Altitude and last minute strops

September 12, 2013 - Cuzco, Peru

Altitude: waking up out of breath and struggling up stairs.

Arriving in Cuzco airport, I kissed ma and pa "ciao for now" and waited for Lou's flight to turn up. Lou and I were back to being in a hostel (but in a private room at least) and mum and dad were continuing to flash pack in one of the nicest hotels in town.
When Lou walked through the gate she gave me a huge hug and burst into tears. Which in turn made me cry. We were inconsolable and attracting some strange looks. Oh, but we were reunited!!!
We settled into our hostel which turned out to be up in the gods, a mere 149 steps from street level. So we were sleeping at altitude, at altitude.
Cuzco is 3,400 metres above sea level, and as we'd all flown straight in from sea level, we were quite possible candidates for altitude sickness. As soon as we landed we were paranoid "Oh isn't this air thin? Oh there's just not enough oxygen in this town". Jokes aside, we were getting out of breath after a few steps, those 149 steps to the hostel felt harder than running a marathon, and walking too fast brought on a mild headache. We took local advice and had a simple bowl of soup and a cup of coca tea the first night and were early to bed. But waking up in the middle of the night I felt out of breath and lay listening to Lou's laboured breathing too. It was a very strange feeling!
Coca tea is made by throwing the leaves from the cocaine plant into hot water. You can get coca candy, or, if you're hard core, chew the coca leaves straight. Although it takes something like a kilo of leaves to make a gram of cocaine, we were still strongly advised not to consume any at least 24 hours before flying home and driving. I thought the tea was grim, although Louise quite liked it, but I drank it almost every day as it really helps with the the altitude. The locals chew the leaves like there's no tomorrow and are probable quite spaced most of the time.
On our second day in Cuzco, we were woken up at 7am by fireworks and a brass band. Fireworks continued to go off every hour on the hour, as well as sporadically in between. We wandered down to the square and stood watching a parade of epic proportions. The military, armed police, nurses, school children, men dressed in traditional (and terrifying) folk costumes and every public bus and taxi in Cuzco had their moment in the spotlight. It was bizarre.  Lou said she had read somewhere about a public holiday, but when I asked our Inca trail guide he seemed to think this huge parade happened every Sunday. I felt the language barrier was getting in our way during this conversation though. Another theory from an American guy I spoke to was that it was Peru's anniversary of independence. Having just googled it now, I have still not been able to shed any light on it, although I have confirmed that independence day happened the month before. It will remain one of Peru's great mysteries to me, but I'm glad we caught it.
After exploring Cuzco, we began to realise how brilliant a place it is. I was very pleasantly surprised, as I'd always considered it to be just a gateway to Machupicchu. But it's so pretty! And so South American! It's like nowhere I've ever been before, and there are so many natives dressed in the national dress it makes it a really atmospheric place. The national dishes are interesting too. The restaurant we chose for lunch on the second day were roasting up whole guinea pigs in pizza ovens whilst an old Peruvian man played folk songs on his harp and we drank coca tea.
Days 3 and 4 in Cuzco were completely made up of  running errands and preparing for the inca trail. Lou and I had lots to buy, a briefing to attend and big rucksack decisions to make. We were growing weary of the process by the end of the second day, especially after having yet another rucksack crisis and repacking for the third time into a different bag. I reluctantly agreed to hand over my wonderful, expensive main rucksack to a random Peruvian porter. My rucksack has basically been home for the past five months - It's been just me and my rucksack on the road, and I have grown quite fond of it. When it will play fair and zip up without too much of a fight that is. I was very worried it would be set down in alpaca poo and rained on and torn on barbed wire and trodden on by horses and dropped in rivers. Oh my precious. I had a strop at 10:30pm the night before the trail and snippily remarked I'd be glad when the inca trail was bloody well done with and I could stop spending all my money, time and energy on organising the damned thing. Harrumph.
The next post (it might even spill over to two) will be about the Inca Trail. It was awesome so get excited.




1 Comment

Ian G:
September 12, 2013
Looking forward to the 'Who's got the best Machu Picchu photos' competition. I've already placed myself in 1st place so you and Deege can argue over 2nd and 3rd. Lou reckons she's in the hunt too but as she didn't even take a camera I don't know how that works! Seriously, who doesn't take a camera to South America? Louby Lou, that's who.
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