We had a 4 a.m. wake up call to get to Cusco. We met in the lobby at 4:30 then headed to the airport where we faced another round of extensive security checks including leaving our shoes on and carrying outside liquids onto the flight. This was also the first time I figured out how to use my calling card so I was able to leave The Colonel a little message before we hopped the flight. I'd been keeping up with my family via Facebook messages when I had wifi but this was the first opportunity I had to call...he didn't answer. The flight to Cusco wasn't too bad and the coolest part was that the mountains were literally higher than the clouds!
I always knew I was fond of mountains but it wasn't until I was literally in the Andes that I realized my true love for them. My dream is to now live somewhere with a mountain view. The Andes are a truly breathtaking range. I'm obsessed. Once we landed and stepped outside it was like a totally different world from Lima. For the first time since we'd gotten to Peru we saw the sun and some major mountains and it was cold. Very cold.
Before we even made it to the bus people were running up to us trying to sell us things. Hats, gloves, magnets, pens and most importantly, coca leaves. Yes, coca leaves are the leaves used to create cocaine. Notice I said create cocaine. These leaves have to be highly processed and mixed with however many other ingredients before they create a drug. The natives chew the leaves and drink coca tea (and coca sours which are alcoholic) to help with altitude sickness and a multitude of other ailments. A lot of people brought altitude sickness pills they got a prescription for in the states but being the "naturalist" I am I refused the western way and decided when in Rome...or Cusco...you know how it goes. Our new guides hopped on the bus with us while our first guide Roxana took a much needed break and spent some time at home. The first place we stopped was at a street corner where a few people were exchanging dollars for soles. Yep, right out on the street hundreds of dollars and hundreds more soles were changing hands and nobody seemed to notice or care. We felt safer already. It wasn't until we were walking up to the exchange zone though that we really felt the altitude. Now, I like to consider myself in decent shape as did several other people in the group but aside from our guides we were all huffing and puffing like crazy once we got to the top of the hill. I was seriously panting to the point of wanting to sit down or at least put my hands on my knees. You'll be happy to know my ego did not allow me to do either of those things and I pretended to be feeling great. We made a lot of stops just seeing the sights of the city and I was snapping pictures like crazy. Nothing I can say and really no picture I have can truly capture the beauty of the city. We stopped in the Sacred Valley, Chinchero and Urubamba before making it to Ollantaytambo where we were spending the night.
Did I mention the llama farm? Peruvians love their llamas and eat their alpacas...but love them too. We sat with women who explained the process of spinning and dying yarn and weaving blankets and clothing and that was a pretty cool demonstration my mom would have loved. I managed to snag her some pretty great balls of yarn of all different kinds throughout the trip since I was going to miss her birthday and luckily she was thrilled when I gave it to her. By the time we reached Ollantaytambo several hours after landing I was starting to really feel the altitude. My head was throbbing but I was determined not to miss a moment of the trip so I journeyed on. We did a little shopping and a little hiking and then finally stopped at the hotel. We had a little time to rest so I took a little walk around the grounds to of course enjoy the mountains.
I was still feeling bad by dinnertime and in fact I was feeling a whole lot worse. We walked down the street to a cute little restaurant (all of the restaurants in Peru, except for maybe in Lima, are adorable little hole in the wall places) where they seated us upstairs in the private room. I sat against the wall and though I was fighting it found the wall was literally holding me up. My head was absolutely pounding and the idea of waiting and even eating was just too much for me. I ordered a coca tea since that was supposed to help and laid against the wall considering death for about 30 minutes. After a half hour my mug of hot water came with a tea bag on the side, Peruvian time is questionable. I drank my tea before anyone's food had come and left some money with the best roommate ever whom I was lucky enough to call my own before heading back to the hotel. Our guide Cristian was quite bothered by the idea of me walking the 1000 feet back to the hotel alone in the dark but I assured him I'd be fine although I was secretly hoping to be hit by a car to end my suffering. I was in the most amazing location I could think of and was still hoping for death. That should tell you how bad I was feeling. I got back to my room and took a shower, rearranged a few things in my bags then hit the hay. Believe it or not, by morning I was cured! I was a little tired but drank and drank and was feeling pretty good. The hotel was cold since there was only a small space heater but it had the most incredible blankets imaginable. Made for the perfect night's sleep! The next day was a train to Aguas Calientes from which we would take a bus up to the main reason people can find Peru on a map, Machu Picchu!