We arrived in Cusco after the longest 9 & 1/2 hour bus ride you could possibly imagine. On the back of me feeling less than wonderful after my bus travel adventures from Tacna (see border crossing report) we boarded the "Pony Express" set to take us from Puno to Cusco.
Anyway the bus did not exceed 60km/hr and spent at least half of the time stopped in towns trying to get more passengers. Thankfully there was some very interesting people on the bus and we managed to pass the time without going too crazy.
Interesting bus rides aside Cusco grabbed us both immediately. The coblestoned roads and beautiful buildings, that we learned are a mixture of Inka and Spanish archetecture, made the town a very welcoming one. We soon learned that booking ahead could have been a good idea as the place was jam packed and the reason being was that there was a week long festival beginning on the day we arrived. After knocking on the door of four hostels we found a place that could put us up which was comfortable enough and well located near restaurants, bars and the Plaza de Armas.
While not feeling sick as such we certainly did notice the effects of being some 3,800 metres above sea level. A walk up stairs with luggage left us a little breathless and I had a thought for mum and all athsma sufferers.
Our basic plan of attact was simply to aquaint ourselves with the town and explore the jungle tour options. The best way to describe Cusco is start in the Plaza De Armas and work out. The Plaza itself is impecably well maintained and a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike. The square is bordered by a Cathederal, a church and an array of shops, restaurants, travel agents and night spots. As you leave the square you have the choice of a maze of alleys again containing shops, restaurants etc etc or more major roads that are lined with - you guessed it shops, restaurants etc etc. Despite the repetition walking around wasn't boring as each little place carried with it the charm of the owner or shop keeper.
At night the streets, and in particular the square, came alive as school children paraded around in traditional dress both and rock concerts took over later in the night. Amongst all this there where many many street venders who it seemed were all under the age of 10 selling knitwear, postcards or confectionary. The kids selling knitted finger puppets immediately won Suzie's heart and as a result she was always easy to find - just look for the biggest gathering of kids selling finger puppets!
I was particularly taken by one kid selling postcards who pursued us relentlessly and in excellent english asked "where are you from" and to our reply of "Australia" he responded with out delay "Ahh capital Canberra, Prime Minister John Howard". This knocked us off our feet! I still couldn't tell you who the Peruvian leader is (I should really look that up).
When walking around looking for jungle tours it didn't take us long to figure out that there were just 6 companies that could provide what we were after but for each of those there must have been 10 agents competing to sell the tours. This made it a true buyers market and after some haggling we managed to secure two spots on an eight day tour for $300 US less then we had planned to spend!
This meant leaving Cusco for the jungle a day sooner then we planned, but we were flexible and could catch that time up when we came back.