Comfortable in Cuzco
I'm living way up in the Andes mountain range, in the continent's oldest continuously inhabited city.
Cuzco, the foremost city of the Inca empire, sits at an elevation of over 3,500 meters (about 11,500 feet). Altitude sickness is not unusual for visitors. Around me, the massive stones of Inca-built walls form the foundations of many buildings. Small, clay-colored homes blend into the city hillsides.
It's cold after dark here, and I think I've finally convinced myself that I'll have to buy another layer to wear at night. Days in Cuzco are sunny and beautiful—the warm, crisp, mountain air reminds me a lot of my time in southern Oregon (just with more vehicle exhaust pollution).
The concentration of street vendors running around the main plaza (and its surrounding streets) is pretty impressive—annoying, but impressive. Everything from finger puppets to jungle tours to photos with a live llama are being thrown at pedestrians. I've never actually seen someone running around relentlessly selling postcards before—postcards!—but they're here and you can't escape them.
The taxi drivers are absolutely nuts; I think the qualifier for a license in Cuzco is to have a couple hit-and-run kills under your belt. The narrow, cobblestone streets around my hotel practically have no sidewalk—you literally have to jump out of the way and hug the wall as the idiots scream by like rally-car drivers.
One such madman offered a tip as I was being driven up to the Rio de Janeiroesque statue of the White Christ, overlooking the city. You can bypass the S$30 (US$10) entrance fee and sneak into the nearby Inca fortress of Sacsayhuamán if you walk a short dirt/rock trail that connects the two sites. Local vendors and photogenic llamas use the path. The man was right, and a nice, free visit to the site of the "Satisfied Falcon" was had at sunset.
I've still got to ask around and get the story on how to properly arrange transport up to Machu Picchu, and how much I should (or shouldn't) pay for such things. Sometime this week I'll spend a night or two up in the town of Aguas Calientes, and take a pre-dawn train ride up to this continent's über-popular place of tourist pilgrimage. In the meantime, I'll enjoy the pleasant days and the free evening Cuba Libre (rum and Coke) at the plaza bars.