Returning to Cusco and Dealing with the Police
As my parents were visiting us, we traveled to Cusco, Peru, in order to spend a few days in the Sacred Valley. My mom’s dream since middle school was to visit the mighty Machu Picchu, as she had completed a report on the Ruins in seventh or eighth grade. We had booked our guide, our flights, and our hotels months before so that we could share this opportunity as a newly expanded family.
We headed back to Jorge Chavez International Airport for our domestic flights, and we were all beyond excited. Lima is a wonderful city, but there is something altogether magical about being in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. It’s almost as if you could see the rich history unfolding before your very eyes.
As we greeted the bright Andean sun with tired eyes and shallow breaths, we made our way through the city towards our hotel. We had arrived prior to check-in, so we rested in the lobby, struggling to acclimate to the extreme altitude while waiting for our rooms.Later in the day, we ventured to the main square, eating a small lunch and finishing off with some coffee. By that point I had a terrible headache, so we decided to take things slowly, walking about towards different shops, seeing the sights and smelling the smells. Overall, despite the slight malaise, it was a wonderful start to our family trip to Cusco.
When we returned to the hotel, our travel agent told us that instead of going to Machu Picchu in the morning, we would be touring ruins in the Sacred Valley. I thought this was a bit strange, but I quickly disregarded it. I decided to get a peaceful night’s rest instead of worry.
Our tour guide met us the next morning, and we were on our way to the various ruins located in the province of Cusco. My husband and I were a little annoyed that our guide was glossing over her speaking points in English, focusing on the Spanish speakers in our group. Although we understood her perfectly, my parents had a rather difficult time.
So imagine our surprise when our guide announces that we must purchase our tickets to the archaeological sites—entrances for which we had already paid our travel agent. After a bit of arguing and general misunderstanding, we resolved the issue through a phone call to our agent. We would pay for the entrances then and he would drop the reimbursement off at the hotel that afternoon.
We had a great time looking at all of the lesser-known ruins. It was a beautiful day and we were preparing ourselves for the excitement from visiting Machu Picchu. Besides a few moments when the altitude affected us, we really enjoyed the day’s events.
However, that feeling of elation quickly turned sour once we returned to the hotel. Sure enough, our travel agent had not stopped by to deliver our reimbursement to the front desk. We made several phone calls and eventually figured out that there was a mix-up when he purchased the tickets for us. We wouldn’t be able to go to Machu Picchu unless we gave him more money to buy tickets last-minute.
By this time, it was evident that we had been scammed. The travel agency in Lima had sub-contracted with this agent in Cusco, and something had gone wrong along the way. We called both the agency and the agent, and we were told that the tickets were purchased for the wrong month. If we would only give them one thousand dollars on the spot, they would organize a new trip for us and reimburse us later.
By this time, the police showed up to the hotel lobby. We tried to file a report, but we could not, as we didn’t have any receipts. The agency had never issued us any receipts, despite our requests. After awhile, Abraham and I had stopped asking for them, since receipts are not as big of a deal in Peru.
Or so we thought. Looking back at it now, there were several red flags surrounding the whole trip, signs that we ignored because the agency had been recommended to us by Abraham’s family. From never receiving any receipts to the trip dates being switched, we should have seen it coming. It was the perfect scam. The police left, not being able to do anything for us.
The agency eventually pressured the agent to show up at the hotel lobby the next morning. When he came, we made a photocopy of his ID, and we had him handwrite a note declaring that he would return the money for the Machu Picchu trip by that Friday. He left, and while we felt at peace, there was still something that we needed to figure out—what we would do for the day.
We ended up hiring a taxi to take us through the Sacred Valley to a couple more archaeological sites that we had wanted to see. As we approached the outskirts of Cusco, the breathtaking beauty of the Andes manifested before our eyes. In the distance, we saw snow-capped peaks; up close, we saw fields of quinoa.
As we drove through the majesty of the mountains, we approached our first site, Moray. This site was used by the Incas for plant research—each terrace was its own microclimate, allowing the Incas to study the hardiness of potatoes, quinoa, and other foods.
While Moray was absolutely beautiful, there was something strange about the place—there were hardly any tourists. In fact, the site was nestled so far into the mountains that we had only passed a few cars on our way there.
Following Moray, we went to the Salt Mines. Here, a salty stream runs down the mountain, collecting into pools and crystallizing in order to be harvested. We walked out onto the salt itself, and we were able to truly admire the beauty of the place.
We made our way back to Cusco, absorbing the final hours of our trip. On our way, we witnessed the most fiery sunset. Not only was the entire land golden, the sky itself was illuminated with sharp, piercing colors. We gazed in awe at the view, knowing that somehow, this was the superior choice.
I am the only one from my family that has visited Machu Picchu, and I can confidently say that the mishap with the travel agency worked towards our favor. Although it was a nightmare getting our refund back, visiting Moray and the Salt Mines, two places unknown to many tourists of Peru, was simply spectacular. While I cannot say that our trip was flawless or perfect, with a little patience and much resolve, everything worked out much better than we could have ever imagined.