So I zipped back to Lima and then flew off (or perhaps more accurately UP) to Cuzco. (And at a much more reasonable hour than the Iquitos flight, I have to say.) It was a clear day and we had snow-covered Andes all around us. Now Cuzco is at 12,000 feet and we were all anxious about altitude sickness. I was taking prescription medication (Acetazolamide) on the recommendation of my doctor, but others were reluctant because of potential side effects. (I did experience some tingling in my fingers, but on the other hand, next to no problems with the altitude unlike others in my group.) So as soon as we got out of the airport we stocked up on coca candies (I sucked them dilgently, but couldn’t stand the taste — sugar and straw to my mind) and drank the tea provided at all the hotels. But most importantly we left Cuzco immediately and headed for the Sacred Valley, “only” 8,000 feet or so, to acclimate.
What a contrast to the Amazon! Cool, crisp, and dry. I loved it. Our guide, Juan, was fantastic. The experiences were just great. So many, it is hard to even list them all. Let’s see:
August 16th: Flew in from Lima and visited the ancient city of Pisac. Gave us a taste of walking in altitude. Unfortunately I was getting sicker and sicker stomach wise (no doubt a residual effect of the Amazon) and trying to soldier my way through it and so am a little blurry on details of the day. Fortunately, I was fine the next. Our hotel was lovely, lovely, lovely. Perhaps my favorite of the trip, an old hacienda where Simon Bolivar stayed.
August 17th: This was one overstuffed day. We first went to the lovely town of Ollantaytambo. We visited a home there (with lots of guinea pigs running about — more on them later) and peeked down lanes that were still as the Incas had designed them. Then we climbed up the glorious Ollantaytambo ruins. Spectacular! Then we went rafting in the Urubamba River. So, so, so cool. No pictures because I had never rafted before and purposely left my camera behind. And then we went to a market (I think at Pisac) where we also saw a funeral. And then we went to a bar and played a fun game and drank chicha (local beer brewed since the time of the Incas — really). And then we went to a dinner at a local family where we had guinea pig. (See, told you they’d come back.) I only took a teeny taste to be polite, but the others loved it and said it tasted like, what else, chicken. (There’s a glorious painting of the Last Supper in the Cuzco Cathedral where guinea pig is being served.) And then we collapsed into bed.
August 18th. We visited a local school where the tour organization had donated money to build several classrooms. Very moving experience. Then we took the train to Aguas Calientes where we stayed at a hotel literally on the train tracks. From there we took the bus to Machu Picchu and stayed till 6.
August 19th. Early morning back to Machu Picchu so we could hike a tiny bit of the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate. Gorgeous. (Back in NYC I’m amazed how fluid my running is. Nothing like hiking at 8 or 9 000 feet to make NYC seem easy.)
August 20 -23. Cuzco. What a beautiful city. Amazing ruins, wonderful colonial houses, fascinating. In particular, seeing the glorious Inca walls with their amazing way of putting together stones. One was twelve sided.
Here are a few photos, but go find professional ones if you want to really get a taste of things. Or better yet, go in person. Machu Picchu really is one of those places like Petra or the Grand Canyon that is best experienced first hand.
The requisite animal photo, this time me feeding llamas.
Little girl in market doing her math homework.
The ubiquitous coca leaves.
With my trusty locally-procured walking stick. (Felt like Gandalf striding up those Inca steps.)
The view out my hotel window. Two little girls flying kites while a little boy lay on his back in the grass playing an Andean flute.
Fourth grader Monica at the school we visited. She showed me every page in every notebook!
Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate. I now understand what a cloud forest is.
This is the point where those who have done the four-day Inca Trail trek first see Machu Picchu. So we took a few shots pretending to have done so too. Mine is pretty tame; others in my group are crawling up the stairs.
On the road to Cuzco. Beautiful or what?
Can you find the twelve-sided stone?
Our terrific guide Juan holding a typical Cuzco bread (with a heart on it).