Cusco Cuzco Qosqo

Cusco as viewed from Christo Blanco. Photo: Alex Washburn

Cusco as viewed from Christo Blanco. Photo: Alex Washburn

I actually finished this blog, looked at it and realized the only people who would want to read it would be our parents. So, I deleted 1,500 words and am going to try again.

Cusco handed it to us the first day we were here – it was one of those days where the travel beats you into the ground and you have to decide wether to fight back or just give up and cry.

The first thing I noticed as we caught our initial glimpse of Cusco (not unlike the image above) was that it was much smaller than Lima. Lima traffic has a mind of it’s own and it wants to kill you. Looking down on the terra cotta colored roofs sprinkled with plazas and green spaces I breathed a sigh of relief that it wouldn’t be a similar situation as I had a beast of a headache.

Altitude sickness, in all its various fun forms, usually takes a few hours to kick in. The time gap between arriving to a certain altitude and feeling like shit can vary, but we’d been riding at high elevations all day and symptoms of altitude sickness usually don’t occur until after four hours after rising above 2,500 meters. Cusco city sits at 3,400 meters (11,200 feet).

By the time I sat down to ask the staff of our first choice hostel about parking availability I was in so much pain I could barely speak Spanish. I was to find out after several minutes of discussion that the hostel was too expensive AND wouldn’t let us park in their entryway (this was the first time of the trip we’ve been denied this).

I consider the hostel being un-cooperative our first incident in Cusco. Nathaniel couldn’t find street parking (the streets are narrow, cobblestone that still try to accommodate buses) as I talked to the hostel and had to loop around the block again. The second incident happened as Nathaniel went to back into a parking spot and a Taxi quickly half pulled in behind him and tried to make him give up the spot.

I walked up to the guys window and told him he was parking. The taxi driver told me Nathaniel should park down the street and I told him No, he was not going to loop around in that traffic. We went back and forth and our voices got loud, as I was hysterically running all the grammar errors I was making through my head. My Spanish starts to break down when I am tired, emotional or otherwise distracted and this was a perfect example of that.

He got out of the cab and tried to plead with Nathaniel directly and I gleefully informed him Nathaniel did NOT speak Spanish and he was going to finish parking. As the guy got back into his car I stepped into the street so that he couldn’t pull the cab forward. I was on the verge of loosing my temper, I could barely see straight and I decided if he wanted the parking spot he’d have to hit me.

It was an intense few minutes and the taxi was livid as Nathaniel finished parking and we went inside another hotel to ask about parking (he still had enough room to parallel park and did as we were inside).

The guy at the front desk was really nice although they didn’t have anywhere we could put the bikes. He gave us a city map and he pointed out a few places that might be able to help us, and off we went again into the cobblestone streets at a snails pace through the slow (though non-murderous) traffic.

We spent another 30 minutes winding around the city looking for hotels with parking and we were coming up totally empty handed (we are never above leaving the bikes on the street, but even that wasn’t an option in these narrow lanes). I was also getting more and more nervous because riding a motorcycle on cobblestone is the WORST. I take turns at a crawl because I’m afraid of hitting a big rock in the middle of a turn and falling over.

We started down yet another one way narrow cobblestoned street that feeds directly into Cusco’s Plaza De Armas. As I straightened up after the turn I noticed a strange drainage space in the road and I kept to the left of it. It would not be fun to get out of on a motorcycle I thought to myself as I slowly turned right into Plaza De Armas.

I heard an engine rev somewhere, however I didn’t think it was Nathaniel or incident number 3. As I rolled through the Plaza he didn’t appear behind me so I pulled over and stopped… waiting…

We went back to examine the scene of the accident a few days later. Photo: Alex Washburn

We went back to examine the scene of the accident a few days later. Photo: Alex Washburn

Nathaniel: I didn’t notice that there was a large storm drain in the middle of the road, and all of the sudden panic gripped me as I was smack dab in the center of the drain, riding down the street. With cars behind me, I looked to see the drain end, not in a ramp up, but in a gutter, that I couldn’t make out how much of a gap there was between street and grate.

Thinking my only option was the pop up out of the drain, I rev’d my engine and got my first tire up over the lip, but as soon as my back tire hit the cobblestone it started to slip, and I lost control.

Over I went, with my leg getting trapped under the side of my pannier. I tried to move my leg and it was pinned, and I had no leverage with the bike on top on me. But as our adventure has shown me, people will come in a time of need and before I knew it the bike was being lifted enough so I could swing my leg out.

I helped the strangers get the bike back on two wheels, and gingerly put weight on my swelling ankle. The car behind me started honking, and one of the women that had come to my aid yelled at them in Spanish, what I can assume were curse words at them being impatient with the current situation.

Alex and I have revisited the street, and hind sight being 20/20, my motorcycle novice showed in my split second judgement to hop the curb. At the end of the street I could have slowed and eased the wheel over the grating with no issue.

All being said, I walked away with a sprained ankle that healed in a couple of days. Chalk this one up to the learning curve of riding, where experience simply adds to your knowledge.


Once Nathaniel appeared and I got a brief recap, we got directions from a cop, and took our first right out of the Plaza and parked a few blocks away when we saw a collection of hotels and hostels. Nathaniel slowly eased off his bike and tested his left leg. It would hold his weight and he could walk on it, but it was obvious our plan of hiking Machu Pichu the next day was not going to happen.

Coca tea besides being tasty can help with altitude sickness. Almost every corner store will sell it and almost every hotel will give it out free. Photo: Alex Washburn

Coca tea besides being tasty can help with altitude sickness. Almost every corner store will sell it and almost every hotel will give it out free. Photo: Alex Washburn

After checking with the hotels on that block (none of them had the right combination of price and parking) we went to a internet cafe to try and look up a suitable place and it had the slowest connection speed I’ve seen in at least 10 years. It was awful and we gave up.

My head was killing me by now, and with Nathaniel’s foot, we really needed to find a hotel. I left Nathaniel on the street with his bike and scouted a few more hotels alone before finding Hotel Cahuide. It looked a little old fashioned, but it had parking, wifi and hot water. I told the woman at the desk I would be right back and I went to get Nathaniel.

After we arrived Nathaniel had to limp up several sets of stairs before collapsing onto his bed so we could take stock of his leg situation. It was swollen, with lots of good bruises to come in the next couple of days, but nothing was broken. Now that we had secured a place to sleep, I could deal with my headache.

I messaged Ariel Zambelich to ask her if she had the same problem in Cusco, she recently came to Peru for a Wired assignment and I figured she could give me some advice.

Ariel told we about the magic of coca tea and candy! I immediately crawled out of bed, put on my shoes and stumbled across the street to find them. Altitude sickness feels like the worst hangover you’ve ever had and not everyone gets it. The mild symptoms can include: lethargy, lack of coordination, insomnia, appetite loss, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and HEADACHES.

More things to help you with the altitude: Coca tea bags and candy. Photo: Alex Washburn

More things to help you with the altitude: Coca tea bags and candy. Photo: Alex Washburn

I spent the next hour eating an entire bag of candy and washing it down with 3-4 cups of tea. Lying in bed my brain felt like it was expanding every-time I inhaled and pain would shoot across my forehead. At least with a hangover you have yourself to blame but here I felt like a victim. It was dark outside and cold, the last thing I wanted to do was stumble off into a new city at night almost incapacitated with pain looking for a pharmacy or health clinic.

I laid their feeling myself breathe praying for sleep or death to take me and I finally gave up. I laced up my shoes and slowly pulled on my motorcycle jacket as I tearfully told Nathaniel I had to go get medicine and I left.

If you have a medical problem of some kind in Cusco I recommend going to Clinica Peruano Suiza (a 5 soles cab ride from el centro). The front desk staff of my hotel called ahead so that someone was waiting for me at the door when I showed up to the typically sterile building. I felt like I was moving underwater as I explained to the front desk why I was there. They soon had me in front of a doctor who told me my blood oxygen levels were fine but she prescribed me some amazing pain killers.

Within an hour of taking the pain meds I was picking up a pizza and hailing a cab back to our hotel.

The next day I explored Cusco on my own as Nathaniel camped out at the hotel. By the second full day in Cusco his leg was feeling well enough to walk around a little and do a bus sightseeing tour of Cusco (20 soles). When his leg was feeling A LOT better our third full day in Cusco we booked our tickets to Machu Pichu which we ended up doing yesterday.

I needed to catch you all up on where we are at but expect a Machu Michu blog soon – with video!