Armed with altitude sickness medication, we arrived in Cusco for a few days of acclimation before taking off on our trek to Machu Picchu. Cusco is nestled in the Andes mountains at an altitude of 3,400 meters (11,152 feet). It was the capital of the Inca empire from the 13th century to the 16th century and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for the impressive number of Incan structures, archeological sites and colonial buildings in the city. There were several plazas and many narrow streets to explore as we exercised our lungs in preparation for the Inca Trail.
On our first night in Cusco we had dinner with Jamie, the daughter of one of Lisa’s friends from her time living in Providence, Rhode Island. Jamie was in Cusco for a semester on a study abroad program. Jamie suggested we eat at Casa Qoricancha, a delicious, gourmet Peruvian restaurant. It was one of the most beautifully presented meals that we have had since starting our travels. It was fun to hear about Jamie’s time in Peru and get her opinion on things to see in Cusco and the surrounding areas.
Whenever we arrive in new city we look to see if there are any free (or at least cheap) walking tours. Cusco boasts more than 2 million visitors a year so the list of walking tours was quite exhaustive. Luckily, we found Free Tours by Foot. It is a business run by two brothers who personally give all of the tours. We first decided to go on an afternoon history tour. We were so impressed by the breadth and depth of knowledge of our guide Richard that we decided to go on the morning cultural tour given by his brother Elvis a couple days later.
Cusco was also our last chance to find the supplies we needed for our Inca Trail Trek. We quickly realized that renting equiptment (sleeping bags and walking poles) was much more expensive through our treking company than if we rented them from an independent shop in Cusco. Conveniently for us, many of the ourdoors shops are on two main streets making our price-checking adventure as easy as zig zagging back and forth across the street. We also spent time picking up other essentials such as snacks from the market, toilet paper, sunglasses to replace those that had broken, and garbage bags to store the items we wouldn’t be taking on the trek.
All three of us were excited to hit the trail. For Kevin and Lisa this has been one of the key events that prompted the whole idea of traveling through South America. It is hard to believe that the day has finally arrive for us to start this part of our adventure. After a brief one hour orientation meeting we were left to prepare our bags and get the few hours of sleep we could before having to meet our guides in one of Cusco’s plazas at 4:30 am. Unfortunately for us, when we went to dinner we asked our waitress if the coca tea had any caffeine. The waitress assured us that the tea did not contain any caffeine so we each ordered one. What she didn’t point out (and we did not realize prior to starting our trek), was that the coca tea contained a variety of other stimulants. This is great for staying awake and energized on the trail, but not so great for sleeping the night before starting out. Needless to say, sleep was something that came to neither of us on our last night in a comfortable bed.