Friday, February 22, 2002

It was 58 degrees (Fahrenheit of course) in the room when we got up. Brrr! We took a taxi to the bus station, checked our bags, and climbed on board. We have big, comfy seats that lean back, TVs, a bathroom on board, and our very own bilingual bus attendant. Plus - and this we couldn't hardly believe - the windows were actually clean! That never happens. We were expecting some exceptional scenery today, so we were very pleased.

Los Andes, Peru

The scenery between Puno and Cusco is fantastic. We were on the altiplano for three hours or so, then we reached the snow-covered Andes! Taking photos through a bus window isn't ideal, but we couldn't help ourselves. It was stunning.

Little House on the Andes

The bus stopped at Abra La Raya pass, 14,170ft/4320m, for about five minutes. We took pictures of the scenery, then we posed with some children. The kids were all dressed up and had brought their alpaca in hopes that the tourists would take their photo and give them a tip. So we did.

Obligatory Alpaca Photo

Say Queso!

We had stopped at the pass so the bus attendant could switch places with another bus attendant going the opposite direction so that they both could return to their home city that day. Very efficient.

Un Rancho de Llamas

The scenery continues to be beautiful and the flora is almost tropical as we near Cusco, which seems odd since Cusco is at 11,139ft/3395m. But we are fairly close to the equator, so I guess that explains it.

Tourist alert: When we arrived at the Cusco bus terminal, we were immediately semi-kidnapped by a guy, Hector, claiming to be free tourist information who jumped in our taxi with us and accompanied us to our hotel. The scam is that he tells the hotel people that he recommended their establishment, and then he collects a commission. It's not a one-time fee; he actually collects a commission for each day you stay there. That would be fine except that it affects your ability to then negotiate a lower rate with the hotel. And it wasn't just Hector. This seems to just be the way things work in Cusco. If you arrange your hotel ahead of time, hotel staff will pick you up. It's really the only good way to get out of it. We ended up negotiating a good rate anyway, but it was a LOT more trouble.

El Hostal Monarca, Cusco

Anyway, we stayed at Hostal Monarca, a very nice, extra clean hotel about four blocks from the Plaza de Armas. We had a big room, a good view, a minibar, and the place was absolutely spotless. The hotel is very pink. Even the grout in the bathroom is pink. I don't think I've ever seen pink grout before. The common area is a solarium and has an indoor guttering system.

Hector introduced us to Norka from Gregory Tours, who spoke some English, and she gave us a lot of information. After the experience we'd just had with Hector, we were extremely suspicious, so we took her brochures and agreed to meet her at her place of business in the morning, after we'd had a chance to mull it over.


Continue to day 13.

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