LITTLE OXYGEN BUT LOTS OF STEPS, OR LEARNING HOW TO BREATH AT 12,000 FEET: PERU, PART 1

Nota Bene:  This series of posts on one of my most challenging, arduous but most fulfilling journeys will, as is my wont, be filled with funny anecdotes, a bit of historical background, some food porn, flora and fauna and many breathtaking vistas.  However, it will NOT include shots of my actual climbs (other than the final results) despite my wish to chronicle my exploits.  This is why:

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I had trained assiduously but while I can say that other than some strained tendons I did not have much after climb soreness, I was not prepared for the sheer terror of potentially falling into, no kidding, thin air.  After a few moments on our first climb, my camera was firmly stashed away in my backpack and all concentration was given to staring at the steps before me and this habit continued on all the steep up and down hikes.  Descending was often the most difficult as the steps were worn, and in may cases topped with loose pebbles or shale, rendering the footing unstable.    Our guide Edgar,  shared some statistics, thankfully after our major climbs, that the record going up the Inca Trail, usually done by mere mortals in 7 or so hours, was 2 hours; the record going down was 5 seconds.

I also believed I was otherwise prepared having packed the following items:

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There was also a bottle of Skin-so-Soft but that proved as ineffective as the above Mosquito Repellent Bracelets and was summarily dumped into the garbage. I will spare you from images of my ravaged arms that were stealthily attacked during our jungle nature walk.  Fortunately mosquito borne diseases such as malaria and yellow fever are not prevalent in Peru – whew.  I’ll be revisiting this issue next year prior to my trip to Kenya/Tanzania but have already started stockpiling:

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The other items above had varying degrees of success – happily I did not require the    Immodium at all, helped no doubt by my abstention from beloved fresh salads until the later half of the trip.

As usual I had also scoured the various weather reports and in a deja view moment (see my Alaska pre-trip weather mania by clicking here) was faced again with multiple not-so-promising forecasts:

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As it turned out none were correct – not only were mosts days sunny and mild but on our most exposed and difficult climb at Machu Picchu we were blessed with fluffly little cumulous clouds that kept us from frying. It didn’t actually rain until the last day of our post-hiking stay in Cusco.

So let’s begin the journey!  After experiencing the exhaustion of previous hit the ground running/hiking prior excursions, my friend and I figured out that the smart way to attack these adventures was to arrive in advance (and of course stay a few days after to recuperate).  We also planned on lowering our alcohol input once in Peru to help with our acclimation, but couldn’t resist a little wine tasting at the airport – a great sendoff:

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Once we discovered Pisco in Peru, all thoughts of abstention vanished – more on that later.

After a pleasant overnight flight from New York, we arrived in Lima (there are unfortunately no direct flights to Cusco) where we had to pick up our bags, go thru customs and then recheck bags and go thru security.  This went relatively smoothly except for a small     kerfluffle when my friend was sent to a different check-in line but after a few semi-worried moments we found each other.  All anxieties melted away upon our arrival in the first of three over the top magnificently appointed and close to decadent hotels (thanks for everything, Classic Journeys):

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Upon entering the hotel we were brought into the lovely bar/lounge area above and given coca tea while we checked in. The hotel services even included live serenades:

The Belmond Monasterio Hotel was built in 1595 as a Monastery and in 1598 became the Seminary of San Antonio Abad.  Many of its original characteristics still exist despite damage from earthquakes and there is a stunning 300 year old Cedar tree in the middle of the central courtyard.  It is now a protected national landmark.

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More on the hotel – but since our rooms were not ready when we arrived – we stored our bags and took a brief walk to the main square,  Plaza de Armas. Although just a few minutes from the hotel, the walk nevertheless left us a bit breathless as our lungs attempted to get oxygen from the rarefied air of 11,000 feet above sea level.  However – all thoughts about breathing quickly dissipated as a local festival celebrating, I believe the Virgin of the Nativity began at the Cathedral just as we stepped into the square – as if it was planned as an enchanting welcome to Cusco:

Colorfully costumed dancers swirled in front of us but what really caught my eye were a few cuter than should be allowed children – who were obviously so proud to be part of the festivities:

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This mini “Rico Suave” was my favorite:

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To top off this most auspicious first day, my friend and I ate dinner at the hotel – in a sumptuous high vaulted restaurant that included opera’s greatest hits sung by a local soprano and tenor:

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And… we had our first Pisco Sour.  Oh my.

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Couldn’t get much better right?  Wrong – the following days left us stunned – by the grandeur, the unique beauty, the history, the fabulous locals, the magical spirituality, the scrumptious food (I never knew there were so many delcious ways to use quinoa) and more.  And of course – more STEPS.

Stay tuned – the real trekking begins next week!

2 thoughts on “LITTLE OXYGEN BUT LOTS OF STEPS, OR LEARNING HOW TO BREATH AT 12,000 FEET: PERU, PART 1

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