Our journey to Peru in 2016 was quintessentially Dickensian: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. We dreamed of wandering through artisan markets in Cusco, hiking along the Incan trails, and taking in the glorious views of Machu Picchu. We did accomplish everything on our list, but not without a few surprises.
Cusco was a world within itself, introducing eager travelers to Andean culture and beautiful architecture. We stayed in a cozy apartment near the town square owned by a lovely woman who poured us all a cup of coca tea to help with the altitude adjustment. During our first few days in Cusco, we wandered the cobbled streets through local markets filled with artisan crafts and a rainbow of fresh fruits. We also happened upon a local parade in the Plaza de Armas, whose purpose remained a mystery to us. After trying the local fare of alpaca (we never did brave the skewered guinea pig), we toured the sacred Incan temple, the Qorikancha, which housed incredible artifacts, art, and sweeping views of the Sacred Valley.
Unfortunately, no matter how much coca tea (and Diamox) we consumed, Hunter and I were especially afflicted with altitude sickness. Migraines, nausea, and fatigue were definitely not the best combination to begin a four day trek through the mountains. Our advice: stay in Cusco for 3+ days and go on one or two short hikes to get acclimated before beginning one of the treks to Machu Picchu. A few of our trekking companions had previously summited a mountain in Bolivia and were well adjusted to the higher altitudes. The bastards.
Nevertheless, we persevered and met our fellow travelers and guides at the base of the Lares Trek. After the initial anxiety of “why the hell are we doing this?” faded away, and our Diamox kicked in, we could enjoy the changing geographies and incredible views along the hike. Being on the Lares Trek compared to the overpopulated Incan Trail had its perks. We took breaks by pre-Incan ruins, made friends with passing llamas, and watched condors fly over blindingly blue lagoons. But our favorite moment of the trek was on our first night. After hours ascending half way up the mountain, we found our campsite awaiting, thanks to the tireless guides who haul ass up the mountain ahead of us. After feasting on quinoa and yucca varieties, and pouring one out for Pachamama, we exited the dining tent and were met with the most unbelievable night sky I have ever seen, or will likely see again. It was a humbling moment to experience with our fellow travelers, reminding us why we were testing ourselves on this trek in the first place.
The next day we summited the mountain with the help of our guides and a strong man named Mario who piggybacked Hunter up the last stretch. As we descended we finally began to recover from the altitude and enjoyed a night camping and playing cards by hot springs. Our last leg of the trek ended in Machu Picchu village, where incidentally we were almost robbed in our one-star hostel. Thankfully we were twice as tall as our twelve-year-old adversary. After a few pisco sours, we were revived.
The following morning we joined throngs of eager travelers up the final few stairs of the Incan trail to the sacred site. Seeing Machu Picchu from the top of the mountain was breathtaking, but couldn’t compare to walking through the actual ruins. The intention behind the cardinal location of the ruins and the Intihuatana stone was awe-inspiring. Nestled in the cloud forests, Machu Picchu earns its title as one of the wonders of the world.
Finally, we traveled back to Lima for a few days of R&R before leaving Peru. Unfortunately, we happened to be traveling to Lima during the country-wide presidential elections. In case you aren’t familiar, all Peruvians are required to vote and to ensure a sober election, the sale of alcohol is prohibited for the days before and during the election. We did enjoy the gastronomical delights of Lima, including ceviche at La Mar, but were unable to hoist a pint or pisco sour in celebration of our adventures.
We made the best of our last few days (and the city’s lack of public transport) by visiting the (in)famous Museo Larco and its gallery of sexually explicit Peruvian ceramics, wandered through more Andean markets, and strolled Parque Kennedy that is filled with a hoard friendly stray cats (bizarre, but cool). Our journey home was not quite as smooth as our arrival. Our original flight was canceled and we were forced to stay in the airport hotel one more night before catching the next flight back to Texas. A forced opportunity to reflect on the once-in-a-lifetime experience we had just shared, and to catch up on all the drinking we had missed out on during the election.
All in all, our Peruvian adventure was a success.
-Kathryn & Hunter