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.

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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!