The Incas, Coca and Jim

I’m relatively lucky I suppose, usually immune to common sicknesses that people speak of regularly. Sea sickness, motion sickness, hangovers, headaches and so on. Thinking, now that we are 3,400 m (11,152 ft), I ought to feel some dizziness. I am feeling great, though, and feel like altitude sickness will be added to the long list of things that people warn you of but don’t do much to me. Well, too soon. We’re waiting for the taxi outside the airport, I’m still feeling OK. As soon as we get out of the taxi and walk a little bit towards the homestay, I’m having a hard time to catch a breath and getting fatigued every few steps.

We head to a restaurant in Cusco for our first alpaca treat, and 3-4 orders of coca leaf tea. I immediately feel better, and this was the moment when coca products did not leave us apart. Coca candy, coca gum, coca leaves to chew, coca tea, coca lollipop.. They pretty much have this coca store that we just scavenged. It does work though. The more you chew, the less you feel the impact of the altitude. Problem is, at these elevations, you’re not just sitting on a bus or train. You are actually doing work. And given the terrain of this area of Peru, you are constantly going up or down. So, not a piece of cake to say the least.

On our way to Macchu Picchu, planned stops will take place at Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Both towns have several temples and ruins to be checked out. We stop between Pisac and Ollantaytambo at a buffet-styled restaurant, and get connected to the restaurant’s WiFi to watch Egypt’s game against Uganda in the African Cup of Nations. Pretty bizarre place to watch, but lots of people show interest and eager to know who’s playing and the score, given their love of football there.

We decide to completely ditch the guide in Ollantaytambo, perform some meditation in the nature-rich embossment we’re facing, and follow that by a funky photoshoot at the ‘Temple of the Sun’. The energy at this place is strong enough to force a termination of any history lesson. Spending time in a quiet chamber where an Inca priest used to conduct his business, away from the tourists and guides, seems adequate. The Inca history contains more unknowns than knowns; the guides themselves don’t know what to tell you sometimes. Yet, we appreciate the stories.

The food options start deteriorating, the closer you get to Machu Picchu. We are having this Peruvian pizza in Ollantaytambo, at one of the only three restaurants available in town. If only the Incas had known that their successors are going to be baking pizzas right by their greatest of all, Machu Picchu.

“From here you start”, the driver murmurs something similar in broken English, dropping us up in the middle of the forest. A large dam and electric power station are near by. Where is Machu Picchu? We ask some people around, only to find out that Aguas Calientes, the city at the bottom of Machu Picchu, is still a 6 km hike away. Ali and I, with a mixture of altitude and motion sickness, with our full gear, look at each other and realize that this little piece was not communicated to us by the tourist info centers in Cusco. If we knew, we could’ve left our gear in Cusco, and brought a small backpack for the 2 days. So now, with our carry on bags, that luckily have straps, need to hike 6 km in the forest to reach the promised land. We both brought similar bags that convert into backpacks, and this was the first time we put these straps into use. Here we go, arriving safely with shoulder burns, no real injuries, and a couple of close calls; having to cross a couple of rapid rivers on narrow pieces of logs. Good job on this one by the way, Peruvian government. One foot in front of the other, circus-style, with full load.. not my type of adventures.

“Leave me here, I obviously won’t make it, and come get me on your way down”, Ali orders me at the middle of Montaña Picchu hike. It’s similar to these scenes in patriotic movies, when one of the soldiers is injured and asks his buddy to leave him behind, yet he refuses and tell him “we made it that far, we’ll finish this, will get you back to your son Jack, etc etc”. With the aid of a banana, juice and a granola bar, Ali finishes the climb where we are rewarded by a breathtaking view of the city of Machu Picchu, and humongous mountains from all around us. Not so bad.

The day finishes at yet another sun temple, this time “Temple of the Sun” in Machu Picchu complex. Mr. Jim Morrison makes an entrance while we take in the view and energy of the place, and from this moment all the pain of all these hikes goes away. A good hour or two there and down we go.

Next, we head to the exciting unknown that Bolivia holds for us.

One of our busy mornings in Cusco
The last meal before getting to Machu Picchu complex. We had to chug these (600 ml – 20 oz) beers, after finding out that we only have 15 minutes. I won’t even discuss the pee situation hereafter
He finished the hike down with us, spending together a good 90 minutes. We named him Pero.
This one we knew briefly, so didn’t name him


Ali’s face the moment we reached Aguas Calientes
Befriending some llamas
Huayna Picchu and the lost city ruins in the background
Part of the photoshoot, credits to the talented tourist
Outside Ollantaytambo’s ‘Temple of the Sun’
Friends we met along the 6 km hike. Try having beer breaks during a strenuous hike

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