So Many Smells (A Look at Cusco from Sofi’s Perspective)!

What is that smell?  Who is this stranger carrying my crate?  Where are Mom and Dad?    These were some of the many thoughts that bounced between my floppy ears last week.  After I was carried out of the long pointy car that flies in the sky, the strangers brought me to an open area to wait.  I sat there until they moved my crate towards a big door and…I SAW MOM AND DAD!  I was beginning to think that the long pointy car was my new home, so I was wagging my tail like a propeller when I saw them.

After we were reunited, we jumped into a car and drove away.  “Oh no,” I worried.  “The last time I got into a car I ended up in the sky!”  Fortunately, we just drove to my new home where I share a room with my parents (which is way cooler than it sounds).  I was super tired from all of the unexpected events that took place, so I went to bed and dreamed about running down the streets of my new home.

I awoke the next morning refreshed and with heightened senses.  Holy smells!  My family had moved before, but this was unlike anything else.  Let me tell you a few tails (pun intended) about my experiences.

The first thing I noticed is that the other dogs don’t wrestle with me.  I used to wrestle all day long with my golden retriever friend, Buster.  But now, every time I try to wrestle with new friends they either growl at me or run away. Plus, they eat garbage all the time!  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like garbage too.  But I mostly eat it because I’m bored.  I should really share some of my Pro Plan with them.  They don’t know what they’re missing!

Did I mention that there are some creatures here that I’ve never seen before?  On one of our first days here, I walked around town and saw a big pink dog who snorted a lot.  Mom told me that this dog’s name was Pig. When I went up to greet her she squealed and ran away.  I guess she was in a hurry to get somewhere!  I also met a big black and white creature with horns.  I was walking down a dirt road when we first saw him.  He didn’t speak canine and I’ve never seen anything like him before, so I tentatively approached.  We sniffed each other and I thought things were going well until he decided to lower his head and point his horns at me!  Just like me in my crate every morning after Mom and Dad get up, I shot outta there.  My last crazy encounter was with a little human.  Sometimes I’m unsure of how to interact with them because they don’t pet me, so we typically stare at each other until I bark out of confusion. So, when I met one on a walk in the town, I didn’t want to give a bad impression and start things off on the wrong paw.  This tiny human was sitting on a small plastic car with wheels. He saw me and stopped in his tracks. The stare down began. Instead of barking at him, I decided to mix things up and give him a friendly lick on the face (our version of a handshake), and do you know what he did? He scrunched up his face and water droplets starting coming out of his eyes! Why are the little humans so hard to understand?

Lastly, I am getting to go on some really fun rides.  I recently rode in a bike car with no windows.  Mom and Dad kept calling it a “tuk tuk.”  For my doggie friends reading this post, believe me when I say that my jowls were flapping in the wind without putting my face out the window!  Jackpot.

And that’s just the beginning.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring!  Every time I set my paws on the ground outside, a new adventure begins.  Whether I’m stepping in a bucket of peppers at the market or running up the mountains behind our house, I’m always having fun.  I hope you are, too!

 

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Lessons for Days (7 Things We’ve Learned from 7 Days in Cusco)

Our first week in Cusco has been filled with more great experiences than we could have expected.  Between the kind people we’ve met, the incredible places we’ve seen and the delightful food we’ve eaten, things couldn’t have started better after our rough welcome to Peru.  To give you a better idea of what daily life is like in Cusco, we’ve created a list of the things you should know (in no particular order) before you plan to visit:

1. There are dogs.  EVERYWHERE.  It seems that everyone and their hermano (see how good my Spanish is?) has at least one dog in Cusco.  When we were on our honeymoon in Bora Bora circa 2011, I asked a local man what the population was on the island.  His response was “3,000 people…6,000 dogs!”  It’s apparent that this rule applies to Cusco as well.  If you’re in the downtown area of Cusco, the dogs won’t give you a second look.  In the outskirts and more rural areas, however, they aren’t so nice.

2.  BYOOT.  Bring your own oxygen tank!  The altitude is no joke here.  The base elevation in the main part of city is 11,000 feet.  And that’s within the city.  If you go on a hike up one of the many mountains in the area, you’re just tacking on extra feet.

3.  Toilet paper goes in the garbage.  It took a couple of memorable experiences clawing wet toilet paper out of the toilet to truly learn this lesson.  The pipes are skinny and the sanitation system in the city gets disrupted if you dispose of paper in the toilet.  They also shut off the water when that happens.

4.  Shop at the market.  It’s cheaper, fresher, and the experience is awesome.  If you love fresh fruits and vegetables, THIS is where you want to be!  The local markets have a plethora of stands filled with about everything you can imagine.  And the best part?  Everything is cheaper than in the supermarkets!

5.  Remember “Sin Agua.”  It will save your life (potentially).  The jugo (juice) stations at the market are not to miss.  Those same fresh fruits and juices are blended together in a harmonic symphony of scrumtrulescence (noun credit goes to Will Ferrell/James Lipton).  But remember: the water they use for juices can make foreigners sick.  Hence the words “sin agua (without water).”  Opt for orange juice (naranja) instead.

6.  Check the “English” prices.  Many places offer an English menu in addition to the local menu, especially in the touristy areas.  However, be sure to look closely.  Sometimes the English menu prices are higher than the Spanish prices!

7.  Don’t be afraid to visit Cusco during “rainy season.”  So far, this has consisted of seven days filled with 90% sun and 10% rain.  And as good fortune may have it, most of the rain has been in the middle of the night!  Maybe they just call it rainy season so they can have a few months without so many tourists 😉

For those of you who are more inclined to visuals, here is a video summarizing our first week of adventures.

Going Where No Gringo Has Gone Before

In just a few short days in Cusco, the Kimbles have managed to turn a few heads.  Staying with our new family (we truly feel a part of Manuel’s family and are even going with them to visit relatives tomorrow), we’ve been able to witness the authenticity of their culture.  The touristy area of Cusco is about a mile and a half from our house, so we can be pretty far removed from that area whenever we want.

On the first morning of our arrival, we walked outside with Manuel and his father, Daniel.  They were showing us around their neighborhood and we quickly noticed something on top of the mountain behind their house.  Manuel told us it was a chapel and if we were interested, we could hike up to see it.  So, the following morning we took Sofi on a hike up the mountain to see this chapel.  It was a heck of a hike for Sofi, so in the interest of making sure she wasn’t too worn out, Karen waited with her near the top and I headed the last bit of the hike to check it out.  The views from the top were absolutely breathtaking.

We can "cross" this off the list ;)

We can “cross” this off our list 🙂

Perhaps even more exciting than the view, however, is the fact that several mountains are connected at the top and just waiting for me to run all over them in the coming weeks.  Later that night when we were eating dinner with the family, we told Manuel that we had hiked the mountain and that I had reached the chapel.  His response was epic: “Adam, you are most certainly the only gringo who has ever been to that chapel!”  Manuel uses that term in an endearing way to exhibit just how unusual it is to see us doing the things we are doing here.  I was happy to know that I had inadvertently set the FKT (Fastest Known Time) for a gringo to reach the top of that mountain.  And just this morning, Karen shared in that FKT as we broke our previous time and reached the chapel once again.

Which leads me to my next point.  It is clear to everyone here (people and dogs alike) that we are not locals.  When we trudged up that mountain, we had some not-so-friendly encounters with the street dogs.  For your reference, there are street dogs everywhere you look in Cusco, but the more territorial ones are up in the mountains where farmers use them to protect their land.  It’s one thing to walk down Avenida El Sol (the main street in downtown Cusco) with Sofi and get looks from nearly everyone we pass.  I can only guess they are thinking “A dog on a leash?  Whaaat?”  But it’s another thing to be surrounded by a group of growling street dogs who think you’re trying to steal from their owners.  Luckily, Karen has seen plenty of the Dog Whisperer, so she knows a few tricks to get them to back down.

Don't let these guys fool you.  They're the nice ones.

Don’t let these guys fool you. They’re the nice ones.

Perhaps the funniest encounter we’ve had since arriving in Cusco took place on Friday morning. Karen and I went to attend weekday mass at La Catedral del Cuzco, the beautiful Cusco Cathedral in the middle of Plaza de Armas (the town square).  We went up to the cathedral to enter around 7:30 am but were stopped by a guard who told us that we could not enter until 10 am.  Fortunately Karen speaks some Spanish, so she was able to tell the guard that we wanted to attend mass and didn’t understand why we couldn’t enter.  The guard then let us into the cathedral, and explained that she had assumed we were just tourists trying to come in to take pictures.  I thought the longer hair and beard were going to help overcome my touristic appearance, but maybe I need a few more weeks to make that happen!

The beautiful Cusco Cathedral. Even prettier on the inside!

Having already accumulated a  plethora of interesting encounters, we are excited to see what comes next.  Just this morning I visited a market with Manuel and heard: “This is the market where all the locals shop.  You are the only gringo in here!” Our new goal just might be to become famous with the locals in Peru for doing things that no other gringos have done before!

Your Glass is Either Half-Full or You’re Never Leaving the Airport

Yesterday was, by all accounts, one of the craziest travel days of our lives.  And amidst all of it, the one theme that surfaced was the goodness of mankind!  It all started in Chicago when our flight to Toronto (yes, our cheapest flight path took us from Chicago>Toronto>Lima) was delayed.  We only had about an hour and a half for our connection as it was, so any delay was cutting things pretty close.  Karen wisely asked the United Airlines employees if there was any way they could help us while we waited during the delay.  There were no other flights going out on time, but they were able to move us from the back of the plane to the row just behind first-class.  At that point we were both concerned about getting to Lima on time because Sofi arrived on a different flight about two hours before us.  After the plane landed, Karen and I started bobbing and weaving past the first-class passengers as we sprinted into the terminal in true Amazing Race style.  Our faith and prayers paid off as our arrival gate happened to be very close to the international connections area, which then led us to our final gate.  We sweated our way into the gate as the final group of passengers was boarding!  Karen’s decision to get us moved up was crucial because we never would have made it behind 30 more rows of people getting off the plane.  We felt victorious as we boarded the plane, but that feeling was about to be whisked away once we got to Lima…

At about 2:45am local time (same as US Eastern time) we landed in Lima, Peru. Making our way through customs, we went to talk with the SENASA office, which is in some respects the Peruvian equivalent of the USDA.  In our minds the conversation went as follows: “where do we collect our dog?” followed by “oh, she’s right over here good sir.”  We had done our research ahead of time and even had our host in Peru speak with the airport to collect the details of how everything would work.  However, things did not go as we had planned and we had to roll with a handful of punches.  If old school (pre-biting off Evander Holyfield’s ear) Mike Tyson had been in the ring with us, those punches would have knocked us out by about 6am.   But as crazy as the next part of this story goes, everything happens for a reason and we fully understood that after the commotion ended and we could properly reflect on the situation.

What happened next took place over the course of 12 hours, so I’ll save most of the details for the memoir (coming in the fall of 2015…just kidding).  Instead, let’s focus on a countdown of the top five Lowlights and Highlights between the hours of 3am and 3:45pm, when we took off on the flight that replaced the original 5am flight we had booked.

Top 5 Lowlights:

5.  12 hours and a missed flight…enough said.

4.  Karen sitting in our cab by herself (without me or the cab driver, to be mentioned later in the Highlights section) for two hours in the loading dock at the cargo area.

3.  We were operating on limited plane sleep and hadn’t eaten or drank anything since arriving in Lima.  But, if I’m planning to be on Survivor, the training has to start sometime!

2.  Being able to see Sofi in her crate on two separate occasions, but being told on both occasions that we didn’t have all of the proper signatures and paperwork to claim her.

1.  Five round trips between the airport and the cargo warehouse, with intermittent trips between eight different offices within the cargo warehouse.  Of these trips, several of them proved completely useless as we didn’t have the information we needed from the other offices to get proper approvals. This also resulted in an additional $260 paid to these parties.*

*A future post will outline the various costs we’ve incurred for bringing Sofi on this adventure.

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A little paperwork from Lima.

Top 5 Highlights (to end positively as our experience did):

5.  I ran with our cab driver from the cargo warehouse to the airport because traffic was so bad that running was faster.  If you know my passion for running, this was a pleasant (and sweaty) surprise!

4.  Eating Papa John’s and annihilating two liters of water shortly before our flight to Cusco.

3.  Our Peruvian host, Manuel, spending half the day at the airport because we were unable to reach him by phone to let him know we missed our original flight.  After spending half the day waiting for us, he was completely positive upon picking us up and told us to make no mention of the difficulties.  Instead, he gave us local herbal tea to help with the altitude (11,000 ft. in Cusco). What a host!

2.  Karem (no relation to Karen, though her name is the Spanish translation of Karen), our angel from Lan Airways.  Her résumé included the following: walking outside to find us a cab driver to ensure we weren’t ripped off, holding our bags for us behind the counter while we ran all over everywhere, booking us standby on a later flight at no additional cost, calling our host Manuel to inform him of what happened, and calling our cab driver before she left work at 11am to make sure we had completed our mission.

1.  Our cab driver, Raul, who stayed with us for seven hours during this crazy adventure!  SEVEN HOURS.  He was a Godsend and though he spoke little English, Karem told him what we needed to do.  Raul was the one speaking with every contact at the offices we encountered, and he led us every step of the way until we got Sofi.  As a matter of fact, he actually told us (via translation from Karem) that he wasn’t going to leave until Sofi was in our possession.  Wow.  After Sofi had been released to us, we found him feeding her dog food and water, which I can only guess he produced out of thin air.

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If you are ever in Lima and need a ride, CALL THIS MAN.

The moral of the story?  People are inherently good.  The main purpose of our journey is to discover that truth all over the world, and the message came pretty early in Peru.  Crazy things will happen in life and if you maintain a positive attitude and have faith, everything will always work out for the best.