I discovered how long it takes to start feeling symptoms of altitude sickness, and the answer is about twelve hours. At 5:30 a.m. I woke up with such a killer of a headache all I could manage to do was drink a glass of water and stick my head back under the pillow. When I woke again at 7:30 I was marginally better, and then even better after drinking more water and taking two Nurofen Flash (thank you UK supermarkets for selling it over the counter). I think I’m through the worst of it by 11:30 p.m. but the insidious thing about altitude sickness is that a) you can’t really tell you’re at 11,000 feet when you’re in the middle of a city so it’s easy to forget what you should be doing to overcome it; and b) it’s not like you can see a lack of oxygen in the air — only feel it when you go up a flight of stairs too quickly or have to walk uphill.

After a lukewarm shower (yay, Third World plumbing!) I joined Laurie and Cathy upstairs for breakfast. Our hotel has a really charming breakfast room and a buffet spread that’s included in our room fee. I’ve got a single room for $55 per night which is a total steal. Here’s a photo of Laurie and Cathy at breakfast:

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After breakfast we ran into our TFK trip leaders, Cindy and Bridget, who had just arrived. Cindy was putting up our completely awesome trip banner in a railing over the hotel courtyard so the trekkers could see it as soon as they arrived.

And here is our extremely excellent sign:

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Katie also arrived from Boulder, CO, and Laura from Fort Wayne, IN, and Megan from Victoria, BC Canada, so our group started to grow exponentially. Megan and Laura needed to rest but katie, Laurie, cathy and I took off for a day of exploring the town. We started by heading to Plaza del Armas, the center square flanked by two enormous. Spanish cathedrals but got sidetracked by Katie’s acumen at power shopping and the extraordinary variety of alpaca wool products for sale. Our destination was the Museo de Plantas Sagradas, Magicas, y Medicinales on C alle Santa Teresa, which is the only museum of sacred and magical plants in the world, only to find its door locked. The woman in the tienda next door told us it was closed until August 15. Huge disappointment there. On the other hand, today many places were closed because of Peruvian independence day (which explains the explosions last night) so i may check back tomorrow just to be sure.

Here are the girls at Plaza del Armas:

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Katie, Cathy and I had lunch at an organic restaurant later that afternoon, where a waiter named Elvis tried to convince me to go dancing with him tonight. Katie noted that I wasn’t wearing a wedding ring and might want to fix that to deflect the kind of attention I was getting on the street so we spent a while looking for a simple silver band I could wear. I told a woman in one shop, “Necesito un anillo de casado porque los hombres in Cuzco me molestan” and I’m not sure if I said that right but she laughed so hard I must have gotten the general point across.

By the time we got back to the hotel Linda had arrived from Portland and Angela from Thailand by way of LA, and also author Allison Gilbert, my partner in crime. After drinking coca tea by the fire and cheering up Laurie, who’d just returned from the hospital where she went for X-rays on an ankle that thankfully turned out to only be slightly sprained, we all walked a few blocks to Cross Keys English pub, a favorite hangout for expats and explorers. Conversation ranged from the orphanage where we’ll start volunteering on Friday to the size of elephant penises which, according to Angela who lives in Thailand, and Allison, who watches the Discovery Channel, are freaking enormous. If you were wondering how long it takes for the word “penis” to come up in conversation when 11 women all get together, the answer is about two hours. I can only imagine what’s going to come up when our group reaches its max of 20.