Jul 6, 2008

First Impressions in Cusco

The plane landed and my luggage arrived in perfect condition! I noticed a booth advertising “OXY-SHOT” and wondered what it was. My flight from Lima arrived 2 hours early (I still don’t know why I left Lima earlier than expected) so I wasn’t sure anyone would be there to pick me up! I walked outside the airport and looked through a mass of signs with large black printed names. One by one they connected to their parties and soon there was no one left. A gentleman asked if I needed help and I said, ‘No’ trying to add a twist of Spanish as I spoke. I asked if there was a pay phone anywhere, using sign language to help him understand me. He directed me back inside. I admit I was flustered for the 1st time since I left home because I had not exchanged my money yet and had to rely on a phone card. My frustration grew as I swiped my card through the pay phone several times, only to discover it was actually my Harris Teeter grocery store gift card!! That was embarrassing but no one seemed to be watching! The directions on my AT&T card and the pay phone did not match – so I put my card away and went back outside. The air was quite chilly as it was almost the middle of winter in Peru! I decided to use other means of communication – called prayer! I asked God to guide me to my hotel. The nice gentleman saw me again and asked if I found the phone… I showed him an email I had printed with the name of our guide, our hotel, and ironically it mentioned our guide’s wife – Rocio, who, “…might have to pick you up.” The nice man began speaking fast (in Spanish) and whipped out his cell phone and made a quick phone call. He hung up and pointed to Rocio’s name on my email and said, “My seester!” Oh my gosh! Rocio comes running up to me and grabbed my bags and off we went in a little square car with a driver who must have learned to drive in NYC!

Soon we arrived at our hotel, the Picaoga Hotel in Cusco. A bellman took my bags and welcomed me to Peru. Another bellman escorted me through a beautiful courtyard and inside the hotel to a gathering room where the rest of my group awaited! Almost as quickly as I sat down, I was served a cup of water with leaves floating in it. I looked at my brand new travel buddies for guidance! This is PERU! This is coca tea! “It helps with altitude sickness and many other things.” So, I drank it! It had a most unusual flavor, and it became a part of my daily ritual. Anytime we went into the lobby, we drank another cup of coca tea! Soon, I’d learn even more about the use of coca tea in Peru… Coca tea consumption is used by many indigenous tribes of the Andes mountain range who also use the tea for medicinal and religious purposes.

Our first walking tour of Cusco would not be until that afternoon so after freshening up in my room, I ventured out of the hotel and through the streets of Cusco to take in my first impressions of Peru (without distractions from riding in the back seat of a fast little car)! I took in as much as I possibly could! I noticed textures – from brick walls and stone walls, to brick streets, cobblestone courtyards, and narrow streets. I noticed the housing on the hillsides and how poor everyone seemed to be. There were artists and jewelers and children selling everything from hats to water-bottle holders. “Please, Miss Jenny (I learned that morning not to wear a nametag on the street). I give you special price, Miss Jenny.”

I noticed the cars and how they were all little rectangles that didn’t appear to need insurance. I noticed their faces, from youth to elderly. I noticed a spiritual culture that combined ancient Inca beliefs and Christianity. I noticed an ancestry of Inca and Spanish cultures interwoven into a community of families, of spirituality, and of art and history. I could hardly wait for our afternoon tour to begin!

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