Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Puffing up hills in La Ciudad Imperial

People have been living in this city for nearly a millenium, from the Killke who pre-dated the Inca, to the conquering Incan empire, to the Spanish in the 16th century who finally seized the Incas' territory.  They were probably all really fit people, judging by the hills and stairs I had to climb up this morning to reach my hostel.  Add to that the fact that it's at about 3,300 metres above sea level, and this would be a fabulous place to train for a marathon.  I think I'll come back here when I'm ready to think about running another one.

I just arrived in Cuzco, Peru, off a night bus from Arequipa this morning.  I was pleasantly surprised by Peruvian night buses -- for about a third of the price of Argentina, I travelled nearly as comfortably as "cama" class there.  The seats were a bit closer together (so they overlapped when reclining) but the backs went down far enough to allow for a comfortable sleep, and dinner was even served on board.  It wasn't nearly so lavish as what I sometimes received in Argentina -- just a small piece of chicken, rice and a handful of vegetables -- but it was enough to tide me over.  My only mistake was accepting a cup of mate de coca (tea made with coca leaves) after dinner; it kept me awake more effectively than coffee ever does, and I was still tossing and turning at 2:30 a.m.

My hostel in Arequipa arranged a bed for me here at their sister establishment, and someone came to pick me up from the bus station this morning.  As the collectivo wended its way through the centre of town and uphill through the narrow cobblestone streets to the barrio of San Blas, I was very glad to have an escort;  I think I'd have gotten lost in the maze had I tried to get here on my own.  The hostel is up a couple of steep sets of stairs from the nearest street navigable by cars, and as I trudged up, huffing and puffing, I thought disgustedly that I wasn't nearly so fit as I thought I was becoming.  Then I remember where I was:  Cuzco is perched well above sea level, and if you've never been above 3000 metres, take it from me that you notice the difference when trying to breathe.  (Particularly when lugging a backpack up the aforementioned steep stairs.)

View over Cusco from my hostel
But the upside of the uphill hike is the view from the hostel -- it offers a panorama of the city from its top floor, and now that the sun's come out, it's warm enough to sit and drink it all in.  Suitably wrapped in a couple of layers of fleece, of course; it's winter in Peru at high altitude, and, while there's no snow on the ground, it's definitely not Teva-and-T-shirt weather.

So I think I'll sit here for a while, just looking at the city; then I might wander downstairs and watch some very beautiful men play soccer (you really must check out the Portuguese team!).

Oh, and I'll be trying to remember how to breathe.

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