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Changes in Altitude, Changes in Attitude

July 19, 2013

I’ve had a rough trip so far. I’m sure its shown in my posts, but I just hadn’t clicked into the joy of travel on this trip. Until today.

We arrived in Cuzco yesterday. The flight from the Amazon was an interesting one. The plane takes off, gains altitude, and lands. It never really descends since Cuzco is so much higher. I began to feel the effects of the altitude before we were even off the plane, though I wasn’t sure if it was that or that I was still wobbly from the boat ride from Eco Amazonia.

My first glimpse of the Andes was through the plane window and it was breathtaking. Snow capped mountains with green valleys below. It is what I came to Peru to see.

Off the plane, I became very aware that of the altitude – a headache was creeping in and getting worse by the second, lifting my backpack made me pant, and I was rather convinced I might faint from light-headedness. I’ve been at this altitude before and never had effects, so I’m not sure if my cold is interfering with my ability to acclimatize, but I knew I was not going to be happy for the rest of the day.

We passed through the busy streets of Cuzco and into the Incan part of town. A few narrow cobblestone streets later, we were in a hotel that promised to have a good shower (alas, there was no showering to be done in the Amazon). First lunch with Graham, Richard, and Claire – at a restaurant near the square serving a very international menu, but also featured the Incan classic guinea pig. Then back to the hotel for a nap and a shower. 

We met Maggie and Irene, the missing members of our group with Juan that evening and then, as the others headed out for a bite, I went back to my room feeling sorry for myself, to take a bath and contemplate if I could ever feel well again. 

But I did. Today was a free day – Graham, Richard, and Claire headed off to white water raft, Irene and Maggie hit some museums and I stayed in.  The light-headedness had passed and every day my cold is a bit better, but I wanted to sleep in. 

Around noon I headed to the Plaza De Armes, the main square. They’d erected a statue in the middle of the square in front of which tourists and locals alike were posing for photos. I later found out that it was basically cardboard and only there for the independence holiday on July 28th. 

The square is lined with tourist shops selling Peruvian souvenirs, expensive silver jewelry, alpaca sweaters (I got one), and hiking gear. Also on hand were several cafes promising free wifi, nail salons, and  excursion outlets. 

Wandering a bit further I found the Central Market, a bustling marketplace, which I was thrilled to encounter. I love a marketplace, and most cities around the world have one that reflects the personality of the place. I haven’t found one in the US and the farmer’s markets I’ve visited in major cities have become extensions of the upper east side neighborhoods. Not so abroad and this market was a stunning example. 

Their were stalls of fruits and vegetables, meat stands with unknowable parts on display, with hovering flies, one stall featured baskets of something’s snout. There were dry goods and wooden kitchen utensils. And in the back, a maze of counters to order food. The smells all drifted together, along with the cries from the vendors and customers. It was a fully sensory experience and became more so when I sat down for the most delicious chicken soup of my life. It was peppery and full of lime and parsley with pickled carrots and onions and a quarter chicken just dropped in, not even cut up. And it was good! 

The market shoppers were a mix of photo taking tourists and traditionally dressed locals. The locals were doing most of the actual buying. I spent a good couple hours there and finally felt like I was really in Peru. 

After a briefing on tomorrow’s trek, our entire group set out for dinner. At Juan’s suggestion, we headed to a place called Fallen Angel. It featured many rooms with irreverent religious art and creative lighting. It would have been very popular in New York in the late 80s, but it was great fun and good food. 

I set out tomorrow at 5:30 for the trek to Machu Picchu and won’t be back online for a few days. Can’t wait to tell you about it! 






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