Conquistadors in CuscoBy Brendan
Let's talk about elevation for a minute, as it's going to factor heavily into the rest of our time in Peru. Iquitos, the Amazon River, and the rainforest were all around 300 ft above sea level. Lima's city center averages 500, which is slightly less than what we're used to: Chicago sits at about 600.
Cusco is above 11,000 ft.
That's a massive change. Stepping out of the pressurized airplane the sky looked lower somehow. There's really no other way to describe it. The horizon felt closer. The clouds were within arm's reach. But I didn't notice any physical changes in myself immediately. Not until we started walking uphill. That's when it hit me. I got winded a lot more easily in Cusco. It wasn't noticeable walking around the flat parts of town, but any staircase I saw gained extra respect.
The local cure for altitude sickness is coca tea. I tried a complimentary cup at our hotel: it tasted like a bland green tea, and I honestly couldn't tell if it had any effect on me at all.
History is visibly layered in Cusco. A foundation of Inca stone supports Spanish brick which sometimes sits beneath modern materials. Each subsequent conqueror left their mark on the buildings around town.
We had dinner at Papacho's, a pub-style restaurant where I could order a burger. It was a purposeful choice to dine there because it's another location by Gaston, the chef behind La Mar in Lima. We were getting to know the chefs and their restaurants, just like the locals.
Cusco is as close as you can get by plane to Peru's most popular tourist attraction. We rested up, brimming with anticipation.