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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Peru Vacation Day 3: Flying From Lima To Cusco

This day started off pretty early for us. We were going to be picked up at our hotel at 07:30 to be taken to the airport for our flight (scheduled for 10:10 AM). So, we had breakfast quite early (the breakfast buffet at the hotel is open from 6 AM. The front desk clerk confirmed with us that that would work for us, because they have the ability to open the buffet at 5:30 if a guest needs to get out of the hotel extra early).

We were the first guests at the buffet. And some things were not yet fully ready when we got there. The toaster for the bread was not plugged in yet. The scrambled eggs were not in their pan yet, and so on. But once the hotel staff saw us at the buffet, they scrambled around and got everything done so that we could finish a full breakfast by 7 AM.

The driver who had picked us up from the airport on day 1 picked us up for the return journey today. Traffic was quite bad as the rush hour was well underway by the time we left the hotel at just past 7:30 AM. But our driver took some backstreets to keep us off the main roads which were much more congested, and he managed to get us to the airport in about 35 minutes again.

We were booked on flight TA 009. The distance from Lima to Cusco by air is 363 miles, and the flight's scheduled time was 10:10 - 11:30.

The airport has a long line of check-in counters, many of them specific to one airline and one flight or destination. The line for check-in was not very long, and we were done with check-in in about 15 minutes. The agent hand-wrote the gate number on the boarding passes when he handed them to us.

Lima airport check-in linesLima airport check-in linesCouple of views of the check-in lines at Lima Airport.

Once we reached the departure level, we had to pay an airport tax of $6.82 per passenger that was not included in our ticket price. I have no idea why airport taxes don't seem to be included in the ticket prices for all our departures out of Peruvian airports. For each of them, we had to pay a separate airport tax before we could get on the flight.

There was a long and chaotic line of passengers waiting to pay this fee, but the line moved quickly because the transaction was very quick and there were 12 counters processing passengers. The receipt is bar-coded, and is stuck to the back of the boarding pass. When we entered the line for security, this bar-code was scanned by an agent for reconciliation of some sort. We paid in soles for our taxes, and it came to 20 soles per passenger.

The line for security also snaked all over the place, but moved quite fast because there were lots of lanes open. I did not have to remove my shoes or take my laptop out of its bag. It was quite a hassle-free experience compared with security in US airports. We reached our gate by 09:10.

Lima airport gate areaView of the gate area on the domestic side of Lima airport. The airport has free wi-fi access with wi-fi zones marked clearly.

Soon after we reached the gate area, our flight was delayed to 10:30. The earlier TACA flight to Cusco scheduled for 5:45 AM showed delayed to 10:25, so I was not too surprised that ours was delayed too. Our aircraft arrived at the gate only at 10:00. There were no announcements from the podium, but finally boarding began at 10:25. We boarded at about 10:30. This aircraft also had cloth seats, and had no in-seat entertainment.

Boarding was completed by 10:45, and we pushed back at 10:50. The safety announcements as well as other announcements were in both Spanish and English. The overhead video system was not used for the safety demonstration, with the flight attendants preferring to do it live for some reason.

As we flew southeast, we climbed out of the overcast and started flying over the mountains after about 10 to 15 minutes. Right about then, we were also given a small snack and beverage. The snack was a cupcake. And there were no exotic choices for beverage, just the normal sodas, orange juice, apple juice, etc. I had orange juice on this flight.

TACA snack serviceMy cupcake and cup of orange juice.

The mountains looked mostly brown and dry, with no greenery at all. There were some dry river channels every now and then, and some trails and dirt roads cutting across the mountains. Later on we saw some small lakes among the mountains. But we did not see any snow except on some far-away peaks.

Mountains from the airLakes amidst mountains from the airA couple of views of the Andes from the air. As you can tell, the mountains are not very photogenic in this part of the Andes!

No headsets for the video entertainment were passed out on this flight. Instead, the aircraft's PA system was used for the audio of the short program that was shown on the video screens. It was only in Spanish, and quite muted (thankfully), so I could not make out anything at all. If you actually wanted to see the program and hear its audio, you would have been quite disappointed by the lack of headsets. If the audio had been turned up, it would have become quite a head-ache if you were not interested. They could have distributed headsets to passengers on the flight, or they could have just kept the entertainment system off. Doing neither was a little odd.

Cusco airport seems to be surrounded by mountains. The approach and descent were somewhat shaky and we made some tight turns to line up with the runway before landing towards the west. We taxied to a gate quite quickly, but it took a while before we docked and the doors were opened.

Cusco airport is quite small. It is filled with tourist agencies that give the airport a very crass and commercial air. Lots of tour operators approached travelers with various offers, and there were also some porters offering to push luggage in carts. Some of them were pushy (no pun intended) and bothersome. We reached the baggage carousel at around 12:20, and our bags were out quite quickly. After using the facilities at the airport, we left the terminal at about 12:30 and were picked up promptly by our tour operator.

We were put up in the Taypikala hotel in Cusco. The hotel was about a 15 minute drive from the airport. Along the way, we passed some nice fountains and a large statue of king Pachacutec, the famous Inca most responsible for expanding the Inca empire to include most of South America.

Hotel Taypikala, CuscoA view of the front of the Taypikala Hotel, Cusco. This hotel is part of a chain of Taypikala hotels including two in Puno in addition to this one in Cusco.

The hotel was in a narrow cobble-stoned alley that allowed only traffic to go one way. We were very close to the main square of Cusco, in the older parts of town. The older parts of most Peruvian cities seem to have such narrow, cobble-stoned streets that can make auto traffic quite difficult, but they lend their own charm to the place.

Ahuacpinta street, CuscoThis is Ahuacpinta, the street on which our hotel was located. Notice the cobblestoned surface, and the narrowness of what is more likely to be considered an alley in the US!

The lobby of the hotel had oxygen cylinders for guests who get breathing problems because of the 3,300 meter elevation of Cusco. The hotel also has two flasks of hot coca tea for guest to imbibe as part of the acclimation process. Coca tea, and chewing coca leaves have been traditions in the high Andes for generations.

Taypikala Hotel, Cusco, lobbyOxygen cylinders in hotel lobbyCoca tea flasks in hotel lobbyA few views of the lobby of Hotel Taypikala, Cusco. Notice the oxygen cylinders in the lobby for use by guests who have trouble breathing the thin mountain air of Cusco. The flasks of coca tea always seemed to be full, and the contents were always hot. I quite liked the taste of it, and had several cups of it everyday during our stay in this hotel. In addition to the tea, they also had a tray of coca leaves out in the lobby if you were inclined to try chewing them like the locals do!

Our tour operator explained all of the activities that were going to keep us busy in Cusco for the next two and a half days. We were to leave on a half-day tour of Cusco city within an hour or so. The next day was set aside for a tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and the day after that was the big day: our excursion to Machu Picchu. After giving us our vouchers and tickets for all the tours, etc., the tour operator left, so that we could rest for a short while in our hotel room before being picked up for our city tour.

Our hotel room was on the first floor of the hotel, but there were, once again, steps between the lobby and our hotel room. In fact, the hotel has 3 floors of rooms and no elevators! The room, once again, was very clean and neat, though a little small. The bathroom had an actual tub, with the toilet in a separate room inside the main bathroom. But, once again, amenities like shower caps were missing in this hotel also.

Taypikala Hotel corridorThe corridor leading from the lobby to our hotel room. The walls were decorated with modern paintings.

taypikala hotel roomTaypikala hotel roomViews of the hotel room. Notice the wall mounting of the TV, so that the table is actually usable for something other than holding a TV! The decorations on the wall are actually colored fabrics in frames, not paintings.

taypikala hotel bathroomA look at the bathroom in the hotel. Notice that the towels are hung inside the shower/tub enclosure. Finding suitable places to hang stuff like towels and clothes while we took a shower was quite a challenge in this hotel because of the lack of suitable hooks, etc.

Room heater in Taypikala hotelThe hotel room also had a stand-alone plug-in heater, but we never used it. The room stayed reasonably warm, and the blankets and comforters were quite heavy and cozy. The room's closet also had a couple of extra pillows and quilts if guests needed it.

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