Sunday, March 21, 2010

I'm in Cusco and it's Incredible!

Cusco is amazing. At 3300 meters above sea level (that's over 11,000 feet,) it seems to me to be the perfect place for endurance athletes to come and train. There are winding roads up and down mountains all over this area. Of course, the potholes could actually swallow a cyclist and his or her bicycle, but if I ever decide to become a competitive athlete, I am going to use Cusco as my high altitude training base. I will be here for 7 days, so I am hoping that the red blood cell production kicks into overdrive this week and I am actually naturally doped for the CF 4k run the week after I return.
My flight left late from Lima, but it's only an hour in the air from Lima to Cusco, although crossing the Andes mountains actually makes the trip 22 hours by bus. The airline I flew was Star Peru, and it was very comfortable and accomodating. When I disembarked, I went to the baggage claim, grabbed my backpack and headed for the door where I expected someone from the tour agency to be waiting for me. I walked all around the airport and didn't see anyone, tried to call the phone numbers I had for the company and got nothing, then went to talk to a cab driver. A lovely young lady from the government-sponsored information desk came to my rescue and offered to make some calls from her office. She ran into the same dead-ends that I did with the numbers I tried, but managed to locate the cell number of the agent I did all of my planning and booking with. As it turns out, she was in the airport and had been for three hours. She mistakenly assumed I was coming in on the earlier flight. Once we met, we jumped in her car and she took me to the hostel where I got checked in and settled the rest of my account with her. It's hard to hand over that much cash at any time, but it's nice to not have it sitting in my room or my wallet.
My first day of tours began at 1:50, and as I jumped in the van that came to pick me up, I found a couple of colleagues from the conference. We had no idea we would be on the same tour, but serendipitously it turned out that way. I spent the next four hours in a group of 10 people being herded around Cusco and its immediate surroundings by a young guide whose very third word was “please.” His English is fine enough for this kind of tour, especially when the tourists don't speak Spanish, but after a week of training my ear to only hear Spanish, I spent the first 2 hours asking, “what did he say?” If I had my druthers, I would stretch today's tour into a full day rather than a half day event. The cathedrals and ruins are so amazing, I wanted desperately to see everything and soak it all in, but it was not to be.
After our return from the trip, we were to meet the others from our group in the plaza for dinner. After taking a turn around the plaza, we sat down on a bench until one of them came and found us. We then went to a very nice restaurant where they had a concert planned, with Andean Music and folk dancing. This music is so passionate and moving that I actually had goosebumps on my arms and tears welling up in my eyes. The dancers were great and at one point I was invited to dance with them.
What a blast! Except, the rapid pace of the dance had my heart beating 150 beats per minute and my head throbbing from lack of oxygen. High altitude effects have begun. I have carried a rather steady headache since about 3:00 this afternoon. It's time to go to sleep and see if lying down and resting might help a little.

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