Talk about a change in scenery! It was culture shock going from the balmy shores of the Amazon river to the crisp, cool air of the Andes mountains. I had to bring two different sets of clothing on my Peru adventure due to the dramatic change in climate. Obviously, the people dress differently and eat differently in the Andes. Even the dogs look and behave differently. I was totally excited to experience this side of Peruvian culture.
So, my prep for the move from the Amazon to the Andes started two days before I actually arrived in the mountains. Apparently, some people suffer from altitude sickness, and I was worried I would be one of them. I purchased some altitude sickness pills before I left for Peru. I started taking them a day or two before my flight into Cusco as directed. Unfortunately, the altitude sickness pills made me dizzy and sick. My hands and face tingled constantly. After two days, I decided to ditch the pills and go native.
Coca for this Loca
How do the Peruvians deal with the altitude? Coca! I started drinking a couple cups of coca tea every day. Not sure that it helped with the altitude sickness, but I was full of energy. Apparently if you drink enough of it, your urine will test positive for cocaine. I was double bagging my teas and adding coca leaves to each cup I drank. No doubt I would have tested positive. But better safe than sick from the high altitude!
On the way to my hotel in the Sacred Valley, I got an opportunity to meet a local celebrity in Chinchero. She’s been all over the world giving demonstrations on how to make products from Alpaca wool. At first, I was groaning on the inside. Do I really have to sit through a boring lecture on Alpaca blankets and sweaters? I mean, really? Well, I got to eat a great big helping of crow that day because the demonstration was incredible. She did the entire presentation with a 14-month old baby strapped to her back in the traditional Andean style. I got to learn about the different types of Alpaca wool, how the dyes are made, how they weave the blankets and more.
Then it was off to the Aranwa Hotel in the Sacred Valley, my digs for the night. Talk about posh! The place is in the middle of some fields, and I thought we were lost at first. I did not expect for us to wind up in a gorgeous resort next to a river. The resort was so big, it had its own cathedral, museum and movie theater. There were even alpacas and sheep wandering around the grounds. I had to bribe one to give me a smooch. Dinner at the resort was crazy good, and I tried alpaca tartar for the first time. It was chewy, but good.
Wonder of the Modern World
The next day was packed! We had to prepare overnight bags for the next two nights because our regular luggage couldn’t fit on the train to Machu Picchu. The train ride was terrific and pretty soothing. I dozed off immediately because of the gentle rocking. Good thing they served coca tea on the train to chase away the grogginess. Woot! As we got closer to Machu Picchu, we could see glaciers everywhere. I started getting butterflies in my stomach from excitement, and maybe too much coca tea.
Side note – Machu Picchu is on the edge of a cloud forest which means the vegetation there can be very dense and beautiful. It also means that there are mosquitos everywhere. So many, in fact, that the hotel I stayed in provided each room with an electric mosquito repellent as well as citronella splash for its guests. Make sure to bring plenty of repellent. I used oil of lemon eucalyptus, and it worked great. The only time I had to pull out the deet was in chigger infested areas.
Our guide, Miguel, was brilliant. His love and respect for the culture and people was quite evident in the way he spoke about the different places we saw. He was also a brilliant guide because he knew the best times to take us up to the ruins. And guess what, it’s not at the crack of dawn. We went in the afternoon when everyone else was coming back down into town. We practically had the ruins to ourselves. Score! The climb up to the ruins was short but grueling. My legs were aching, and I was out of breath by the time I made it up there, but it was worth it.
The ruins took my breath away. I can’t imagine the amount of work it took to build this ancient city in the mountains. There was a lot of terracing all around the buildings which blew my mind because everything was so steep. I got a chance to see firsthand the genius that is ancient Inca architecture. The buildings and walls have withstood numerous earthquakes and are still standing.
There were cute chinchillas and alpacas all over the ruins. I wanted to pet them so badly, but they were a bit shy, and I was told EXPLICITLY not to climb the rocks. Dang it!
The Other White Meat
Dinner was quite the affair that night. We were all on a high from seeing one the most amazing places on earth. I had to try guinea pig since it’s a delicacy, and it was yummy. Those cute little critters are absolutely delicious. Did I feel guilty about eating a pet? Not at all. I did worry that I was going to have a bad dream about being chased by a giant rodent, but I slept like a log that night. The Pisco sours prolly didn’t hurt. Here’s a before and after.
Get a Booty Workout
Good thing we were given some free time the next morning because I had a teeny, tiny hangover. I drank a massive amount of coca tea that morning to smooth out the rough edges. I spent the entire morning wandering the town and checking out all cute places to shop and eat. I really fell in love with the place. The people are nice and very helpful. There are plenty of places to buy souvenirs, and even more places to get a drink. It was definitely my kind of town.
I went back up to the ruins in the afternoon. It was time to test my stamina. I decided to hike up to the Sun Gate. Even though it’s only 951 feet higher than the ruins, the altitude made the trek much harder. The trail is very, very narrow in some parts, and the ground is extremely rocky and uneven. I almost bit it a few times, but even so, if you take your time, it’s not too bad. I, of course, opted to boogie. So stupid! My legs were jelly by the time I made it to the Sun Gate, and I may have fractured a rib from all the heavy breathing I was doing, lol. However, the view was spectacular and the ruins looked tiny from up there.
That’s it for my Machu Picchu adventure. Looks like Italy is next! Hope you all join me for that adventure, too!