We arrived in Cusco this morning to bright sunshine, blue skies and dry air. What a welcome change from the gray, humid weather in Lima. (Which, by the way has been wreaking havoc on my hair. Why oh why did I cut it shorter into what was a stylish lob in N.Y. but is just a frizzy mess of curls in Lima?) We were up at the crack of dawn for our flight that didn’t end up taking off until 1030 a.m. It is still not clear to me whether we were actually delayed or if that’s the normal Peruvian delay for the very short flight. It is amazing how many flights a day leave from Lima. I guess I have been living under a Europe centric travel rock for such a long time I didn’t realize what a popular destination Machu Picchu is. The airport was full of Americans, mostly backpackers both young and old. Of course after living in Lima for all of two weeks I do not feel I am the same sort of American traveler as the rest of those people at the airport. And I am definitely NOT a backpacker! (Definitely not as I type this from the lovely patio outside my hotel room looking at the lush gardens and snow capped mountains, sipping a Pisco cocktail.) From the airplane window the Pacific Ocean quickly gave way to the mountains.
Our guide met us outside the airport and drove us two hours to the town of Ollantaytambo. The scenery along the way was almost prehistoric, how I imagine it looked when the world was created: deep green valleys, towering snow capped mountains, animals clinging to the side of rocky perches. Our driver carefully navigated through the tiny streets of the town and dropped us off in a parking lot. We walked the remaining 200 meters to the train station while the guide told us how lucky we were to be staying at a hotel in the station, it would be very easy for us to catch the train to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu the next morning. My heart sank. Train station hotels are never good. But, we quickly popped into a doorway and into another world. The hotel El Albergue is beautiful and rustic. Originally opened in 1925 the property now belongs the to Weeks family who live here, run the hotel and also operate a small organic farm. The grounds are gorgeous and the rooms are simple and comfortable, furnished with dark wood furniture, white linens and heavy shutters. It’s a world away from the chugging of the trains and loading and unloading of weary hikers outside the door.
After eating lunch we walked around town a bit, marveling at the narrow cobble stone streets and Incan architecture. Many of the women were dressed in the colorful traditional outfits I pictured in my head when I thought about Peru, carrying babies in striped slings. I had my first coca tea to try to keep the altitude sickness at bay (so far so good, but are we are at 9,000 feet above sea level so I am waiting to feel something.) The sun has set and we are all tired after a day of travel. We will have dinner soon and afterward will tuck ourselves into our very comfortable beds (one queen and two twins for the Hayes family!) and look forward to our next adventure tomorrow.