Travel

Week three in San Luis Potosí, Ixtapaluca and Cusco (LATAM 2019) – Part 2

It’s time to go explore Peru!

Machu Picchu has been an item on my bucket list since it was first created in 2012. That being the case, you will understand that I’m ever so slightly excited about this part of my journey!

If it weren’t for that single bucket list item, this whole trip would not be happening. That makes it kind of a big deal for me.

Having said that though, due to my recent health issues, I’ve had to make some minor (ok major…) adjustments to this part of the adventure.

Originally, Ashley and I were going to take a stab at the 2-5 day hiking opportunities for Machu Picchu. You normally have to book those months in advance as they require permits. (This kind of trip is really not a last minute booking kind of trip.)

At this point, however, I’m pretty happy we didn’t book a hike though. Although our choice was based on the unknown weather conditions, in reality I would have had to completely forfeit on any hiking adventures in my current condition.

I saw yesterday that I could barely climb the Teotihuacan Sun Pyramid. (That ended in a nasty sunburn too…). Can you imagine how I’d fare hiking for days up a mountain 2,430m above sea level right now?

Nevertheless, I am an optimist (and ever so slightly stubborn), so I’m pretty sure Ashley and I will figure out a way to make this week a blast. Cusco city – here we come!

 

Day 18 – The (not so) glamorous arrival in Cusco

Waking up early this morning, Itzel’s parents have kindly offered to drive me to the airport. Itzel needs to get to work and my flight is pretty early, so she can’t take me.

We make plans to get to the airport and have some breakfast together before I leave. Unfortunately, the Mexico City traffic doesn’t allow for this. We arrive with only 10 minutes to spare before boarding!

I say my goodbye’s to Elena and Armando and am touched when I see Elena’s eyes tearing up as she says goodbye. She gives me a blessing and then sends me off.

Hurriedly, I make my way through security. It’s going to be a disjointed journey today. I have a flight to Lima, a short layover and then my connecting flight to Cusco.

Overall the trip feels uneventful. I’m hungry on the plane as I didn’t have breakfast. I decide to skip the fake cheese sandwich though as it makes me queasy just looking at it.

I’m not usually too picky with food, but my stomach’s playing up today. I decide to wait until I arrive in Lima. I’m sure they’ll have something good there.

Unfortunately, I have no time to stop in Lima. My connecting flight is almost ready for boarding as we land. I rush through the airport to ensure I don’t miss my flight. I guess I’ll get something in Cusco!

Landing in Cusco, I’m greeted by a wave of taxi drivers at the airport exit. After some searching, I find my hotel’s name on a board. Speaking with the woman holding it, it turns out I have a 20 minute wait for my transfer.

I get to the hotel around 8:30pm. By now I am definitely starving. Anyone know where to get some good food around here?

 

First impressions of Cusco

I have no idea what I was expecting to find in Cusco, but it isn’t what I’m seeing. The streets are dusty, there are stray dogs everywhere, most of the buildings around us are half constructed or falling apart and the level of day to day poverty is ever so slightly shocking.

The hotel Ashley and I are staying in is not in the centre of town. This being the case, we catch a glimpse of the real Cusco. Not the touristy Cusco with cute little shops, lots of restaurants and pleasant pipe music coming out of the buildings.

No. This is the Cusco where the kids go to school, the locals shop at street markets (of questionable hygiene) and westernised constructions and sanitation standards are not a common thing.

As I arrive at the hotel, I’m glad to see it’s a nicely maintained place. It has a beautiful little courtyard and the interior is decorated in a super cozy manner. It actually reminds me a little bit of an Austrian ski hotel.

The first thing they offer me when I arrive is some coca tea. I find out later, that this is to help prevent altitude sickness. That, apparently, frequently affects new arrivals.

I knock on the hotel room door, Ashley opens it and I rush in to give her the biggest hug I could possibly manage. She’s here! We’re here! Hooray – we made it!

 

Now back to the food…

(Did I already mention I’m starving?!?)

Apparently, there is no UberEats service in this part of town. (I’m telling you, that service is a godsend. It’s definitely saved me from starvation more than a few times on this trip and others…).

Asking for recommendations at the reception, it seems the only place near the hotel to eat at this hour is a fast food restaurant down the road. Though I can’t say I particularly want fast food for my queasy stomach right now, beggars can’t be choosers.

That being the case, Ashley and I head out to the restaurant and pick up some chicken and chips to take back to the hotel.

As we walk out of the restaurant building (and out of nowhere), my coca tea decides to unceremoniously gift itself to the Cusco Streets.

Problems with altitude sickness are common here, eh? Looks like I’ve just become its newest victim. Oh dear…

 

Day 19 – Rest day and exploring Cusco

Religious procession on the way to the restaurant!

My first night in Cusco has definitely not been fun. Since arriving back at the hotel last night and trying to eat some of my chicken and chips, I haven’t been able to keep anything down without feeling a wave of nausea.

I spent last nights in fits of heat flashes and chills as well, which let me know I am definitely not ok. Not at all.

I’ve been chugging down coca tea like a champ this morning and I’ve taken some altitude tablets too. They only seem to be providing temporary relief though, so I’ve ask Ashley for a reprieve from anything strenuous today.

We go down to breakfast first and I eat a little bit of bread and jam. We then decide to spend some time in the courtyard enjoying the sunshine. I’m coughing a lot and still having a little trouble breathing. The air is definitely different here.

Once early afternoon hits, I seem to be doing a little better. Since I don’t want to waste the day, I suggest to Ashley that we go make the most of it by walking to Cusco centre and finding a place for dinner there.

Walking into town, my heart starts racing. As we reach the edge of town after about 30 minutes, I suggest we find our food place pronto so I can sit down.

 

The Italian watering hole

We decide on an Italian place, as I figure that will likely have the plainest cuisine. The place we decide on is called La Osteria.

On the way there we run into what looks to be a religious procession. We don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s very very loud. I’m feeling a little irritated at this point.

The restaurant itself is really charming. It’s one of those cute, and slightly quirky, little places I love to eat in. You know the ones where you have rustic furniture and artefacts all around, traditional pictures on the walls and lovely dishes and wine to choose from. It feels super cozy and the waiter is very attentive. Perfect!

As I open the menu, my first instinct is to ask for plain pasta and just put some Parmesan on it. I then catch a glimpse of a pesto pasta dish and think… hmm, maybe that’ll work. I mean it’s just a bit of herbs on pasta, right?

Turns out I made the wrong choice. Within about 10 minutes, I’m running to the toilet and hurling.

Upon my chagrined return, Ashley looks distinctly unhappy with me. While I would usually do my best to fix that, I’m in no position to make her feel better right now. I just want to go home and sleep. I feel sick, exhausted and ready to cry.

After Ashley finishes her meal, we take a taxi back home and I head straight to bed. Ashley booked the trains to Machu Picchu for tomorrow morning. All I can think is why?

Why me? And why now? Why can’t I just be healthy when this is what I’ve been waiting for for so long? I send a prayer up to the heavens that I feel better in the morning and then drift off to sleep.

 

Day 20 – Machu Picchu Day!

It’s Machu Picchu day, yaaaay! And breakfast is staying firmly put this morning – double yaaay! I decide to try this new thing where I eat very little, but more frequently. It seems to be helping.

Ashley and I have booked the train to Machu Picchu for 8:40am. I am thanking the universe loudly for not sending me on the originally planned hike at this moment. I am also thanking Ashley for not making me get up at 3am to take the 5am train instead…

Around 8am, we take a taxi to the Inca Rail headquarters in Cusco. There we’re greeted with smiles, hot beverages, cakes and pipe music. We definitely weren’t expecting that, so it’s a very pleasant surprise!

After waiting in the Inca Rail waiting room for around 30 minutes, a small bus pulls up out front and we climb in. It’s an approximately two hour journey to Ollantaytambo station. That’s where we will then need to change to a train that will take us to Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu Town).

I sleep most of the way, but at the times I wake up I see a lot of arid landscape around us. Mountains, desert, a couple of llamas here and there. Pretty, but nothing too out of the ordinary.

We arrive at Ollantaytambo station and then wait around 20 minutes for the train to arrive. Ashley and I end up with a couple of seats at the back to ourselves. All the other passengers are sharing tables. We feel kind of special at this moment (hehehe).

There’s no internet to connect us throughout the journey, so I just try to sleep again. It’s a little more difficult on the train as it’s a pretty rocky ride.

The scenery gets more interesting as we start entering jungle territory. Big, impressive trees, lovely green fields, steep mountains rearing their tips to the left and right of us. It’s pretty impressive.

Finally, after a journey of around 4.5 hours, we arrive at Machu Picchu Town.

This is it. We’re finally here – my dream is about to come true!

Memories…

 

Arriving at Machu Picchu Town (Aguas Calientes)

A bit like with Cusco, I’m a little surprised by what I find at Aguas Calientes. The pictures you see of Peru always seem so calm and serene. Machu Picchu Town is definitely anything but that.

It’s packed with tourists just like us and absolutely everything looks makeshift somehow. It’s quite obvious this town has been built for tourists and tourists alone.

The town buildings are just blocks really. Big blocks with restaurants, and souvenir shops, and little else. Speaking of restaurants though, we better go eat something…

As Ashley and I make our way through town to find food, the first thing we notice is the many many places that seem to be offering petrified guinea pig on the menu.

I joke to Ashley that we should try one. She is not amused (teehee!). We finally settle on a quirky looking place with cool graffiti on the outside. You know how I’m a sucker for the unusual…

Turns out it’s a burger and pizza joint, so we order just that. I can’t say the Hawaiian pizza was great. Though admittedly I can’t tell whether it’s the pizza or just my stomach fussing again. Either way I stop eating after two slices. Better safe than sorry!

 

Seeking out the holy grail – Machu Picchu!

Huayna Picchu (Young Mountain)

The next thing we do is find the way to Machu Picchu.

We don’t have time for the two hour hike as we arrived late. I don’t really want to risk trying it right now either. The sun is high and I could definitely see dehydration becoming a problem.

Signage in Machu Picchu Town isn’t the greatest, but we eventually find our way to the bus ticket office. It’s $24/person for a return trip to the Citadel.

The cynical part of me grumbles a little. With the $175/person we paid to get here, this is turning out to be a very expensive day. We haven’t even arrived at Machu Picchu yet!

It reminds me of why I’m not a big fan of hyped up tourist attractions. I’m feeling ever so slightly disappointed.

Luckily, the ride to Machu Picchu lifts my spirits way up high. All those twists and turns up the mountain and through the jungle get me quite excited! Ashley is looking a little green though… oh dear.

When we finally arrive, I persuade Ashley we should get a tour guide. We’ve splashed out already, so might as well make the trip worth it by learning something new!

As we walk towards the entrance of the citadel, we’re bombarded by tour guide offers. It’s actually a little overwhelming to start. One man stands out from the rest though. He is a little older, clean shaven and looks professional.

He definitely provides a stark contrast from one of the other (very handsome) guides who is giving me the eye, smiling cheekily and promising to give me a “very sweet deal”.

I do feel flattered, I must admit, but no… not this time my dear!

 

Exploring the Machu Picchu Citadel

Quechuan history is recorded by using string

Our guide Marco has apparently been giving tours around Machu Picchu for 25 years, so he’s pretty knowledgeable about what he’s doing.

As he guides us around the ruins, he talks of the history of the citadel, its people and common misconceptions around the world.

For example, did you know there is no such thing as Incan culture? The word “Inca” actually means king. The people ruled by an Inca were actually called Quechuans. So really, there is only Quechuan culture.

I also loved what Marco was saying about Quechuan rituals and beliefs. Apparently, much like the yin and yang of the ancient Chinese, Quechuans believed in the power of duality – male/female, light/dark, gold/silver etc.

It also turns out that Machu Picchu is a mountain to the right of the citadel. I always thought the citadel was on Machu Picchu. In reality though, the citadel is actually surrounded by several different mountains, which the Quechuans would look up at and worship.

The most notable are Huayna Picchu (Young Mountain), Machu Picchu (Old Mountain), Putucusi (Happy Mountain) and two mountains behind Putucusi that form the “together forever” mountain range.

All in all, we spent a fantastic 2.5 hours exploring the citadel ruins (which are 70% in tact!). The peace and serenity were simply stunning.

It turns out we did well to take the later train as we only found 40-50 people at the citadel. Marco told us that if we had chosen to arrive earlier, we would likely have encountered ten times that amount.

As it stands though, I was very happy for the quietness. I’m pretty sure if I had been up there with 500 other people, I would have been sorely disappointed. What a day!

Memories…

 

Day 21 – Chilling out in Cusco

After all of the excitement from yesterday, Ashley and I decide to take it easy today. It’s quite surprising how tiring it can be to travel all day long. Even if you’re sitting the whole time, it somehow takes its toll on your body. Breakfast isn’t sitting too well this morning either, so it’s probably for the best.

We still have a couple of things on our want list for Peru we need to plan. For one, we want to find a place that we can go river rafting. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years, but never got around to. Coincidentally, Ashley brought it up as something we could do on this trip – great!

I also had my hopes set on hiking to the Humantay Lake and Ashley wants to see the Rainbow Mountains. After some research, we decide to skip the latter two though, as they appear to be pretty challenging hikes.

We do find a company called Mayuc, that does single day river rafting tours though. The tour includes transport, a 2.5 hour rafting trip, lunch, a sauna session and optional zip-lining for $67. Sounds like a great deal to me!

After binge watching “How to get away with murder” (omg that show is such a tease!), we decide to head out to Cusco town again for dinner. We decide on an Indian place called “Taste of India“.

 

A Taste of India on Cusco’s street

Regrettably, half way to the restaurant my stomach starts up again. My throat and breathing are suffering and I wonder whether the difference in altitude between the hotel and Cusco town may be playing a part in that.

It’s the second time we’ve walked into town and I started feeling woozy around the same spot. I put a tissue in front of my nose to try to help my breathing. The filter between my nose and air seems to help a little.

We arrive at the restaurant, sit down and order. I eat about two bites and decide to call it quits. It’s not my night for eating it seems. Ashley meanwhile has a jolly good time enjoying her curry and naan. I feel ever so slightly envious at this point. I love my food, so not being able to enjoy it feels rather like torture.

After finishing dinner we head outside to catch a taxi. I cross the street and not 10 seconds later I’m holding my hand up in front of my face. I turn frantically and wave at Ashley, but it’s no use. For the third time this trip the contents of my stomach end up on Cusco’s streets as I heave once, twice, three times…

Ashley has now caught up to me and is holding my hair back. I can’t help but start crying. I feel well and truly miserable now. This was not how I expected my Cusco trip to go. Not at all.

A woman runs out from the shop across the street with a cotton swab and some alcohol. She asks me whether I drank anything. With a mix of pity and concern on her face she tells me there is a doctor around the corner.

I thank her and rush off.

 

Sweet home Barcelona, Colchester, Prague… Anywhere

I only have one thing on my mind now. Get to the doctor without incident.

I cross the street and rush to the corner. Meanwhile, Ashley is confused and tries to keep up. She didn’t understand my conversation with the lady and I’m not slowing down to explain either.

As I get to the pharmacy, I ask the lady for a doctor. He’s next door, she says. I run to the shop next door, nobody is there. As I turn back to the pharmacy a middle-aged man is looking out for me.

He asks me for my symptoms and then offers me antibiotics, cough syrup and anti-motion sickness tablets.

I don’t want to take any more antibiotics. I’m sure they’re what got me into this mess in the first place. I do take the other two though.

As Ashley and I arrive home, I take my tablets and then head to bed. We’ve got river rafting booked for tomorrow… oh joy… not.

I think I have definitely hit my low-point right now… and I don’t like it one bit.

Let me go home. I want this trip to stop. Please – just let this all be over.

That’s absolutely how I feel at this moment. I can only hope things get better from here.

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