We had set our alarms for 5:00 am. I woke up at 4:57 am in time to shut it off before it went off, which was nice. Jenny was just sitting there in the dark, like a creep. We all showered, packed up the few items we’d taken out, and checked out of the room. We called a taxi which arrived before we even got to the sidewalk, and took a ride back to the airport. All told, we were only in the hostel long enough to get less than a full night’s sleep. It was nice enough and the beds were comfortable, but we didn’t even get to see the whole place, or meet anyone else, which is the real advantage of a hostel. We love to meet other travelers.
We had been told from multiple sources to arrive early to the airport, because it’s poorly managed and security takes a while. We arrived about 6:00 am for an 8:35 am flight. There was a fair bit of walking before we got to the security checkpoint, but besides that, we breezed right through. We found where our gate would be and then found a place to eat. We decided to eat at Tanta. I got a ham, egg, and cheese sandwich with fries, and a coffee. It was pretty good. Mandy got an open-faced sandwich with avocado, tomato, and egg. It was better than mine, which I learned when I ate the half she couldn’t. Seems like the trend is I pick the worst menu option of the group.
After breakfast, we made our way to the gate, and began boarding shortly thereafter. We were seated in rows 1 and 2 on the driver’s side of the craft. The weather in Cusco varies quite a lot, and the airport is hard to land at. The weather report used by the pilots is published hourly on the hour. The 8:00 am report was rain, and the pilots wanted to wait for the 9:00 am report before leaving the jetway. At 8:45 am, there were two planes in a holding pattern at Cusco, waiting for an opportunity to land. We finally pushed back at 9:30 am to taxi to the runway, only about an hour late. The flight was unfortunately not very scenic, because there was so much cloud cover. We caught glimpses of mountains here and there throughout the hour long flight into Cusco.
We landed and could immediately tell that it had just finished raining. The ground was still wet, but the sky was clearing up. It felt humid. We got off the plane very quickly as we were in the front rows, and we made our way outside. We found our driver, Joel, right away, and hopped into his little Hyundai hatchback. We’d already made the arrangements, so he knew where we were headed. He explained it was about a five and a half hour ride to our destination. We set out from Cusco airport around 11:30am.
We cruised a while until we were out of the city, trying to make small talk through the language barrier with Joel. His broken English and my awful Spanish combined to make it work. Joel took us on a giant hill-climb up out of the city of Cusco, the views constantly getting better with elevation and a clearing sky. He stopped once we were away from traffic at a public restroom and we were able to stretch our legs a bit before continuing on. We drove on for a while, ever upwards. Eventually, somewhere along the road, we crested the highest point we’ve ever been. We all had our eyes fixed on the windows, in absolute awe at the size of the mountains all around us. Most of them disappeared into the clouds, but the visible portions were larger than anything we’d ever seen before. It’s just impossible to show in a picture how big the Andes are. We drove so high up that we all began to feel at least a little bit like garbage. Maybe it was motion sickness from all the switchbacks. Once we’d had enough, as if on cue, the road began to slope downwards and we started the long descent into Ollantaytambo.
So many zigs and zags. It has to be thousands of turns. We passed by so many dogs! We were all falling in love with each one, for a moment, as we passed. And there were chickens, too. And alpacas, sheep, pigs, cows. So many animals just out there, hanging out. Ollantaytambo was comprised of crowded, narrow streets. We got excited to come back to spend some time here, but today was not the day for that. We were just passing through. Out the other side of the town, we cruised along the valley floor a bit before beginning another mountain pass. I think this one was even higher than the last. The sky was clearing up a bit more, too, so Joel stopped several times for us to grab some pictures. The views were amazing, although not surprising at around 14,000 feet up. We couldn’t get over how BIG the mountains are. And how adorable all the puppies are.
Eventually, Joel stopped for a lunch break at Yobana Restaurante, a random shack on the side of the highway. It was hardly more than a lean-to. The owner asked if we wanted a menu, I think, and I said yes. She showed us to a table outside and we all sat. We had her bring over another chair so Joel could join us for lunch, too. He was really thankful, as if he didn't expect to eat with us? Imagine all that driving on an empty stomach!? Before we saw a menu, we were given a bowl of soup each. It had chicken and rice and potatoes and cabbage and beans and it was just delicious. It really hit the spot and we were all contented after finishing the soup. Then, the next time that we saw the owner, she was carrying out more plates of food! This course was an egg-battered fried chicken with rice and fried yucca. It was incredibly good, and none of us could help but to devour all of it, even though we thought we were full. Finally, when we realized we should be sure to ask for the check before she brings out any more food, she brought us all a round of muña tea! It was really good, like a blend of honey and mint. It’s actually a high-altitude tea only grown in the Andes. We were finally able to get the total and pay. We were only charged 40 soles for the 5 meals, which is approximately US$13. So cheap! For the sake of curiosity, we got a small bottle of Inca Kola for the road, to share. It tastes like if there was a bubblegum flavor of Coca-Cola. I liked it but Mandy did not.
Back on the road, we made a whole bunch more zigs and zags. Eventually, we began to see snow. Luckily, it wasn’t quite as low as the road, although it wasn’t much higher in elevation. We were basically inside the clouds, so the road disappeared around each curve into whiteness. We knew it was a very steep, long drop off the side of the road, but we couldn’t see anything. Not sure if that made it better or worse. We made a few stops along the way when there were breaks in the clouds to get some pictures of the incredible views, as well as bathroom breaks and to stretch our legs. Eventually, we got back down to the valley floor, a little bit queasy from all the twists and turns. A little bit tired from sitting in vehicles all day. We continued on into Santa Maria. We passed through the town proper, and took a left. This was actually the first turn we made since we left Cusco about 5 hours earlier. The road turned to dirt and got pretty rough. Joel’s Hyundai was getting a workout! We continued on into the darkness. The sun dipped behind the mountains around 6:00 pm and the light quickly disappeared. The road was only one and a half cars wide, so when we had to pass oncoming traffic, it was pretty sketchy. We were on the uphill side of the road, luckily, so we weren’t in danger of falling down the cliff. Eventually, finally, we arrived at Eco Hacienda Roman. It’s technically still in Santa Maria, but it’s about a 45 minute drive from the center of town.
We all piled out of the car at about 6:30 pm and met the whole host family. They showed us to our rooms and asked what we wanted for dinner and what time we’d like to eat. We agreed to chicken at 7:30 pm. After two full days of travelling, we were all excited to get settled in. Joel had said earlier that he was driving back home to Cusco, but he must have changed his mind. He decided to spend the night and leave early in the morning. After we got settled in, we met the Sweeneys in the dining room area. We were presented with a plate of grilled chicken, mixed pickled vegetables, rice, and french fries. The chicken was outstanding, the pickled veggies were better once we realized they were supposed to be cold. At first we expected them to be warm. The fries here are really good! Mandy actually admitted that Peru potatoes are better than Maine potatoes which is unprecedented. We didn't last very long after dinner. The night sky was stunningly clear, so we took the opportunity to grab a few pictures before heading off to bed. The weather here varies so much, we had to jump at the chance in case there are no more clear nights.
"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."
- Bilbo Baggins
We're just an adventure-loving couple with a puppy looking to share our stories with the world.