Peru Day 1: Arriving in Cuzco

Bleary eyed, we gathered our things and checked out of our hotel-by-the-airport. As we checked our bags at the kiosk, we realized our flight had been cancelled. The attendant found us an available flight later in the morning, and gave us four food vouchers to use in the food court in the airport.

We made our way up to the food court level, below security. I’m always kind of weird about airport security; I’m not comfortable until I’m through, if I have five minutes to spare or five hours. We had a few hours until our new flight, but the vouchers we had were only good for this food court. I was going to have to suck it up and wait.

Our food options were limited: Pizza Hut (at 7am? No way!), some random coffee place that wasn’t open yet, and McDonalds. We settled on McDonald’s.

McDonald’s menu signs appear the same the world over, but frequently they only offer a subset of what we Americans enjoy. This was probably the most limited McDonald’s I’d ever seen, but Mom hadn’t noticed. When our turn came, she placed her order, slowly, in English. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it was a special order of something she probably usually orders at home, a little too complicated for the cashier that didn’t speak English. She repeated her order, while Mike and I did our best to translate. The cashier, looking irritated, pointed at the voucher and then pointed at the menu. Oh, I bet these are only good for certain things, I thought. The vouchers were all in Spanish, and mine wasn’t good enough.

Mike’s was, however, and he figured it out pretty quickly.

When it came time for me to order, all I could get out was Italian. “Latte per la caffe, per favore?” Dang, what is milk in Spanish?! Why won’t my brain work?! Mercifully the cashier figured it out, and brought an entire cup of milk. Good enough.  “Grazie-uh, Gracias.”

We ate our breakfast, poked around the shops a bit, and made our way through security. We didn’t think we had a long wait before boarding, but our plane was running late or something, so it was forever before they opened the gate…

…to buses.

They use buses to get to most of the planes at the airport in Sicily as well. Since it costs extra money to depart from an actual gate, the cheaper flights bus out to the plane and everybody climbs stairs to get on the plane. In Sicily it was ridiculous because sometimes the plane would only be twenty feet from the jetway… we could just walk the whole way there, but they had to load us up on the bus, turn the bus around, and then unload us at the plane.

The Sicilian airport buses drove Tiff crazy.

Our Peruvian airport bus ride at least made sense, since our plane was fairly far away. It was some A320 variant with huge wings and a very short fuselage. We’d probably need the lift since we would be landing at over 10,000 feet. We stashed our carry ons and took our seats.

As we taxied along to the end of the runway, I could see that much of the Peruvian Air Force was also parked at the airport. Theirs was a collection of what must have been Vietnam-era Soviet aircraft, and some very precarious looking helicopters. Interesting.

Takeoff and most of the flight was fairly uneventful. We all snoozed lightly as we made our way East to Cuzco. It started to get interesting as we began our descent. Mountains were poking up out of the clouds, the ground itself invisible through the cloud layer. The air was very choppy as we bounced our way down through the clouds.

Breaking through the bottom of the cloud layer, I could see out the window that we were flying along a valley on our approach to Cuzco. The pilot skillfully flew the plane through turns between unseen mountaintops, making his way into the valley of the city of Cuzco. Looking out the side window, I couldn’t see much more than mountainside, or sky. We leveled off suddenly, and then made a quick final descent and boom – we landed.

Walking up the jetway, I could suddenly feel the altitude. I couldn’t get my body to move at anything other than slow motion. Even then, with every movement I felt short of breath. I could tell Mom was feeling it as well, so we stopped to rest a couple times on our way out.

At baggage claim, there were twenty or so kiosks set up for people to hire tour guides, rent cars, even buy coca leaves for the altitude.  Yep, that coca. Some of the folks from our flight were excited about the coca leaves, but we passed them up. After we picked up our bags and got some Soles out of the ATM, we made our way outside to meet our guide for the week, Danny.

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