Tag Archive: Macchu Picchu

Getting High In Cusco

To reach Macchu Picchu in Peru, one needs to fly to Cusco and from there, either drive or take the train to Aguas Calientes where shuttle buses take you up to the Incan citadel. The train ride takes 3.5 hours from Cusco and stops at Ollantaytambo Station from where the last 90 minute-train ride terminates at Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Macchu Picchu. Aguas Calientes is a lively, vibrant town now called Macchu Picchu Pueblo. One finds many souvenir items on sale here. Very touristy, but if you ask me, I like the touristy vibe of this town.

Cusco is higher than Sacred Valley, which in turn is higher than Macchu Picchu. One may choose to acclimatize in Sacred Valley and save Cusco AFTER a hike in Macchu Picchu. From Sacred Valley, it is only half an hour to Ollantaytambo, where one can visit a massive Incan stone terrace cum fortress / archaelogical site — another testament to Incan mastery of architecture and astronomy. The way from Ollantaytambo to Cusco may consider a pitstop in Sacsayhuaman — another fortress-temple ruins site situated close to and overlooking Cusco. Here, marvel at Incan engineering skills using boulders and stones so firmly hewn together sans mortar. It is mind-boggling how each humongous stone seems custom-carved and fitted so precisely to make up a fortress wall & structure. Unbelievable.

After having one’s fill of archaeological sites and fortress ruins, Cusco offers the alternative of visiting Hispanic settlements, churches and colonial-inspired plazas. Just around Plaza de Armas in Cusco, there are 3 significant churches and monasteries worth visiting.

Inside the main cathedral hangs a painting of the Last Supper where a guinea pig called “cuy” takes centerpiece. Very, very Andean. After all, where else in the world do they serve guinea pig as local delicacy? Just right across this Cathedral is the Jesuit Church (Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus) whose grandeur seems to overshadow that of the 16th century main cathedral that honors the Assumption of the Blessed Mother. Plus, there’s the Convento del San Francisco de Asis and the catacombs. This San Francisco Church and Monastery is attracting crowds mainly for its catacombs but quite frankly, I am not keen about seeing human remains as they give me the creeps.

Before flying back to Lima, we spent time in Cusco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The churches, convents, catacombs and plaza remind one that this is truly an amalgam of Incan heritage and colonial influences. The heart of Incan ancestry and colonial heritage beats here. How they’ve integrated both and preserved each heritage is an experience to be seen and felt. One can easily overread on Peru and the Incan Empire. I resisted the temptation and allowed my books to occupy space, undisturbed, in my suitcase. Instead, I delighted in chatting with Peruvianos, eating their food and listening to our guides whose Incan pride cannot be dismissed. I like that about ANY people or race. Peru. It must be experienced.

Machu Picchu. FINALLY.

It has been on my bucket list like a stain that won’t fade away. Been imagining this Incan citadel up in the Andes for the longest time. Almost went a few years back, only to cancel plans at the last minute. Days before this trip, I’ve been agonizing over my lack of preparation, my seeming “lost ability” to pack (for summery, autumn, and wet weather) for 3 legs of this trip. Promised myself I’d relax the week before this trip, but no – I booked all my days prior and now reeling, functioning on what you’d term as #confusedmode. I’m too old multi-tasking but there I was, booking more trips even before I started to scratch this one off my bucket list!

Well, I’m here now. Dripping with excitement to view this 15th century historic sanctuary of the Inca Empire. Its natural setting couldn’t be better. The Andes Mountain sets a beautiful panorama of mountain peaks, valleys and slopes. This mosaic of about 200 structures, terraces, walls and squares amidst a rugged, dramatic setting presents an architecture whose exact function and role in Incan civilization remains a mystery. Well-planned, yes. But abandoned and virtually forgotten until its rediscovery in the early 20th century. Thank God its awe-inspiring mystery and grandeur remain.

Initially, I worried over the weather forecast. Rain is not my good friend. Nor is high temps. I packed for cold weather but lately, temps have been rising. Plus the occasional rain. Because we can only bring a backpack for our 2-day visit of Machu Picchu, I had the backpack stuffed good with fleece vest, long-sleeved turtlenecks, and a raincoat/poncho. Last night, I replaced the turtleneck with a couple of cotton shirts. I also ditched my body bag and chose to carry my backpack to carry all my essentials, with thoughts of changing shirts depending on how the weather goes. Thank God I packed my cotton shirts — really meant as undershirts if the temps dip low.

But I forgot one thing. I’ve hiked up the Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan and thought I’d have no issues with altitude. It took awhile before I accepted that I may have been hit with altitude sickness while in Cusco where elevation is 11,000 feet. I had a headache that wouldn’t go away. I reasoned that I always had headaches back in Manila. Then some slight dizziness. Worse, I kept taking naps in the bus. Finally, I checked my Fitbit and found my bpm (heartbeats) hovered at 100 beats per minute as I rested and prepped for bedtime. With all the anxieties that I came this far and NOT enjoy Macchu Picchu, my “resting” bpm soared to 127. I was really worried.

I did as advised. Just my luck that my roommate is my doctor friend. I waited this long only to find myself planning this trip with this childhood friend. Oxygen was my good friend. Available in the hotels and the buses we took while in Cusco country. Macchu Picchu is lower than Cusco and thanks to my oxygen morning dose, it kept my heart from pumping so hard off my chest.

The bus we took zigzagged around the mountains at dizzying speed. The weather forecast is RAIN the whole day but it only drizzled towards mid afternoon. Soft rain, as our guide said while we walked from the Temple of the Sun towards the Sun Dial and Sacred Rock. With a rainy day forecast, our guide said the crowd we found in this ancient citadel is nothing compared to the norm. We had good, sunny spells and all. Never mind that it was unusually warm this late October. A couple of llamas even followed us around, and there was a pair of rainbows in all splendor as we bowed out of Machu Picchu. Not one, but a double rainbow! Even our guide Alvin had to take shots as he found rainbows in all his guiding career here only 8 times. Breathtaking!

I’m so happy to be here! Never mind that the dust worsened my allergies and my MP wardrobe never saw the light of day. My favorite striped cotton shirt was perfect as I sweated while walking up and down narrow, uneven steps. When it drizzled, and grew cooler, I put on my fleece vest and light raincoat. I grew hungry during the walk and felt my sugar and electrolytes dipping. What I’d give for a carrot stick to curb my hunger pangs! Someone in our group walking with her mom fed me peanut butter. That alone boosted my energy for a couple more hours walk. Bless her.

The following morning, I chose to rest it out. I know, it doesn’t sound like me, hungry for adventures, eager to suffer challenges. But I’m listening to my body, as well as to my doctor roommate. Rest the body. (Read: Have some retail therapy) Besides, I’m happy with my day in Macchu Picchu the day earlier. My resting heartbeat is now 80-90 bpm. Swell. I prayed as did many others I’d get here in fine health and weather. A slight “scare” just days before the hike, but I’m here now. Grateful, feeling blessed. This means much more than just ticking one off another destination off the bucket list.