Two Miles Up – Flying to Cusco, Peru

Today we would be transferring from Lima (sea level) to Cusco, Peru (approximately two miles above sea level).  The taxi ride to the Lima airport was a bit nuts with all the traffic and side roads (along with the heavy pollution), but we checked in to our Taca flight and went through security in no time. We did have to pay a departure tax though, which although it was only $5, sucked. The flight was super short and both of us slept all the way until about 5 minutes before landing. The view from the window was absolutely beautiful!Green rolling hills with clay colored houses dotting the landscape. I had no idea Cusco was so high – 11,000 feet!

The streets of Cusco

We found a taxi to our hostel for S/. 20 ($7) and our driver, Ciro, talked a bit about the area as we drove. About 20 minutes later we were at the Flying Dog Hostel and shown to our room. The hostel itself is set back from the town square and seems chill but our room is pretty small and seems a little musty. I’m not sure if I like it much actually.

It was lunch time so we set out to explore. Dave’s friend gave us a recommendation but it was hard to find and I think up some stairs which wasn’t happening with us not being adjusted to the altitude yet. Then we stumbled upon this restaurant with a giant Israeli flag and a Hebrew menu. How could we not eat here? The place was weird – giant Israeli flag on the wall, menu in Spanish and Hebrew, and Italian, Middle Eastern, and Peruvian food. I had the falafel and Dave had a mushroom pizza. How strange. We left full and started walking around the city a bit more. Dave seemed not good and was out of breath. I thought a massage would be a good chance to relax and they were also very cheap. For  S/. 15 ($5) total, we would both get 30 minute foot massages. Easy choice. We were escorted into a back room area and laid down on massage tables. The massage was decent, bordering on the verge of too hard, but worth it I think. We continued back to the Flying Dog and passed out until it was dark out. This thin air is tiring!

Israel Restaurants are all over Cusco

We had to get up to eat but first wanted to try some mate de coca, a tea made from the same leaves as cocaine (don’t drug test me now) and helps with getting acclimated to the higher altitudes. We found some at the Inka Cafe. Both the cafe and tea were very nice and the tea tasted just like green tea. I think it helped. From there we set out to find a restaurant. On the way was saw some stray dogs having sex and I had to tell Dave to please not photograph it. There are strays everywhere and they all seem pretty chill and well behaved. We stopped at the place suggested by the man at the Flying Dog, Nuna Raymi, and the menu looked quite good. It was on the expensive side, which for Peru means more than $20 total, so we almost didn’t go, but a couple was coming out and said the food and service were great. Done. We were greeted by a great waiter and we had a simply awesome meal of potato chips made from 4 kinds of potatoes with hot sauce and pesto on them, followed by alpaca meat with mashed potatoes, and lomo saltado. Lomo Saltado is a peruvian dish of steak, tomatoes, onions and chilis over french fries. I think it had a lot of cilantro in it too. It was all cooked in this awesome garlic and soy sauce mixture. The dish really is a blend between Peruvian and Chinese cultural food. Odd that the Chinese came here, I didn’t think they went anywhere.

Drinking Mate de Coca in Cusco

By the time we finished dinner it was 11pm so places were closing. We wanted desserts or coffee but the choices seemed to be limited to bars. Finally we found a place that was a bar but had an outdoor private balcony so we could avoid the smoke and the noise a bit (are we getting old?). We had the coca tea again and enjoyed sitting outside in late December while looking down on the plaza and streets below. We were exhausted by the time we walked home and pretty much collapsed into the bed after, of course, removing as many blankets that may touch our skin as possible and placing towels over the pillows. This place…ehhh.

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