Perú: a series (Cusco)

Oh, Cusco, I wanted to love you, I really did, but you just made it too hard. From the second my plane touched down, I knew it was going to be rough going with you. As lightning and thunder rang out from your darkening skies, I saw it for the omen it was - foreboding.

Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Perú

Ok, that may be a bit dramatic, but not overly. I basically had a massive headache in Cusco from the time my plane arrived, until i left. The fact that my travel companion told me that at high altitudes your brain swells, which is why it hurts, did not help matters. Um…my brain is trying to swell out of the restrictions of my skull? I’m sure that’s good for me. This little tidbit also kept me from drinking while I was there (with the exception of 2 beers, spaced out days apart), which was kind of sad because we read about how it was the nightlife capital of South America. (I’m sure this is debatable, but I’m also sure it would have been fun, had my brain not been so angry with me.)

Colorful Cusco street life

We were dropped at our hotel, and let me just say, traveling with Mitchell is a very expensive, but very boutique-y, trendy experience. Antigua Casona San Blas was a beflowered jewel. So many things to love about this place, but topping the list is the fact that they put hot water bottles in your bed when you are away so that your bed is nice and toasty for you when you’re ready to get in. I also appreciated the fact that they had Coca tea available 24/7, which I downed constantly, hoping it would live up to its promises of making my altitude sickness go away, but honestly it didn’t really do a thing. (I even ate the Coca leaves, as I was told, hoping that would take effect faster, but still nothing.)

Coca tea in Cusco. Didn’t do much for me.

And then there was the hotel restaurant. Situated in the gorgeous interior patio, ivy and roses climbing the walls, fire pits lit, and ambient lighting, not only was the place beautiful, the food was delicious. Too tired to go out and eat our first night, we opted to stay in, and I’m so glad we did. We each ordered a soup and salad, and I was overcome with a laughing fit (something that I’m pretty sure happened at each one of our hotels for one reason or another) as they set the bowl of soup, fit for a giant, in front of me, complete with giant spoon - and I still had a salad to go. I think the waiters were entertained that I was so entertained.

Courtyard and restaurant at Antigua Casona San Blas in Cusco, Perú.

In spite of my ailments, I wandered around the city with Mitchell, adoring all the indigenous women dressed in native clothing, baby goats or alpacas tied to a leash, trailing behind. (Sadly, I did not get a photo of this because I never had any small bills or coins on me.) While the city is beautiful, and part of that charm lies in its geography, the altitude was already killing me, so having to climb billions of stairs, and up steep streets was torture. I felt like such a weakling as I wheezed my way around, unable to catch my breath.

Narrow streets of Cusco, Perú.

I did, however, truly enjoy our visit to the San Pedro market - definitely worth a visit! What a colorful, lively atmosphere, with truly any food or souvenir item you would desire. There were also many food stalls to eat at, and by the looks of them, I immediately thought of Anthony Bourdain, and how this was the kind of place he would eat, and how I was sad I was so full from our breakfast. This market was basically a photographer’s paradise, with perfect subjects and vignettes just waiting to be shot - and the lighting was so good! Basically this was the highlight of Cusco for me.

And Jack’s. Jack’s is a restaurant we ate at one morning, that was so good! I’m almost embarrassed to admit this is in my top 3 meals of the trip because I ordered french toast. But seriously, it was the best french toast I’ve ever had. Again, I chuckled when they brought my plate out because it was ginormous (it seemed like an entire loaf of bread), but this time I surprised myself (and my belt), and ate every single bite! It might almost be worth going through altitude sickness again to have that french toast again - maybe.

Other notable restaurants were a little nameless ceviche place in the main plaza in the San Blas area, and Inkazuela, which served hot, hearty stews with fresh baked bread. (I’d say these were my 2 other favorite meals…and I just now realized all 3 were in Cusco…wow.) I think Mitchell and I ate ceviche approximately 1,857 times on our trip, but this one was my favorite, the experience just enhanced by the fact that we watched the woman make it right in front of us, tasting it after adding each ingredient to ensure maximum deliciousness.

Cusco, Perú

Overall, I highly recommend Cusco if you don’t suffer from altitude sickness. If you do - enter at your own risk!