First Day of Five: Cusco
Day 154 – December 23, 2011
Over the Christmas holiday, the family and I, along with my visiting sister-in-law, made a five-day trip to Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu.
In the interest of viajology (my completely made-up name for the study of travelling), not only will I regale you with stories and pictures for our wonderful outing, I will offer advice in case you ever decide to make the trip to Machu Picchu and its surrounding cities. (Of course, if you want real advice, you should hop on over to How To Peru)
Tip #001: Become a resident of Peru.
Residents of Peru receive discounts when buying certain tourist-related items. It’s sort of like the promotion that Disneyland (the original one in California…not that copycat operation in Florida) does every summer where they offer discounts for people who can prove they live in the 92xxx ZIP code. In Peru, everything from the cost of the plane tickets from Lima to Cusco, the bus ride from Agua Calientes to Machu Picchu, and to the entrance tickets to the Lost City of the Incas themselves is cheaper for those who make their home in Peru. I realize this helps few of my readers back in the States.
(Like I said, if you wanted real advice, you should really be pointing your browser somewhere else.)
Tip #002: Don’t fly during a strike by the air traffic controller’s union.
Starting today, the air traffic controller’s at Lima’s main airport staged a three-day work stoppage to protest wages and conditions. The government brought in military personnel to fill in the gaps. While the airport was still operational, there were delays. We were scheduled to leave at 12:10pm, but as our plane was late arriving, we did not board the jet until 1:00pm. Once inside and when the cabin door was shut, that’s when the captain announced that we would not be taking off for at least the next two hours due to the strike.
Thankfully, the delay was only slightly over an hour and we were on our way.
Tip #003: Bring someone along who can speak Spanish
Phrase books and iPad translator applications can only take you so far. If you really want to make friends and influence people, having someone who is fluent in the local language is invaluable. We were graced with a duo of such people as my lovely wife and her sister both fit that bill. I have found that having a fluent Spanish speaker in your entourage means that the service in restaurants is a little bit better, the hotel staff is a little bit quicker, and market vendors bring down their prices a tiny bit more. There is something about being able to communicate in your own langauge that makes people feel happier.
Having a Spanish speaker in the group also helps with bluffing.
When we arrived at the Cusco airport (scenery below)…
…we grabbed our luggage and went outside to grab a taxi. Now, we knew through research and through talking with other folk who had made this trek, that our cab fare should be S/.10 (ten nuevo soles) so we quickly and briskly dismissed all the official taxi drivers huddled around the curb offering us rides between S/.35 and S/.55.
We did find a taxi driver who agreed to take us to our hotel for the fare of S/.10. However, when we (luggage and bodies) were piled into his van, our driver asked us for the name of our hotel. When my lovely wife repeated the name, the driver said that he had misheard us originally and that our hotel was so far away that the fare would be S/.35.
I believe at this point that your average non-Spanish speaking tourist would bite the bullet and simply accept this scam. My lovely wife is not one of those people and so she, in excellent Spanish, told the driver that that was fine and if he didn’t want to take us, we would all get out right now (luggage and bodies) and we would find another taxi.
The driver, holding aught but a pair of eights, grumbled, folded, and took us to our hotel for the fare of ten nuevo soles.
Tip #004: Bring someone who can speak another language
While not every group of travellers can have a polyglot in their midst, it certainly has its advantages. Had this not been the case with us, we would have missed out on a decent dinner experience.
My sister-in-law, in addition to speaking English, Spanish, and Portuguese, also knows Hebrew. So, as we walked around Cusco after we had settled into our hotel, she was able to read this sign…
…which, and I am paraphrasing here, says “If you can read this, the food here is good.”
Since my sister-in-law could read the sign, we took our chances and had a wonderful dinner at Tuco.
The oven-fired pizza is made in an oven that was only ten feet away and helped warm up the establishment. While we had been told by other residents in Lima that Peruvians do not know how to make a good pizza, we found tonight that the folks in Cusco (and here at Tuco) definitely know how to craft a high-quality pie.
Another good tip is to go ahead and try something on a menu that you’ve never had before. I had alpaca in a coca sauce. Quite good. The author of the note in Hebrew was on the mark.
Coming up next: Second Day of Five – Christmas Eve in Cusco