Monday, July 04, 2011

South America Adventures – Part 1 (Airport & Cusco)

This trip was a trip of firsts. First time to South America and first time that my luggage made it on the first try.
We spent our first hours in South America in the Lima, Peru airport. Our flight landed in the late evening and our connecting flight to Cusco was 6am the following morning. Instead of venturing into the city (which all the tour books and testimonies advised us against) we decided to spend the night in the airport. We weren’t hurting for company as there were several dozens of other people doing the same thing. Apparently most of the international flights land at night. Due to the tricky nature of flying into Cusco, they only have flights in the early morning. Therefore most tourists bound for Machu Picchu play the waiting game at the airport.
The good thing is that the airport is perfectly ready for the overnight guests. The food court and stores stay open all night. There is plenty of chairs and tables for tourists to eat, play cards, and drink all night. Even starbucks is open with wi-fi. My favorite food court place was “Manos Morenas” which Spanish translation is “dark hands” and their pitchman was Aunt Jemima. They advertised both Chinese AND Peruvian food. Curious.

Dana and I met a cute guy from Brooklyn on the flight and hung out with him overnight. We figured it was safer to have a man sitting with us since two women were not so intimidating (of course we didn’t tell him that, but made him feel like two girls were flirting with him instead).
A few tables over was a group of about 6 local men probably heading home to Cusco. They were all about the cheap beer and collected a table full of bottles. Paaaarrrr-ty!
In another attempt to herd men as company, we talked with four other guys from Chicago. They showed up in tee shirts, shorts and flip flops. Sure it was temperate in Lima, but Cusco is at 11,150ft and is much much colder. When we got off the plane in Cusco, it was about 40degF and the poor Chicago boys were SOL. They said they thought it would be warm since it is so close to the equator (it isn’t). I guess they didn’t realize it could be cold when you are in the Andes Mountains, in September which is also winter for South America. We later ran into the group in the main square and I couldn’t help blurting out “hey you found pants!”
It was interesting flying into Cusco which is a small valley/bowl in the middle of a mountain range. Abet a little unnerving seeing mountain peaks sticking up above the clouds and remembering the movie Alive.

Landing involved doing a tight 180 turn and then dropping down because of the surrounding mountains. Everyone on the flight basically slept at the airport (or stayed up all night in the food court), so since there were empty seats, many people laid down on a row to nap on the flight. The stewardesses didn’t make anyone fasten their seat belts, so when we touched down, some guy (who was laid down asleep) flew off the seat and impacted the row in front of him. His face was hilarious because one minute he was sound asleep, and the next minute he is on the floor of the aircraft. Maybe you had to be there...punch drunk with a lack of sleep.
We drank coca tea to help with the altitude. It is the universal recommendation and they practically shove it down your throat anywhere you step. It wasn’t all that bad (once a generous amount of sugar was added) but the travel book warns that you will test positive in a drug test for a few weeks because the leaves contain cocaine.
Most tourists get altitude sickness, and the symptoms range from shortness of breath, headaches, and an urge to void all of your bowels (aka massive sudden shit). Dana needed a few stops while walking to catch her breath. Me, I just had gas…lots and lots of gas.
Our first dinner was at a children’s education center that moonlighted as a restaurant. Our menus were Disney fairy tells with a Peruvian spin. I ate alpaca stew which was a bit gamey/grassy. We talked about trying out guinea pig before the trip was over. Yeah, lets see how that goes.


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