Altitude Sickness, Cuy... and Machu Picchu
01.15.2013 - 01.23.2013 75 °F
After flying 6.5 hours from Atlanta we arrived in Lima, Peru just after midnight. We cleared customs and stayed at the airport through the night. Our flight to Cusco was early the next morning and it didn’t make sense to leave the airport given our early flight the next day. It was wild staying in the food court at 3 a.m. There are flights that leave at all hours from the Lima airport – so if you didn’t know the time it could just have easily been 3 p.m. It didn’t matter that Ryan and I were pulling an all-nighter, we were so excited.
Once we got to Cusco we were able to recover at one of the most beautiful hotels that I’ve ever seen. A huge perk of this trip includes cashing in a bunch of Marriott Rewards points Ryan has earned over the years with his job. The JW Marriott in Cusco is beautiful. It used to be a monastery in the 1500s and was converted only recently into a gorgeous hotel. All of the interior design stays true to the Inca style, including a gorgeous floor to ceiling hanging crystals piece that pays homage to the Inca sun god.
After recovering from our all-nighter, Ryan and I walked all around town and visited the famous Plaza de Armas. In the Inca times it was the heart of the Inca capital. Now it is the nerve center of the modern city. We were seriously hustled in the plaza. Every other minute someone was trying to sell something to us: Inca inspired hats and scarves, paintings, carved boxes and so on. Even a 5 year old girl tried to sell me finger puppets. After saying “no gracias” she asked if I was from America. She replied: “Oh I like Obama, for you each puppet is only $1. You must buy.” She was incredibly persistent, bi-lingual, and the youngest hustler I have ever encountered. Once you travel a few blocks away from the square, the hustling stops. (I did pay this mom and daughter to take a picture with their baby goat though.)
A few blocks away from the square is the Mercado San Pedro. This place bustles with activity and each stall has a Peruvian selling different items. One of the best things to get at this market is the fruit juice (jugo). You can order almost any type of fruit and they create the freshest drink for you on the spot. All of the produce thus far in Peru has been the freshest and tastiest that I’ve ever had.
One other thing to mention: Ryan loves fancy food. Don’t get me wrong, I do too, but Ryan found out about this famous chef Gaston Acurio’s restaurant called “Chi Cha” and insisted we had to go! The restaurant offered modern takes on popular Andean recipes using local ingredients. I was not as adventurous as Ryan at this restaurant due to the fact I was recovering from altitude sickness but Ryan was like a kid in a candy store. We ordered trout, octopus and shrimp ceviche to share and Ryan ordered guinea pig for his entrée. What!! It totally weirds me out because I have house sat for my aunt’s guinea pig, Buttercup. Peruvians raise guinea pigs (cuy) commercially here in Peru. It was an amazing meal, and if you travel to Cusco I would definitely recommend trying out Chi Cha.
the Lares Trek: Our Path to Machu Picchu.
Ryan and I booked a 4-day hiking package with Llama Path out of Cusco. The “Lares Trek” starts in the Sacred Valley of the Incas and finishes with the grand finale of seeing Machu Picchu. The fact that it was rainy season made us the only two trekkers with five people supporting us. Our team included a chef, an assistant chef, two porters, and our guide. Oh yeah, there were 5 horses that carried quite a bit of the camping equipment. The Llama Path team was so happy, and they kept saying how they loved the outdoors and their job. Our guide (a descendant of the Incas) was very informative and taught us quite a bit about the Incan culture and the history of the Inca Empire, the Spanish colonialization of the empire and the Incan communities of today. As an added bonus, both Roger (our guide) and the rest of the team have a soft spot for 80’s music from the U.S.
The trip included hiking a total of 38 kilometers over a mountain and through several small Andean communities. It was a humbling experience and required us to climb over a mountain pass approximately 16,000 feet above sea level (or almost 3 Denvers!). Personally I thought I was in good shape after finishing a Rockette contract, but hiking at high altitudes makes you slow! The trek was easy for the local Peruvians, but we were struggling at certain points. Regardless, the views were breathtaking. Since it was rainy season, everything was extremely green and lush. My favorite part was seeing the local Quechua people (Peruvians still following Incan traditions and lifestyle) herd their llamas, alpacas and sheep. Ah - I already miss the views!
The day before our Machu Picchu trip, we wrapped up the Lares Trek in the small village of Lares (5,000 people) at their geothermal hot springs where we soaked for a few hours to help our legs recover from the prior few days. After that, we drove a few miles down the road to Ollantaytambo where we would take a train to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu's closest town) stopping only to try a glass of "chicha" (corn beer) at roadside spot near Urubamba town. Chicha is considered to be the "Red Bull" of the Quechua people.
Grand Finale: Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and walking through the Inca ruins is inspiring. We arrived at Machu Picchu around 6am on the 22nd. The weather held up nicely for us and while there were a number of clouds around, they generally got out of the way quickly to allow great views of the Urubamba River Valley and the surrounding mountains. We took a brief tour with our guide before exploring on our own for a few hours. Among our favorite things from our visit to the ruins was Huayna Picchu (which Ryan climbed to get a bird’s eye view of the ruins), the “three windows” room and learning about the Inca solar calendar.
The Incas were an amazing civilization and far ahead of their time. One detail that sticks out is the fact that the Incas didn’t build anything over fault lines anywhere in their empire. When you walk through Machu Picchu, there are certain areas that have no structures on them. This is amazing because somehow the Incas in the 15th century knew where the fault lines were located underground. To this day, no scientist has been able to determine how the Incas were able to detect and avoid building atop any fault lines. Additionally, the Incas secured all their structures below ground using stone “girders” and built them on a slight triangle to maintain the integrity of the buildings through time and avoid any risks associated with earthquakes. It took 150 years to build Machu Picchu, and it was well worth our journey to stand in awe on Machu Picchu.
We’re in Lima for the moment heading for Buenos Aires and Patagonia on the 25th where we’re planning to end up in a tango class, trek across a glacier, take a few hikes around a massive national park in Chile and walk with some penguins at the southernmost town in the world. More to come soon!