Today is a transit day, but not a long one. The flight to Cusco is only 40 minutes or so, if that. But by the time the day is done I will have traveled by boat, bus, plane and cab. And on foot when I find out the hotel I’m staying at only has a room for tomorrow night, not tonight as I was told. Just another day on the road.
Up early at 6:45am and it’s the normal rounds; check the Internet (it’s still there and still slow over our satellite connection) then to breakfast where I’m also greeted with my bill. The exchange rate seems in my favor as it’s not as high as I anticipated, just an extra $380 for seven nights of fun and one night of running to the bathroom. Most of that is wine and beer I shared with those just passing through, and gifts for Sabrina back home. After one last dip in the magnificent cooling pool I say goodbye to my two wonderful guides, Yuri and Caesar and pose for one last photo. Then it’s time to take the boat back to Puerto Maldonado .
Puerto Maldonado is still the same dirty, decrepit, moped ridden town I passed through before but now there is less wonder. I can feel my edge already falling off and complacency creeping in, which lets me know it is time to get moving again. As mentioned in the last post, I have enjoyed my relaxing time in the jungle and it was exactly what I needed when I needed it. I’m not one of those people who often complains about a need to ‘recharge my batteries’ but that is precisely what my time at Inkaterra has done. Before I left the States it just felt right to pick an oddball number like 8 nights/9 days at a lodge. And I’m glad I followed my intuition and went with it. The time was very well spent.
For those flying around Peru in the near future be warned there is a tax to be paid at almost every airport and they only accept cash (soles or dollars). Leaving Puerto Maldonado it’s all of $3.47US and I have Hector with me the whole way to help with all arrangements. From landing to take off, Inkaterra has done a wonderful job of tending to my needs, especially the ones I didn’t know I’d have before getting here. Hands down I’d stay with them again and would highly recommend them to anyone who wants a relaxing or exciting vacation in the Peruvian rainforest. Ok, enough for the advertisement, back to the trip.
The security in Puerto Maldonado is laughable. I really didn’t think I was actually passing through it. Sure there’s the metal detector and someone to wave you through, but the X-Ray machine is pushed back against a wall and in its place is but one man. He’s checking bags and passing some through without a glance. I really do stifle a laugh when I realize what’s going on. After passing through the metal detector he asks me something in broken English I have trouble understanding. And then I realize he’s asking if I’m carrying any guns or knives. Uhhh….”no”. And on I go into the humid waiting area.
Inkaterra even takes care of checking you in for your flight and they have upgraded me to first class! I wanna go back and give them all another hug. Even though first class isn’t any different, really, than the rest of the plane, it’s more of a state of mind. For the 40 minute flight I get to feel pampered even though I’m not. And then I notice a town below as we wind our way through the Andes. Hay! That kinda looks like the map of Cusco I’ve been studying. Hay, ummm, aren’t we a bit high to land? Hay, why are we turning North? And then the captain comes on the speaker letting us know visibility is not enough to land and we’ll be diverting to Arequipa to wait it out. While others grumble I secretly thank the pilot for not attempting to land in that narrow slot of a canyon in the fog with hills towering on either side. Admittedly at this point I didn’t have a clue where we were going or for how long. It wasn’t until we landed and I looked at the name on the airport that I knew.
We spent about an hour on the ground as the pilot checked the plane (did I mention I really like him) and ground crew flirted with the stewardess. No matter the language, flirting is flirting and it’s pretty easy to spot.
We finally arrive uneventfully, as I prefer all my flights to be, in Cusco at over 10,000′ (3000m) and take an impossibly long walk through a Habittrail of an airport labyrinth, past all the tour vendors and out into the throng of cabbies. After turning down one cabbie who wants too much, I finally succumb to my fate as a crappy negotiator and get a ride from Pedro into the main part of town for S./20, or 20 soles. I was told not to pay more than 18. Life goes on and I wish Pedro well bilking other inept tourists out of their extra soles.
Our ride through Cusco heads down the main street, Avenida Sol, or Sun Road, and the town is active. Seemingly more so than Lima because there are a lot more pedestrians out and about. Native woman walk about with the ever present pack full of goods or groceries, all dressed in very colorful clothes. School children, often in uniforms, can be seen waiting for a bus. Churches are every where. The buildings begin to close in on the streets as we approach the Plaza de Armas, a common term for the central square in a town. By the time we hit side streets, the pavement has given away to cobblestones of unknown age. They could be pre-Incan, they could be Incan or Spanish. The town has a vibrant energy as we skirt the main square in search of the unobtrusive doors that shelter my hotel. As with most any town in South America, security is important and most every hotel is barred up with a guard inside or out.
It’s now that I find Casa Elena doesn’t have a reservation for me for the night, but they do for tomorrow night. Something fell through the cracks, but I’ve grown accustom to things not quite being as they should on this trip and ask if they can suggest another hotel or hostel. Indeed, most all of the hotel owners know each other and they have relations with Hotal San Blas II just a few doors down. Picking a hotel in a crowded part of town has its advantages, especially considering my hotel on the third night in town is also on the same street. How’d I come to have three hotels for three nights? I’m still not sure, but I didn’t worry about it too much when making reservations and let someone else handle it for me. After the luxury of eight nights in the same location, I’m ready for another eight in different locations.
San Blas II fits the bill and is all of $20US a night. And they have wifi! Oh wait…..they turned down the power on the router so you have to sit just about on top of it to get a signal. But alas, I can get my fix for a while before heading out to wander the town square, get some laundry done and see what the other tourists and ware hawkers are up to. I don’t go much further than the Plaza de Armas as it’s a very lively square with families and traffic all over the place. This town has a really good feel to it and while I’m cautious to not completely let my guard down, it’s ok to relax for a bit on the steps of a church and not worry as the sun warms my skin. The air here is much thinner to the point where walking fast will make you quite winded and the sun can be quick to burn.
I wander back to my hotel past some of the original Inca stone walls. Each block is about three feet on side and the fit between the stones is impressive. The alley I pick is crowded as someone has dressed up as an Inca (Inca is the name for the people as well as meaning ‘king’ or ‘leader’) and was taking pictures with a throng of tourists. I also pass the many, many women offering a massage of questionable nature. They are everywhere as I’ll come to find out and I politely smile and decline the offer as it generally gives me the willies.
I use the internet connection, Skype and my Bluetooth headset to make some calls home for free to Kim, Sabrina, my parents and brothers. (more on how to use this setup to make free international calls back home in another post soon!) And then it’s time for dinner! Wade back through the massage girls, the Inca, past the two guys offering cocaine for $100 and down to an unlikely looking Paddy Flaherty, an Irish Pub, that advertises Guinness (and is also the highest Irish owned pub in the world!). Did I mention today is Thanksgiving in the USA? Oh yeah, I forgot that part! I sit down to the closest I can muster for a Thanksgiving meal; half a chicken, mashed potatoes, broccoli, gravy, stuffing and beer. The bar has a good Irish feel, with the normal Celtic nick knacks strewn about and soccer on the TV, which later changes to bowling.
Before bed I made a call to a local rafting company picked out of the blue on the internet. It was a hard conversation but I had a trip booked for the next day on a river I still can’t remember the name of. Be ready at 7am they tell me. Rafting is about the only thing I really wanted to do here in Peru. As mentioned before, I love the water and being on or in it. And now, at the last minute, I have my chance to taste whitewater in Peru!
Coming up next, Rafting In Peru!