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A beautiful Saturday afternoon, no sign yet of the so far daily thunderstorm and deluge. I have been out and about, renting a backpack, a sleeping bag and some trekking poles. Which of course is your first clue that I am, in fact, going to hike the Inca Trail starting tomorrow morning at 5:30.
We had our orientation last night, and there were deep discussions on the state of my breathing, the actual route per day, and what kind of contingency could be in place if I run into trouble. The long and short of it is that I will hire an extra porter to carry my backpack, and to pace me. No need to try and keep up with the twenty-somethings that make up the rest of our group. If there comes a time that I can not keep going, or the guide gets particularly worried, I will have the extra porter to accompany me on the reverse trek. Then would come a train trip and a wait in Aguas Calientes (a town below the ruins) to rejoin my group as they finish the trail.
As far as what I have seen so far in Cusco, this city loves it´s churches! Enormous, extravagantly gilded and old, old, old. Seeing the large Inca stones that some of these churches have been built on top of is really neat. They are HUGE and fit together like lego, made up of all kinds of interlocking shapes. Very earthquake proof apparently. Not the buildings that sit atop them though, so the Inca gods may yet get their revenge.
There is an early colonial style of painting known as Cusqueña and there are large original religious oil paintings everywhere. Some are quite stunning. One of note there is the enormous one depicting/imitating the last supper, with a cooked guinea pig (a traditional Peruvian delicacy) on the main platter in front of Jesus. I had to keep myself from laughing, because I think the guide would have been quite insulted...
Walking about the plazas and down the narrow winding streets, I am accosted at every turn by people trying to sell me all sorts of interesting items! Yesterday I had a very cute boy come up to me and ask me if I wanted to buy the adorable puppy he had in his hands. A puppy? To a tourist? I have had to adjust my very polite Canadian interaction style, and have become quite proficient at not making eye contact, saying no and brushing bye. There are men, women and children in full traditional Peruvian dress leading llamas and alpacas around while they try and get people to take their pictures for a fee. I find it sad. There are animal droppings everywhere... it is like walking a landmine field at times.
I went into this really cool shop that sells chocolates, toffee, cakes and brownies made from coca leaves. They were tasty, and I bought some of the toffee to chew while I am trekking. I am told by everyone here it is the best remedy for altitude sickness, indeed it has been used by locals for hundreds of years. The porters use it as they run up and down the mountains to keep ahead of the trekkers. I expect I will need it when I get to day two of the trek. We will have a 1200 meter ascent, and then will descend that and maybe more to sleep lower. I should just FLY over the pass...
There is a clubhouse here for members of the South American Explorers Club (I am) and they have great trip reports, reading materials and a lovely outdoor patio where I have had tea with other gringos. I saw Obamas speech there too. Wow.
If all goes well I will be out of touch until Thursday... cold, wet and gasping in the Andean Highlands, and elated about making this part of my dream come true!
I am headed outside into the sun now, and will no doubt be greeted by this really cute Peruvian boy selling totally adorable finger puppets. He follows me constantly, and MIGHT eventually wear me down.