of the tables in the enclosed courtyard that cups of fresh-brewed Mate de Coca (tea made from coca leaves) were placed in front of us.Let me explain about the mate. This is an herbal tea indigenous to the Andes. The tea is made from the leaves of the coca plant. Yes — the same plant used to make cocaine. Coca leaves, which can be chewed or used to brew a tea, help to increase the absorption of oxygen into the blood. That, in turn, helps to combat altitude sickness. Hence its common use in Andean Perú and other South American countries.
Mate de coca helps increase the absorption of oxygen into the blood, thus helping to combat altitude sickness.(Put your mind at ease — in the minimal quantities we will be ingesting, we are in no danger of getting hooked. I could quote all kinds of scientific facts, but I’ll keep it simple. Here’s how Wikipedia explains it: “The leaves of the coca plant contain several alkaloids including cocaine; in fact, they comprise the sources for cocaine's chemical production, though the amount of cocaine in the leaves is so small, around 0.2%, that in order to make a gram of cocaine, 500 grams of coca leaves would be needed.”)As we sipped our coca tea, Vidal took care of getting us checked-in. Soon, we were completing the registration forms and having our passports photocopied — thus saving on the 19% service fee that is normally charged by hotels. In the meantime, our bags were taken up to Room 202, which I had specifically requested because it has a small balcony. After we sipped another round of coca tea and finalized plans for the afternoon, Vidal left us to get settled in.Cusco abounds with hotels in every price range. Aside from a clean room with a private bath, we had one criteria that played a role in choosing Los Apus over other hotels — availability of central heating. Most of the hotels in Cusco — indeed in Andean Perú — do not have this amenity.So far, we’re happy with our selection. The hotel staff has been friendly and welcoming. Although they speak very little English, we’ve managed to communicate our needs. Our room, though on the “cozy” side, is clean and pleasant, with a rustic décor that is enhanced by a beamed-ceiling. The en suite facilities are in an enclosed area built to look like a tile-roofed hut — quaint and cute. Compared with the size of the room, the facilities are spacious with a raised shower, which Mui quickly became acquainted with when he banged his shin against the riser — no worries; he survived the minor encounter, but does have a handsome bump to show for his run-in with the tile. The balcony is small and narrow, and there’s not much of a view since it overlooks the street, but it’s always nice to be able to step out to take a look around and get some fresh air.
Room 202 at Los Apus — cozy, cute, and has central heating.
Room 202 at Los Apus — the beamed ceiling adds a rustic charm.
(edge of tile-roofed enclosure for the facilities visible at the bottom of the picture)
Room 202 at Los Apus — spacious, clean, en suite facilities.Mui has returned from the lavanderia with the news that our clothes will be ready first thing tomorrow morning. While he was out, he also bought some bottled water to fill up our camelbaks for tomorrow. We’ll also be using the bottled water to brush our teeth. We don't usually do this when we're traveling, but this was a consistent theme in my pre-trip research, so we’re going to follow the advice.It’s just about time for Vidal to come back to escort us around Cusco and help us get the lay of the land. We’re going to wait for him in the courtyard and maybe sip some more coca tea to help speed up our acclimatization to altitude. We’re also taking Diamox (acetazolomide) to help with this process. So far, aside from feeling incredibly tired — no surprise; we've had about 4 hours of sleep in the past 36 hours — we have no adverse symptoms of altitude. Knock on wood that this continues. More later …Next Up: Day 1 — Who is Vidal?