So, our time of working in Lima has ended, and today we flew to Cuzco to start the official cultural/touristy part of the trip. Our flight was scheduled to be only one hour, but due to a storm occurring in Cuzco, we got delayed 5 hours, to make the total time of the trip 6 hours. Not exactly as planned, but we knew God had a reason.
On the positive side, we ended up landing in Arequippa, Peru, to refuel and wait it out a bit and they rolled stairs up to the doors of the plane and allowed the doors to stay open so we could get some fresh air. We were also able to walk out onto the platform at the top of the stairs to take pictures of the dormant, snow-capped volcano in the distance.
I was also able to converse a bit with the gentleman sitting next to me. His name was David and he is a Catholic Priest from Spain who has been a missionary in Peru for 4 years and was also on a trip visiting Cuzco for sight-seeing reasons. Between his broken English, my broken Spanish and some gestures, we were actually able to understand each other pretty well. Although I also realized at that time that I really need to learn Religious Spanish Vocabulary. He was really nice and I have thought of him often as I toured the massive Catholic Cathedrals in Cuzco and have continued to learn about the influence Catholicism has had on Peru.
Once we arrived in Cuzco and exited the pressurized airplane, we were immediately aware of the fact that although Cuzco is in a valley, it is at an altitude of 11,000 feet. The air was much thinner and we had to take it rather slowly at first. Our touring/trip facilitator Julio Sesa, was there to meet us and take us to our hotel and he was great at giving us advice about how to handle the altitude, etc. The ways to most effectively do this was to take it easy the first day, don’t eat heavily at first because digestion is slower, and drink plenty of Coca Tea until you become acclimated. Coca Tea is made from leaves of the Coca plant which, yes, is the same plant that Cocaine is made from. When you make a tea from the whole leaves, it is not potent because it has not been processed, but it has herbal properties to it and helps you breathe better and acclimate to the high altitude.
That evening Julio Sesa met us and took us to the buffet restaurant where we were going to have dinner and be able to enjoy some local music and cultural dancing. We all decided that it was not very logical or fair to take us to a Buffet if we were not supposed to eat heavily. So, I did decide to enjoy the food and probably ate more than I should have, but it was so good! Among everything I ate, I was also able to try the widely popular Ceviche and Alpaca. I thought both were quite tasty. Luckily, I did not experience any adverse effects of eating so much.
One thing we did realize very quickly that first afternoon was the extreme change of temperature between day-time hours and the evenings. During the day it was sunny and very comfortable in the mid to upper 60s, but in the evenings it was frigidly cold! We were all FREEZING that first evening with the temperature difference and the wind coming from the mountains! And, a side note – There is no heating or AC in most buildings. Many of the buildings in both Lima and Cuzco had open roof or entrance areas. We were lucky in that our individual hotel rooms had radiators to provide heat, but that was the only air system that I think we were ever exposed to. So that first evening in Cuzco, we froze and then some of us huddled together as we walked back to our hotel. We decided that the next day we would definitely get in some shopping to pick up some shawls, sweaters, etc. to be better prepared for the coming evenings.