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  • Writer's pictureTommy Cicero

Integrating in Cusco

My first few days in Cusco and starting the integration process has been amazing! As soon as I landed Sunday night, I could feel the vibrant energy of Cusco. After I checked in to my hotel and had a qucik dinner of empanadas (they were ok, had a much better one at the airport), I did a quick walk around the Central Plaza, only a couple blocks from my hotel. It was love at first sight. It was not only what I could see, but what I could feel too! It felt magical and alive. And the altitude difference going from 300 ft. above sea level in the jungle, to 11,000 ft. above sea level in the Andes, did not feel any different for me. Walking around, especially up A LOT of stairs/hills, was not an issue. This is where the exercise commitment of my preparation for the retreat seemed to be paying off.

Look at all those stairs!

I love this City! I was unaware it was the oldest city in North and South America. I learned that from my personal tour guide Bryan, on my walking tour of Cusco, Monday morning and into the early afternoon. I got to see the Inca Museum, Coricancha (Temple of the Sun), the San Pedro Market (Designed by Gustave Eiffel, yes, the tower guy - This place had everything!), and the market for locals, where I was able to completely immerse myself in the Cusco culture. They had an entire street dedicated to fruit, aptly named, "Fruit street." I also got to see so many other sights, and ate or drank coffee in some quaint shops. Bryan said, when you see the locals frequenting the shops, you know they are good. He exceeded my expectaions as a tour guide, which is why I "hired" him for a couple extra hours with me.

My Cusco tour guide, Bryan

Central Plaza

The grounds outside the Temple of the Sun

Fruit Street in the local market

I spent the remainder of Monday exploring Cusco on my own. The energy and vibe of the city is unique and electric for me. I lasted until about 9pm, when I was ready or bed after a long day of walking. Although I didn´t technically exercise, I got in 16K+ steps, and was on zero sleep from the night before. I´m glad I was unaffected by the elevation difference, as I almost forgot about it until my excursion on Tuesday, where I was able to really take in the Andes Mountains.

Central Plaza at night

I woke up early Tuesday, feeling rested and ready to take on Cusco for another day. Something told me to book the ATV trip I was avoiding due to safety concerns. While I had driven ATV´s in the past, I was initially minimizing the risk of any uneccessary trips to urgent care. I´m glad I changed my mind, as the ATV tour has been a top highlight of my entire trip to Peru. My tour guide (I did another personal tour, which is well worth it for an extra $60), Alex was right up there with Bryan, knowledgable, with a warm and welcoming personality. He was only 27, and had only been speaking English for three years, but seemed fluent. He said he watches a lot of American movies to help learn English and hopes to visit and potentially move to the US one day. Really good dude!

My ATV partner and tour guide, Alex

Getting high on life! 😁

We started our tour at the Maras Salt Mines, where I learned everything salt, and how families farm their salt pools, which are fed by salt breaking down in the Andes and flowing through fresh water springs into the 3,000+ pools of salt. The other site we visited was the Moray Ruins, which used to be an agricultural research center back in the Incan times. It was massive and quite the sight to take in. Alex dropped so much knowledge on me. The best part of the tour, though, was getting around by ATV. I was in awe as we rode through some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever been surrounded by. I took soooo many great pictures. Honestly, the pictures may not even do justice. It was awe inspiring and breathtakingly beautiful. We even got to squeeze in an extra stop at Huaypo lagoon/lake, which was another beautiful sight to see.

Maras Salt Mines

Moray Ruins

Huaypo lagoon/lake

Mt. Chicon

Tuesday afternoon, I strolled around Cusco and was able to take in more of this delightful city. Matt said he liked the old-world feel of Cusco, and I could not agree more. I have never seen or felt anything like it, and I like it a lot! No, I love it!

The only big challenge for me so far has been the language barrier. While I can get by with my Sesame Street Spanish (I got that from Jenni), I wish I was able to go beyond that when interacting with store clerks, servers, and people on the street. I love when they know basic English, so we speak to each other in nothing beyond a Sesame Street vocabualary in both languages. I really love the people here, too. They are warm and friendly, and not afraid to lure you into their restaurant or sell you whatever they are peddling, whether it be products or services.

Look, a hummingbird!

The food has been great so far, too, besides those empanadas the first night. I have eaten the guinea pig, lamma and ceviche, all local staples and delicacies. They were all great. I have a wide pallet, so I´m willing to try anything one. I would do all of those again, especially the ceviche! I also have been drinking caffenated coffe for the first time in over a month. While I didn´t miss it too much, it was a pleasant reunion, and so many cozy coffee shops to choose from! I also love the local drink/juice chicha morada.

Guinea pig all dressed up

Ceviche, before and after

The beginning of the integration process has been going well. Besides my tours, I have been on my own, which has given me plenty of time to process my retreat through reflection and journaling. I have some changes in mind for when I get back home. Nothing drastic, but enough to get me back to taking further steps in the right direction for my persoanl and professional life. Less thinking/overthinking. More doing. I am excited for new beginnings!

One of my favorite and humbling aspects of this trip has been getting comfortable with being uncomfortable in an unfamiliar place, where most people only speak Spanish. The pleasant interactions I have had with locals made this a lot easier for me. I feel welcome, just like with my tour guides, who I feel I really lucked out with. This trip makes me want to travel outside the US more often. I have only been to some of the countries surrounding the US (Jamaica, Mexico, Dominican Republic), so I would like to explore a lot more, and a lot further. Jenni and Sam inspired me too, as they have each been to more than 20 countries. I will also be packing lighter. 😁

Archeological site in downtown Cusco

My hotel is amazing: Nice big comfortable bed, a living area, a balcony, and a shower/tub, in case I want to soak. Breakfast is included too, all for under $50 a night! Warm, friendly and accomodating staff too. I feel like I lucked out with my hotel choice. All that, and I´m only a couple blocks from the Central Plaza, and right next to the San Blas neigborhood, which is like the Lincoln Park (Chicago) of Cusco.

View from my balcony

Common area in Arcangel Hotel

I´m really looking forward to visiting the Sacred Valley (Pisac, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo) and Machu Picchu on Thursday and Friday. I´m glad I saved it for last (Thanks Paula!). Until then, I will keep enjoying the culture, people, sites/sights, sounds, and food of Cusco. Feeling blessed in this moment. Thank you for following along. ❤️🌞🙏

Could not agree more ❤️


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