South America Part III - Cuzco

Throughout Peru we had received warnings about the affects of the high altitude once we traveled on to Cuzco. Anything above 3,000 meters would take its toll on all of us! The warnings included “Drink lots of water. Take it easy the first few days. Take any cough seriously. Drink the tea called Mate de Coca to relieve the effects.” No one was able to tell us, however, if we would all be affected or not. Cuzco’s altitude is 3,326 meters or 10,810’.

Stephen was recovering from a cold which had begun in Trujillo; however, he seems to have suffered the least in retrospect. Sander developed a terrible deep cough quite soon after arrival and Nancy developed a cold with a deep cough. In the beginning Jane seemed OK.

Our first day in Cuzco brought a sudden drenching rain with hail. We were caught out on the street without our jackets and did our best to take shelter in a doorway. Before all was finished we were drenched and very cold. Soon Jane developed sinus problems and a cold due to the cold rain. Jane thinks that Sander’s cough was accentuated by the damage to his lungs done by 40 years of smoking. In the end we were all hacking and sniffling. We did take the advice to see some of the area around Cuzco before venturing to Machu Picchu. To that end we took a local bus to one of the villages in the Sacred Valley, Pisac. Here the elevation is 600 meters lower. The bus ride to Pisac was amazing. Considering the velocity of the bus on the turns, we were surprised to get our Photo #1. The market here in Pisac is quite well known and the busiest on Sundays (Photo #2). We were happy not to be there on a Sunday.

Huffing and puffing we decided to try to climb a short distance up the mountain towards some Inca ruins in order to better view the village. Nancy and Sander opted for a nice bench as Jane and Stehen attempted to go a little higher. Before long we came to a guardpost where they wanted several soles (Peruvian currency which is about 3.5 to a $) for us to continue higher – you can guess what our decision was there! We all preferred to go back to a civilized altitude in the village and try the local cold beer and a sandwich.

While we were seated and enjoying the quiet of the plaza, we were approached by a young girl carrying her pet goat. She wanted to be paid to have her photo taken. Isn’t that industry to be more respected than those who beg on the street? We offered the going rate of ½ sole and she seemed quite surprised, “Oh no, I want a whole sole” Her photo is #3 and she got her whole sole.

We had read in the Lonely Planet that Sunday would be the least crowded day on Machu Picchu and therefore took the train to the close by city of Aguas Caliente on Saturday. Peru has capitalized on the fortunes of the Inca city to the max. They have recently raised the daily rate from $10 to $20/person. Further, the only two ways to reach Machu Picchu are to hike in with a group or to take the local “tourist” train. The hike takes three days and costs about $225/person. The train took about 3 hours and cost $35/person. It does not take too much thinking to know that we chose the train. The ride itself was wonderful – at first through the fertile valley and then winding along a river bed with the peaks on either side.

The village of Aguas Caliente was a big disappointment. It has been allowed to grow without restrictions in a very confined area. After the beauty we had seen from train, the craziness of the village seemed a travesty. During the rainy season the old bridge across the river washed away. In order to properly foot a new bridge the construction workers were rerouting the river flow in order to place footings and build retaining walls from rock. All the activity in the river bed was our entertainment during our afternoon there.

We were up early to catch the first bus up the mountain to the location of the ruins. Finally, we would see the long desired sites of Machu Picchu!