June 22nd and 23rd
An uneventful day and a half brings us to Cuzco, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas. It is also one of the highest cities in the world, at 11,300 feet. Upon arrival at the hotel, we are greeted with mate de coca (coca-leaf tea) to combat altitude sickness. This helpful beverage is kept in the lobby of most hotels at all hours to stave off illness, and is a frequent after-dinner drink. Perhaps concerningly, the service guide in our hotel lists "oxygen tank" right before "postage". Hmmmm.
We are in general quickly acclimated to the high alititude. We were both tired the first day, though a lack of sleep due to packing and a very brief overnight in Lima contributed to that problem. I suffer from a mild headache for the first two days, but it then fades. We all huff and puff like the Big Bad Wolf when asked to climb more than a couple of stairs, though, which makes me worry a bit. How long is the Inca Trail? How much climbing is there??
An amusing side effect of altitude that I had forgotten was the tendency of small pockets of air to expand. For example, shampoo bottles may overflow or hand lotion burst out of its tube in exuberance, just to name a couple of theoretical cases. I also notice that the Pringles containers in stores are so enthusiastic that they expand the paper covering, popping off the plastic lid. They are impossible to stack with these bulbous tops, making their display difficult for the local markets.
Our first afternoon is rather slow (thankfully!). While we don't take the recommended nap, we do very little touring of the lovely city centre. Some wandering around the main plaza is quite tiring enough. Our walk is complicated by the seemingly unending parade wending its way through town. Groups from all over the country come to dance -- some in traditional costume, some in masks, some in band uniforms. Each is numbered, and they are announced as they pass a reviewing stand in the main square. At lunch, we push through #34, in the late afternoon we see #62 as we enter the hotel. Over dinner, most of the 120s-160s wander by. They seem to have abandoned strict order by then, as #112 was in the midst of the 130s.
The parade is one of many events leading up to the most
important festival of the year -- Inti Raymi, the Festival of the
Sun. All week there have been parades and celebrations,
though this one on the night before is the most official.
Cuzco is filled to overflowing with tourists, Peruvian and
international. And they all seem to have drums.