The night before we left for the Inca Trail we met up with Willy, our Inca Trail guide, for a pre departure briefing at the hotel our tour operator Chimu Adventures had arranged for us. Willy actually worked directly for X-Treme Tourbulencia though Chimu had subcontracted our booking to his company. He explained what we could expect from the trek, made sure we had the right gear packed, and also let us know we would be lucky enough to be the only ones in our group on this tour, so we were feeling pretty fortunate given there can be up to 16 people in a group!
At 4:15am the next day we woke up early and excited, showered, grabbed our fully loaded daypacks and were ready to get going in the near freezing temperature in Cusco that morning. When the minibus turned up at 5:15am to pick us up we met the support team we’d be trekking with and were feeling very privileged to have our own personal guide, chef and porter for the next 4 days. Heading north out of Cusco we climbed up out of the valley and left the twinkling early morning lights of the town behind us and further down the road toward the start of the trail the sun came up treating us to an amazing view of distant snow-capped mountains.
Along the way to “Km. 82”, the start point of the Inca Trail trek, we stopped in at the small town of Ollantaytambo for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and tea, and to pick up a few last minute supplies, such as coca leaves dipped in chocolate, and coca lollies. Feeling full we were as ready for this as we’d ever be, so we jumped back in the minivan and drove on toward the start of the trek. Just outside Ollantaytambo the van left the road proper and proceeded down a dirt track for a while alongside a parallel river and railway track. We were surprised to find this back road was the direct route to the Inca Trail start point, seeing as so many gringos start the trek from this point each day. Sometime during the past few years the Peruvian government had changed the rules governing people undertaking the trek for the sake of conservation of the trail, such that all trekkers must be accompanied by a guide while only 500 people are allowed to start the trail per day, inclusive of all porters and cooks.
At the beginning of the trail is a car park where locals gather with all sorts of camping supplies in the hope of making a last-minute sale to someone who may have forgotten something. We laughed at this, remembering our friend Tom’s recollection of the start of his Inca Trail trek a few years prior. Basically the local ladies here will pester you continually, telling you that their wares are “necesito”. Tom had told us that he and his friend had actually been accosted by the ‘necesito ladies’ for the sake of buying a walking pole to the point where his mate got fed up and replied “If you don’t leave me alone, it’ll be necesito that I stick that pole up your arse in a minute!”
A short walk from the car park we came to the Inca Trail entrance checkpoint, where we added some stamps to our passports and stopped for the obligatory photo under the Inca Trail sign, then crossed the bridge over the river, ready to go. Willy had brought us a lightweight extendable aluminium walking pole each to use, and as soon as we hit the first incline we realised how useful the poles were going to be. The trail ambled along lightly next to the river for a while, and we passed locals who actually lived at various points along the trail, mostly tending shops to sell supplies and snacks to the passing gringos. At one point we were taking a breather and noticed the “lazy gringo” train passing by below us alongside the river. For those tourists not up for the 4 day trek, the train serves as a link between Cusco and Aguas Calientes, the town situated below Machu Picchu, from which said lazy gringos can catch a tourist bus up the hill with minimal exertion.
Scoffing at their laziness we followed the path further along the river, heading upward all the time, stopping every now and then when our heart and breathing rates became too high. At the start of the trail, the altitude is 2200m so the air is still quite thin and your lungs have to work quite hard to get much needed oxygen into your bloodstream while you are on the move, and also when you rest and wait for your heart rate to return to normal.
Soon enough we came across our first Inca site and we stopped for 20 minutes on the side of a nearby viewpoint while Willy explained that the purpose of this ancient town named Llactapata was primarily farming. The site is set into the side of the base of a mountain, alongside a river, and apparently served to provide food to other Inca towns along the trail, even though we were still 4 days walk away from Machu Picchu! Willy also told us that the fastest time ever taken to complete the Inca Trail was an astonishing 3 hours and 45 minutes as part of a race a few years prior. From then on whenever we found ourselves out of breath and overcome by the trail we reminded ourselves of this superhuman effort. That combined with simply turning around and taking in the absolutely magnificent view wherever we were was enough to completely motivate us to get going once more.
We had equipped ourselves with just our daypacks, having left the bulk of our luggage back at the hostel we would be returning to in Cusco in a few days. Despite trying to pack only the essentials, when combined with the effort the trail requires the packs were very much a burden at around 6kg each and Nat was definitely feeling the extra weight. Our packs paled in comparison to the weight being hauled uphill by the various porters though – some of them were carting huge bags weighing up to 20kg on their backs, and still maintaining a pace that was enough to leave all the tourists behind – incredible to behold. The porters would also stuff their cheeks with coca leaves, which leave your mouth feeling numb but also aid your circulatory system in coping with the strain and altitude.
The trail continued ever uphill and we re-joined the river for a short while until we came upon our lunch-spot, which was to be at a local family’s house. Our chef and porter had arrived a while earlier and we were greeted with hot soup and a meal of chicken and rice which went down very well as our hunger had really kicked in by this point. We then enjoyed a much-needed siesta in the sun on the grass. The man who owned the house appeared and slurred some drunken words, obviously a little taken by Nat. Willy explained that he jokingly was offering to pay for Nat and wanted to know how much I would take for her. He meant nothing by it and after joking around we were again on our way, stopping at the next little village to stock up on bottled water at one of the few shops found along the trail.
From here the hill noticeably steepened and we pressed on toward the first campground at 3300m altitude. Willy had been calling this our “training day”, as it was apparently relatively easy going compared to the remaining days despite us having trekked for around 8 hours already. Our chef and porter had again beaten us to it and as we arrived they were setting up our tent. We changed into warmer clothes to cope with the rapidly falling temperature, then enjoyed “happy hour” – Willy’s name for a pre-dinner snack of popcorn, tea and hot chocolate. Dinner was similar to lunch with more soup and a spaghetti Bolognese pasta to follow. This campsite also had toilets, but they were basically just holes in the ground so we instead opted for the “nature” facilities.
After dinner the temperature had dropped considerably and we retired to the tent thanking ourselves for thinking to buy not only decent sleeping bags, but also silk liners to go inside them to add another 5°C to the warmth factor. We got in, zipped up and slept relatively well.
At 5am the chef woke us with a mug of steaming hot matte de coca (coca leaf tea) after which we got up, packed, ate breakfast and hit the trail, leaving our tent for the porter to pack up for us. So after an early start and a quick breakfast of pancakes with dulce de leche (caramel) we were on our way for the longest and hardest day. Willy had warned us that we would have a longer day than most other groups, as we would be trekking a little further to the next campsite allowing for an easier day on day 3, meaning we’d be more rested come day 4 and Machu Picchu.
The path from the first campsite immediately took us uphill, setting the tone for the majority of the day to come. We walked onward and upward, regularly stopping to catch our breath and take in the amazing scenery all around us. The main objective for the day was to reach Dead Woman’s Pass at an altitude of 4200m, 4 hours away. The path is mostly made up of a mix of stairs and uncut rock so the whole time we trekked we really had to watch where we put our feet lest we sprain an ankle or worse. We persevered and walked up and up and up, and with only 50m to go to the top it felt like we just couldn’t make it any further. We were overly tired, the air was thin, and our bodies were really feeling the strain. Willy had already reached the top and was encouraging us from above.
With a couple more rest breaks we shuffled upward and finally made it. At the top we took our time relaxing, having a snack and drink break while shooting some well deserved victory photos to help us remember the moment and remind us of our huge sense of accomplishment. Walking uphill just 50m might not sound like much, but it’s hard to put into words both the difficulty and emotions we faced at this stage due to all the effort we’d already put in plus the conditions at the time – all we’ll say is it is probably the hardest but most rewarding thing we’ve ever done and we loved sharing that wonderful feeling of completing something so difficult together.
At the pass, the air blowing up the other side of the mountain was quite cool so we rugged up and headed down to a lower altitude eagerly. Having just been at such a height, Nat was now feeling nauseous while I was strangely doing just fine. We continued downward for an hour and a half, our legs taking the strain of the constant jarring of hundreds of steps, but it was still preferable to the lack of breath we endured climbing uphill. The walking poles assisted immensely both in helping to stabilise us as we took each step, but also as a safety measure in case we lost our footing. The trick was to lengthen the pole and hold it out in front of you, ready to break your fall just in case you tripped forward.
Down at an altitude of 3600m we reached another campsite where most of the other groups would be staying the night, but for us it was only lunchtime. Nat was still off-colour and couldn’t stomach much food unfortunately, so rested before the second leg of the day, which unbeknownst to us at the time was another mountain! Willy gave us both some special alcohol to sniff which was supposed to alleviate the nausea, and while it seemed to help Nat she was still feeling worse for wear. Willy obviously knew what was ahead, as he took the opportunity for a quick siesta and recharge. Willy had told us he does the Inca Trail and other treks in the area 45 weeks of the year!
After lunch the path took us uphill once again, except this time we seemed to be the only ones on the trail. Halfway up we stopped briefly at an Incan “messenger hut” which Willy explained was a sort of post office for runners of messages between the various Inca sites along the trail. Artefacts had been found here which showed the Incas would keep a sort of stocktake of goods heading by here also, by tying knots in different coloured pieces of twine. As we left we saw a deer feeding in the grass a little way off in the distance.
Heading onward and ever upward, it was tough going considering we had already climbed a huge mountain that day, but we persevered and soon reached the summit feeling overly spent. At the top of this mountain there were small piles of stones placed all around us, placed there by people as an offering to Pachamama, the Mayan spirit of the Earth.
Nat was still struggling with nausea and without lunch on board was feeling a little faint, but she was such a trooper she did it all without complaining. Heading down once again the jarring action of catching our weight with our quads after each step sapped our remaining energy and our feet started to feel like weights on the end of our legs. In the distance all the surrounding mountains were hidden by clouds, and as we stopped for regular breaks, the whole way down it seemed like we were heading toward the edge of the world and would somehow walk out into the heavens – it was just us and nature up here, exhaustingly harsh and amazingly beautiful all at once. We continued on and passed a lake from which the Incas had showed more of their engineering prowess by cutting a channel in the stone to divert water along to a nearby site on a hill, which was ever so slightly downhill from here. At this point we were simply feeling too tired to climb the steep steps to check out the site so we slowly continued along the path slightly uphill with leaden feet to the campsite where our porter and chef were waiting for us once again.
Soon after we arrived the strange shift in turns for nausea took place again, and I became ill while Nat began to feel better. Unfortunately for me the effects seemed to take hold a little more the before, and I was sick to the point where I couldn’t stomach dinner so went to sleep without food that night.
After a restless sleep the chef woke us at 6:30am with a hot cup of matte de coca once again, and from our tent we could see out into the valley and beyond into the heavens. Packing our bags, I still felt sick, which didn’t bode well for the day ahead – having to trek without anything in my stomach. On top of this we had run out of fresh water and although the chef had boiled us some to replenish our water bottles the taste wasn’t very nice at all.
We hit the trail again and headed uphill through the jungle, at one stage passing through a rock tunnel cut by the Incas to the final pass, noticing how the undergrowth had changed along the route to the more lush, tropical and mossy foliage that surrounded us now. The clouds obviously played a part in keeping this part of the trail moist and cool. At this pass was yet another Inca site at which the majority of porters had already arrived and were setting up lunch for their respective gringos, who were making their way along the trail hours behind. Willy explained that this site was known as “town above the clouds” and we took a moment to have a snack and marvel at the architecture, noting how the Incas had once again diverted the flow of a nearby spring for the benefit of their houses and agriculture. The porters who were setting up lunch nearby had to trek slightly downhill with their various water vessels to this spring, then haul it back uphill to the lunch site – more amazing work.
From here we headed downhill slowly but surely for another 3 hours, in synch with another group of 3 American guys, 1 girl and her approximately 65 year old father who earned our instant respect for taking on the trail despite his age. Halfway down we stopped at a small Inca site for a rest break and were joined by the oldest porter on the trail. At 67 he was still very strong, and had obviously devoted his life to the Inca Trail. His feet seemed to be moulded to his simple rubber sandals, and although we didn’t fully understand his words his smiling eyes told a thousand stories. Between him and the older American gentleman, Nat and I were taken aback by how tired we were feeling despite being half their age, but here they were doing it just as tough as everyone else.
Downward we continued and eventually we arrived for lunch at the final campsite, where of course our porters met us having set up all our tents ahead of time. This campsite was the most built-up of all we had seen so far, with a mess-hall, toilets and running water along with a small shop, and from here you could see yet another Inca site in the distance, as well as the back of the mountain which cradles Machu Picchu. After the previous night sleeping on an empty stomach and drinking bad-tasting boiled water, I bought and relished a bottle of Coke which we explained to Willy was sometimes known as the “Black Doctor”. Willy explained Dotore Negro to the chef and guide, and they seemed to really enjoy the story. Unfortunately I was still feeling ill and couldn’t stomach much food once again, but we all enjoyed a siesta after lunch.
Willy then took us to a really impressive Inca site quite close to the campsite, which was cut into the side of the hill and had many terraces that were apparently used for farming. Willy also pointed out the many wild strawberries growing on the terraces, so we really enjoyed hunting for and eating these delicious treats!
Later in the evening we had our final Happy Hour and meal with the chef and porter, after which we said thank you and left them a tip and a little clip-on koala each that they could take home to their kids. The chef and porter didn’t speak much English, but with the help of our broken Spanish we managed to let them know we were very grateful for their help and cooking over the past few days.
On our final day on the Inca Trail the chef woke us at 4am and we got changed, got our boots on and headed off with the little lunch bags he had prepared. From this point the chef and porter were to pack up our tent and the rest of our campsite, then head down a special trail away from Machu Picchu to the town of Aguas Calientes below, where they could catch the train back home to Cusco. We asked Willy how many of the chefs and porters had actually seen Machu Picchu, and he surprisingly told us that not many had.
The reason we got up really early was to get into the queue at the final checkpoint before it opened at 5am. We have to admit that this whole exercise struck us as a strange bit of behaviour, as there seemed to be some competitiveness amongst all the gringos as to who would get to the Sun Gate first. We didn’t really understand what the rush was all about, seeing as the Sun Gate is part way along the final stretch of the trail and marks the point where you get to see Machu Picchu for the first time, not to mention that everyone on the trail has to pass through it. Short of being able to brag to anyone who cares to listen that you were the first person to the Sun Gate that day, there is plenty of room up there for everyone on the trail to stop and take it all in together, so waking up early to queue before being allowed to trek didn’t really make any difference to our experience other than having as much time as possible to spend at Machu Picchu.
All the same, there we were stood in a queue at the final checkpoint waiting for the last leg of the trail to open for the day. Willy told us they used to open this part of the trail at 4:30am, but it was later changed to 5am after some competitive gringos raced ahead in the dark and lost their footing and their lives off the side of the trail. It was still very steep along this part of the trek, and we were shocked at the stupid behaviour some people could display. Speaking of which, we also took exception to the loud-mouthed American girl behind us in the queue that morning, who instead of feeling excited for being fortunate enough to see one of the seven man-made wonders of the world in just a very short while, was instead telling her friends of all the grief she was going to give her newly-divorced ex-husband when she returned to the States. So as to maintain some semblance of the Zen we expected for this part of the trek, Nat and I both donned our iPods and gladly tuned her out.
At the Sun Gate there are 50 almost vertical steps you need to climb before you can see glorious Machu Picchu in the distance. The day we made it there it was a little overcast, but this didn’t detract from how amazing it was especially given the effort it had taken for us to be here. Our first impression was of a city in the clouds, cradled and seemingly protected all around by tall peaks, which really drew your eye to this majestic focal point. We continued beyond the Sun Gate down the path toward the site feeling tired but triumphant, and eager to get closer to the site to see it up close and passed a few day-trippers (lazy gringos) who had pushed themselves to get up early and get to the Sun Gate from the other side.
Alongside the pathway down we noticed some modern water pipes, which Willy explained actually took advantage of the original Incan water channels that had been cut in the same place, though the pipes now fed the modern ticket office and park entrance buildings below. Off to the right hand side, far below us in the valley we could see the river flowing around the bend, and the town of Aguas Calientes way off in the distance; the distance mainly being due to the height we were at!
Willy walked with us to the end of this part of the trail, and we stopped for the obligatory photos of us in front of this Wonder of the World, before heading down to the ticket office building to store our bags in a locker and take a moment to eat some of the food the chefs had prepared for us in our lunch bags. At this point I was feeling well enough to eat, so gladly devoured a ham and cheese roll and a chocolate bar. The Machu Picchu site itself is quite steep, with many terraces cut into the hills, so it was quite the task to head back up to the site where Willy was to finish off his guided tour with us.
We first sat on one of the terraces, with a fantastic view of the site and the mountains behind it, while Willy explained various things about the site and answered some of our questions. The gist of his explanation was that archaeologists think that this was considered the most sacred of all Inca sites, and served as a sort of Mecca or final destination along the holy trail that all the various Inca trails led to.
Willy took us to the Temple of Mother Earth which was apparently built for worshipping Pacha Mama, where 2 windows had been set and pointed to the distant mountains on the horizon at the exact points where the sun would rise for either equinox and solstice. Unlike most of the other buildings, the rock for this temple had been carved perfectly and was smooth to the touch, and the different stones were so finely matched when placed on top of each other that there was no need for mortar.
Willy continued to explain that the site was “discovered” around 100 years ago by American Historian Hiran Bingham, who had in fact lucked upon it when a local farmer boy led him there, as farmers were still using the terraces for cultivating food at that time. Plenty of Incan artefacts were found, however none of them were Spanish, which leads us to believe that the Spanish never actually set eyes on Machu Picchu. A nearby building had a “Chakana” cross for a window made up of 3 steps on each of its 4 sides, which Willy told us represented the 3 tiers or worlds (upper, middle and lower) that the Incas believed in. We also came across a sort of quarry where it was plainly obvious the Incas were still in the process of cutting stone and constructing more of their city in the clouds when they were forced to abandon it.
At this point Willy finished his tour and left us to explore the ruins for an hour or so, while he ventured down into Aguas Calientes to wait for us before catching his train back to Cusco. We explored the various buildings, marvelling at both their construction and their huge mountainous surroundings. Unfortunately I was again feeling queasy and had to take it very easy, stopping now and then to overcome the nausea as it took hold. Even at 2430m I was feeling the effects.
Doing our best to avoid the ever increasing number tour groups, we explored further and came across the Condor Temple – a huge rock formation shaped like a huge V representing a bird’s spread wings, with a small stone at its base carved with markings so as to make out its head. Moving up and down the terraces was proving tiring, and many of the passageways led to dead ends in a sort of maze, but being there made me think about all the various goings on this place had experienced over the ages. What was day-to-day life like? What went on when it was time for rituals or ceremonies? How many facts about the Incas do we know for sure and how many are we mistaken about? I suppose new theories might come to replace existing ones, but in the end we can never truly be sure.
Feeling very much like we’d trekked for 4 days over 3 mountains at very high altitude in the varying heat and cold whilst battling nausea, we finally decided to head down the mountain by way of the shuttle bus in which it was interesting to feel the sensation of 4 independent wheels negotiating the dusty downhill path, instead of having to use your legs! At the bottom, Aguas Calientes seemed quaint with a railway passing through the town’s streets, and hotels and markets all around. We found Willy upstairs at one particular restaurant and joined him for a late lunch, and despite my nausea waning thanks to the lower altitude I still didn’t have the appetite for food. We chatted with Willy for a while and gave him his tip, then waved goodbye as he left to catch his train.
Aguas Calientes is so named for the hot springs nearby, and we were keen to check them out. Unfortunately they are somewhat cruelly located upriver, meaning an uphill walk is required to get there. After 4 days trekking our legs were extremely tired and sore so even this short journey up the few steps to the hot springs proved painful. There are a series of baths in which tired and sore trekkers (and lazy gringos) can enjoy bathing in warm to hot water – somewhat of a luxury after 4 days on the Inca Trail. We got changed and gingerly stepped in, then let the warmth of the water soothe our aching muscles while we reflected on our journey and did a little people watching at the expense of all the other people bathing there that day. After that we headed upstairs to the bar where Nat enjoyed a Pisco Sour and we relaxed before it was time to head back into town to catch our train.
The train back was to stop at Ollantaytambo , where our tour operator would meet us and provide car transport to Cusco. The train ambled through the valley in the dark, and its passengers all seemed to be sharing the same tired expression on their faces, slumped in their seats and sound in the somewhat modern luxury of a train carriage. At Ollantaytambo we found the young lady with our names on a piece of paper easily through the crowd and got into a “taxi” which drove the few hours in the dark back to Cusco where we were dropped at the front door of our hostel, and went upstairs to enjoy sleeping in a real bed for the night.
Having planned for recovery time in Cusco, the next few days were somewhat lazy as we took it easy and let our bodies recuperate while enjoying catching up on the news of the world, email and Facebook. With a bit of luck we managed to find a local Japanese restaurant in Cusco and enjoyed the meal so much we visited again the next day, feeling lucky to have found such cuisine in this part of the world. We also partook in a $5 massage, courtesy of one of the many local girls lining the tourist filled streets touting “masaje” to the passers-by. Nat’s massage was lovely, however mine was more a sort of loose interpretation of a trained massage routine, with plenty of added pinch and grab.
On our final day in Peru we caught a taxi and headed for the markets in Pisac, a nearby town, where we lunched at the laid-back Mullu Café (which is worth the visit if you’re visiting the place) and bought a few gifts. There were also young Peruvian children dressed in traditional clothing, asking for 1 Sole for a photograph from the Gringos.
That night we packed our bags for Bolivia, and headed to Cusco’s airport where we suffered the incompetence of Aerosur who excelled in making us wait for no particular reason before boarding our plane and taking off, leaving Peru behind.
We’ll always look back at our time in Peru as very special, as we enjoyed and accomplished so much in a country and society very much removed from what we’re used to at home.
Of all the flights we’d taken until now this one provided the most interesting view out the window, as halfway between Lima and Cusco the mountains seemed to rise up beneath us, some of them capped with snow. We took off and climbed in altitude as per normal, but the land beneath us kept up and in the end we only descended a few hundred feet before landing in Cusco. Cusco looked beautiful out the window and we were excited about arriving here.
Once the plane had taxied in, the doors were opened and we immediately felt a sort of rush, in that our hearts were beating faster and harder, and breathing was slightly more of a chore. This was all due to Cusco’s altitude of 3300m above sea level, where the air is naturally thinner as there is less of the Earth’s gravitational pull at this height.
We made our way through Cusco’s tiny airport and grabbed a cab to our hostel, somewhat conscious of the inflated price yet still ok with it, as it was still cheap as chips at 35 Soles (about AUD $12) for that distance. These kinds of prices rang true throughout the rest of Peru, with everything seemingly priced the same as costs in Australia in the 80’s.
The taxi dropped us at Hostal Quipu and we were immediately greeted with a couple of steaming cups of matte de coca – coca leaf tea. Having read about the ills of altitude sickness, we were well aware that coca in general can serve to alleviate the symptoms. We had also read that we should drink LOTS of water (3 litres a day), so we downed the jug of tea and grabbed a couple of grande botella de agua (sin gas) and rested up in our room.
That evening we ventured out into the cold for some Italian-styled food. It seems this cuisine is quite popular all over Peru and we found the food to be quite palatable if not a little simple. Cusco enjoys a lovely 21°C or so during the day, however at night with no cloud cover to keep in the heat, temperatures plummeted to around 0°C. Back at the hostel our room was frosty and the extra thick blankets on the bed were very welcome.
The next morning Simo was hit hard with altitude sickness, feeling extremely nauseous and lacking in appetite. He stayed in bed to try to acclimatise though was unfortunately sick a couple of times. I ventured out to find him some altitude sickness medication, and on a recommendation from the hostel owner found “Sorojchi” pills at the local pharmacy. They seemed to do the trick, and Simo immediately slept most of the day and night in recuperation. Simo was unfortunately sick once more the following night, but after these two bouts of altitude sickness he seemed to be able to manage ok again, which was a relief as we had both been dreading having to cancel our Inca Trail trek at the last minute!
The next day was a Sunday, and Plaza de Armas (the main town square) was abuzz with some sort of exhibition/ dance off/ parade. From our vantage point at the nearby Irish Pub (we were craving somewhat comforting Western food), we could see many groups of Peruvians in traditional dress all lining up along a street leading into the square, waiting their turn to perform their own variation of a dance to Peruvian music, which is heavily influenced by pan pipes. Simo ran down amongst the action and snapped lots of colourful photos, and the parade went on for hours.
Cusco is lovely and colourful and the sense of pride in its people is very noticeable. There were a large number of young, very cute kids walking around with their parents, embracing their culture and heritage, some even taking part in the dancing festivities.
In the afternoon we hit the various markets, and bought some last minute supplies for our impending 4 day/ 3 night trek along the Inca Trail, and that night at our hotel (we had moved hotel for the one evening, as part of our Inca Trail booking) we met our guide Willy who explained the ups and downs of the trek as well as letting us know this was the first time he had been a guide to just 2 people, as it turned out we were going to be fortunate enough to have our own personal guide, chef and porter for the trek!
Having experienced the effects of altitude sickness, we’d recommend you take it seriously if you’re planning on visiting Cusco or any other high altitude location. From what we read the recommendations were to prepare by either ascending slowly (catch a bus up to your destination from sea level, rather than fly) to give your body time to adjust, or start taking medication a few days beforehand. We also read that even the fittest people can still feel the effects, and were left with the impression that it strikes somewhat indiscriminately. Whichever way you arrive, drink lots of water and give yourself at least 4 days lead-time to acclimatise before you set off on the Inca Trail trek or similar!
Simo and I arrived in Lima, Peru for the second part of our South American adventure. It was late at night when we landed and we expected the airport to be quiet and deserted, though once we got through customs it seemed as though the circus was in town – there were hundreds of people waiting, and there was cheering as the travellers arrived. There were even people on stilts – we’re not sure why but they certainly added to the carnival atmosphere.
Through the crowd we spotted a sign with Simo’s name, held aloft by our trusty driver Eddy. Eddy spoke no English, but that didn’t matter to him, and to be fair we got the gist of what he was saying, especially when we drove through a dodgy neighbourhood on the way to the hostel in Miraflores. The car in front had stalled, and some apparently dodgy looking youths loitering nearby were enough to make Eddy feel on edge and ensure our doors were locked. Later along the journey he told us in a mix of Spanish charades that it wasn’t the nicest part of Lima, and car-jackings had occurred in the past there.
Eddy soon delivered us to Miraflores Wasi – our hostel accommodation for the next two nights, and were let in after hours by Ryan, an American student who had found his way to South America and was currently working in Lima, part-time at the hostel and also teaching English somewhere locally. As it was late we jumped into bed and fell asleep for the night.
To be honest we didn’t expect much from Lima, which was just as well because firstly I had picked up a tummy bug in Colombia and didn’t feel like doing much, and secondly, Lima really didn’t seem to have too much to offer. We did venture out for lunch and dinner, where we tried our first Pisco Sour (a lemony alcoholic beverage considered to be a traditional Peruvian specialty) and when we walked into the main area of Miraflores we were honestly surprised by how modern the city was, with huge department stores and somewhat modern buildings. Miraflores is obviously a popular tourist area as there are lots of restaurants vying for your Peruvian Soles complete with the usual touts on the streets waving menus in your face and throwing broken English phrases your way just to get your attention. We even found a frozen yoghurt shop named PinkBerry, equivalent to WowCow in Darlinghurst, so we treated ourselves to some frosty delights. In the end this wasn’t my best idea, as the dairy did not go well with my tummy bug.
In the end we didn’t get up to much in Lima, preferring instead to relax at the hostel and spend time updating the blog while my tummy got better, before heading off for our next big adventure via Cusco, to Machu Picchu.