Day 5: Saturday, May 28
During the night, we had a steady rainstorm – the first and only rain during our entire time in the rainiest place on Earth. Robin had agreed to take us back to the canopy tower on our final morning, so we woke up around 5 to get there a little after sunrise. A cold front from Patagonia had blown through, so it was slightly breezy and chilly(ish) – possibly down to the mid-60s in the morning. (I think it typically ranged from mid-70s to mid-90s while we were there.) The four of us had the canopy tour all to ourselves, and we got to observe a lot more birds than last time. We saw toucans, gold and turkey vultures, three kinds of macaws, parrots, black-capped parakeets, golden pendulum birds, and more. The best part was seeing the colorful backs of the macaws as they flew around the canopy.
Back at the lodge, we packed our luggage, ate breakfast, caught our Rainforest Expeditions transfer to the airport, and said good-bye to Robin and friends. I should note how awesome Robin was – we thought he was the best guide at the lodge. He joked with us, told stories, told us about his family and his ambitions (wants to learn Chinese), spoke great English, and was extremely knowledgeable. At the airport we ran into Tripper and Mary – two of our friends from Robin’s group. They’d left the Amazon early for a day in Puerto Maldonado, and they had the same flight back to Cusco as us.
Naturally, STAR Peru was late, but we made it to Cusco with no issues. Upon arrival there was a large bowl full of coca leaves (the same leaf cocaine is made out of) to chew on to help with altitude sickness. The leaves are also known to provide energy and help with digestion. Porters along the Inca Trail rely on them heavily. Although chewing the leaves was less than tasty, coca tea and coca candies were delicious! We got our bags, met our driver – Juan – who navigated the busy, narrow streets to Andenes Al Cielo hotel in Cusco. The hotel was beyond our expectations – very fancy with a big room and a nice view of the city. There were about three floors with rooms in a square around open foyer in the center and a beautiful rooftop deck. We checked in, enjoyed some coca tea, and spent a little time taking in the location.
In the afternoon, Vanise, our travel agent’s wife who lives in the Sacred Valley in Peru and leads yoga travel tours, met up with us to pick up a couple of items we’d delivered from the States. She gave us a little impromptu walking tour of Cusco, and helped us exchange money at the money exchange shop with the best rates.
We ate a delicious meal at Greens – Vanise’s recommendation – an organic restaurant – beet/cheese gnocchi and alpaca. (Guess who ate what?) It was about 150 sol ($50) for the three of us, which was one of our most expensive meals. Everything is so inexpensive in Peru. Vanise took us to the local market, and we walked through a beautiful Spanish cathedral covered in gold. We had to walk through a hotel lobby and outdoor square to get to it.
After Vanise headed home with a giant VitaMix blender stuffed into her backpack that we’d brought to her, we walked around some more, taking forever to pick an inexpensive dinner spot. We settled on El Meson, which had a delicious salad bar and pizza. Our entire meal with two salad bars, a large eggplant pizza, and two bottles of water, was 40 sol ($12.50). Unfortunately tap water is not safe to drink, so you must buy bottled water everywhere. Juice was about the same price as water, and beer and Pisco sours weren’t much more.
Back at the hotel we enjoyed coca tea and the rooftop terrace. Since we were at 11,000+ feet in the Andes Mountains in their winter, it quickly cooled down to the 40s.