We woke up in the same state of affairs as we left the night before – Maggie and Doshi went back downstairs to celebrate the new day with the hotel buffet breakfast while Emily and I stayed in hiding, changed our PJ’s, and promptly threw cold water on our faces for the great escape for Cusco.
Opting to bypass going back downstairs altogether, we were lucky to notice a bridge walkway from the 2nd level directly connected to the airport across the street. Meaning, we weren’t going to have to face the lady who signed us in at the front desk or face possible prosecution and charges (Emily and I may or may not have seen every single episode, sometimes twice, of Locked Up Abroad, and we weren’t taking any chances). We didn’t have to scale from the window to the streets. Our luck was quickly changing, and nobody noticed we were gone from the room before the time we were already in the security line for our quick morning flight.
The unique, very cool thing about the flight from Lima to Cusco, aside from sitting next to all of the Asian passengers who fulfilled every stereotype imaginable by wearing medical masks to ward off possible SARS and other breath-transferrable diseases and taking pictures of everything that moves or didn’t, is that there is no real coming down after going up in flight. Cuzco is up in the mountains. Cuzco is up in the clouds. Once the plane flew above the clouds, it felt like we were in a modern-day hovercraft, casually pointing out various native travelers, animals, and greenery moving slower just below us as if they were all native travelers, animals, and greenery-sized objects instead of ants or something smaller than ants.
We landed and grabbed our bags. It’s perfect timing for me to mention that on top of us each bringing day packs and a side hiking bag filled with the weight mentioned above, we also brought one big bag that was bigger than all of the others combined and filled with stuff we had not packed at all. No, we were not smuggling drugs. We were bringing (and smuggling in the sense that we were never asked to pay for the weight of it in hindsight) a large bag filled with old shoes and hats for the porters along the Inca Trail. One of Daven’s friends, a friend of a friend who hooked us up with our particular trail company and who brings groups to various adventures throughout the year to raise money for Cancer research, asked us to bring the bag as a token of friendship and because we could. Looking back, and now knowing they didn’t make us pay a dime extra, we wished we could have each brought a big bag filled with everything in that bag for the porters. Side note, I’m not sure if the aforementioned Mission Impossible would have been possible with too many more bags, but I digress.
We landed, grabbed our bags, and were immediately greeted outside by a man with a sign for Daven. The man’s name, our future guide, and all-around coolest guy in Peru, was Odon – pronounced Oh-Don and sounds like OOOOOOOOOHHHHHH-Don when you’re tired and have to follow him up tough terrain on the Inca Trail up mountains. But yeah, Odon looked at us, smiled, welcomed us with handshakes, and looked at me carrying the gi-normous bag of shoes and hats, then looked back at Daven and said something like “He even looks like a mountain man.” I was exactly where I needed to be.
Odon threw Doshi and Maggie into one cab, and Emily and I jumped into the car with Odon. We took the lead, and that was a mistake. Odon asked us if we knew where we were going, and we had to point to the car behind us and let Odon know that Daven made all the plans. We all laughed, but it was true to form to everything we got ourselves into. We fully knew that the next week would be us following Daven off the trail and following Odon on it. Luckily, Odon knew where we were going, on and off the trail.
Then two great things happened. First, when Odon asked me if any of us spoke spanish, I spoke up a line or two. After I was finished, he said, without knowing that I had studied in the Yucatan nearly a decade prior, “Wow, that’s quite a nice Mexican accent you have there.” It made my heart smile. Secondly, the name of the luxurious hotel we were driving towards and acclimate for 2 days at was now called Palacio Del Inka but it recently changed its name to that from being called Starwood. It felt, yet again, as always, like other forces outside of ourselves were telling us we were exactly where we needed to be.
As soon as we arrived to the hotel, Odon told us where to meet him for the pre-hike meeting down the street the next day, and we were ushered like Kings and Queens into the lobby of the Palacio. The knew our names without introductions, took our bags to our rooms, and then had us sign various sheets while sitting in the most comfy, elegant seats these behinds have ever sat in. It was so much more pleasant than the Ramada, needless to say. And did I mention that they showed us where we would have access to the yummiest hot coca tea on tap at all times?! We each had about 4 cups a piece before the staff informed us that we would be getting an upgrade with our rooms. It was rain season, slow season, and early Summer in this place so that made sense to us at first. I need to let it be known that the upgrade was possible because Doshi is a Platinum Delta traveler and always lets other service people know this because it never hurts to ask and because he puts a lot of time and money into that status annually. This time, it worked like a charm. Emily and I made out like bandits. Not only did they upgrade our room instead of just Daven and Maggie’s, but they also gave us the room with a bigger balcony! Thanks again, Daven!
Oh, and wouldn’t you know that as soon as I turned on the tv in the room for a little music to celebrate our arrival, the first song that played over the speakers was our self-imposed song of our dating year of 2008 in that of Tony Toni Tone’s “Feels Good.” I was feeling a little light-headed, maybe a little from the music and joy of finally reaching Cuzco, but probably more from the altitude change. Emily laughed and was confused when I almost left the room and hotel without shoes on and pausing hard to think about it after being asked if I forgot something. All in all, and light-headedness aside, it was perfect!
The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring our new surroundings, inside and out of the Palacio, finding to-go cups for the free coca tea, and getting acquainted with Cuzco. We managed to walk around a beautiful cathedral (or two), spot an impromptu Peruvian parade in the cobblestoned streets, eat some local Alpaca wraps and fresh veggies at an awesome cafe dive called Greens, and visit about a million (and I’m guestimating here) flea market markets that sold millions of the same Peruvian tourist clothes, art, and cheaply made gadgets (no longer guestimating here). The sun was out, everyone was smiling, and then we spotted the ChocoMuseo! For all of you not fully aware of this term yet, this means we visited an actual, official Museum of Chocolate! And while Emily, Maggie, and I tried all of the home-made chocolate liquors and free taste testings, Daven walked around reading the history on the walls that showed us that the cacao used for chocolate was one of the leading exports, besides cocaine, from Peru. And to top that news off, the chocolate exporting business is growing even more in that stat. Yay, us!
After the self-directed/imposed city centro walking tour, we decided to go back and relax at the Palacio with our fresh chocolate in stomachs. We passed by a small shop that was selling snacks and beverages. I almost dropped to the ground laughing when I saw they were selling oxygen in a can. It reminded me of the movie Spaceballs. I didn’t buy any because I was good to go on oxygen and I didn’t take too many classes beyond AP Chemistry to know if they would explode in my backpack if I took it on the trail with me. We also passed by a local artist named Valentine who quickly learned our names (me being Chuck Norris from Kentucky Fried Chicken, if you didn’t guess it beforehand), and we told him we’d see him again – 1) because that’s what you nicely tell all of the hundreds of local artists selling their works on every street corner, and 2) we would definitely see him again because he sold his work beside the front door of the Palacio. We were fairly tired by this point of everything you read about above. We decided to eat at the fancy restaurant inside of the Palacio, but the Alpaca steak wasn’t as good as the lunch at Greens.
Another special note, just before dinner, two eye-raising things happened:
-I had failed to find out what channel or any bar where the NFL playoffs would be shown, but I discovered it on the Directv ESPN station right after I was about to proclaim that Peru hated fútbol americano. Nobody hates fútbol americano.
-Being that it was raining season and all, and we had two more days until our hike was scheduled to begin, the rain that began to fall harder and harder by the minute in the early afternoon was rather refreshing to my psyche and schedule. The thing that was really got my attention was when I was laying in bed and heard something smack the windows at an alarming rate. At first, I thought it was rain falling sideways. When I opened the curtains, it shocked me to see about 2 inches worth of white skittles falling from the sky and bouncing all around – only it was small, constant hail instead of skittles. I was really happy that the trail began two days later, and I was also glad there was a built-in stoppage to the rain flowing inside the door and onto our luxurious hotel room. We were safe and very much sound.