It was a Thursday morning when I finally said adios to the “Strangest, saddest city” and headed south east to Cusco, the capital city of the legendary Incas. The plane ride was pretty bumpy, but I was too dosed up on diazipan to give a damn!
When we eventually touched ground I was immediately curious to see how being at a high altitude would affect me. If you didn’t already know, Cusco is around 3,400m above sea level – mild symptoms of altitude sickness can start at just 2200m, and there is no way of predicting how bad you’ll be hit as it has little to do with your fitness level, sex, or age. At first I didn’t really notice much of a difference, but I did feel a bit spaced out waiting for my airport pick-up to arrive. It wasn’t until I tried to climb 4 flights of stairs that the level oxygen in the air felt noticeably low.
Now I wouldn’t describe myself as the epitome of physical health, but I do pretty well, and I was still in no way prepared for this. The steep hill up to my hotel felt like Everest, and that was only 2 blocks in length. At night I noticed my heart racing and that I was very short of breath even after a few hours rest. It took about 4 days and a lot of bottled water before I felt my body get even a little used to it, but it wasn’t that bad and it could have been a lot worse (I avoided getting fluid in my lungs, or having a stroke).
I made sure I took it easy and didn’t over exert myself. I spent my first weekend casually making my way round all the major museums and galleries on the Boleto Turistico. Luckily for me they were all pleasantly small and I managed to see 5 that weekend alone. My favourite two had to be the Museo Historico Regional and Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporaneo. The former provided me with a basic understanding of Peruvian history that I was seriously lacking (in particular covering the Spanish envasion and the later attainment of Independence), and the latter introduced me to the stunning work of local artists. I must say, the Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporaneo is probably the most captivating and intimate gallery I have ever visited. Firstly, it’s tiny! The whole thing consists of 3 modestly sized rooms, which meant I didn’t feel the need to rush past the canvases and instead was able to take time to stand back and appreciate the talent and creativity placed in front of me. Secondly, it’s modern but it’s not “Modern art” (if you know what I mean). You won’t find blank canvases with a circle block of colour in the middle labelled as a”art” – far from it! Instead of attempting to convey what I mean through words, just take a look for yourself:
My first full week in Cusco was hectic. I decided to take Spanish lessons 3 times a week to fill up my mornings before heading to Picaflor for the afternoon. Globalteer recommended I go with Mundo Antiguo, a small Spanish School tucked into the corner of one of Cusco’s many many street markets. My failure to pass an intense Latin course at university led me to believe I was bad at learning languages and pretty much crushed any hope I had of ever learning one, but seeing as lessons were only 17 soles an hour (approximately 3.86 Sterling), I could hardly allow one bad experience make me turn down such a bargain! I’ll cover my experience in detail in a later post, but in short: my confidence in language learning has been restored, I can now speak [very] basic Spanish, it was all pretty awesome and I would definitely recommend it too anyone stopping by Cusco for an extended period of time.
Cusco is a tiny, quaint city. It takes no time at all to make your way around the city centre and see all the main attractions, but even after almost a month of being there I wasn’t bored and down each narrow, crooked cobbled street there was a surprise to be found. Although it is heaving with tourists like myself, having spent 5 days a week an hour from the centre allowed me to some extent experience the ‘real’ Cusco. Read more in Part 2!