Take my breath away

Our 15-day Peru-Bolivia-Chile Express tour started with a really early start – a 4am pick up. Ouch. We all hoped that it wasn’t going to be like that throughout the tour! Not a fan of early mornings.

Thankfully Josh had an airport lounge priority pass which we found useful! Yay for coffee and Wi-Fi while we waited at Lima airport for our 6:30am flight. Felt a little guilty we detached ourselves from the group to go to the lounge, but it was worth it.

Landing in Cusco was quite spectacular, as we flew through (and very close to) the mountains. I would have known this if I was awake to see it..! As soon as we got off the plane and walked up the air bridge we could feel the altitude difference via our gasping lungs.

Ground staff handed out coca leaves at every corner, chewing them supposedly helps to prevent altitude sickness. It tasted like chewing grass. A taste I (apparently) needed to get used to before hitting the Bolivian salt flats, an even higher altitude.

Our awaiting bus and local guide, Amelia, took us on a full day adventure out of Cusco and educated us with a myriad of stops and stories about the Inca and Peruvian culture.

Stops included an alpaca and llama farm, high viewpoints over the Sacred Valley, empañadas in Pisac, and the most memorable experience of the day – trekking up the Sacred Valley of the Incas. An impressive 3,514m above sea level.

At this point everyone was struggling with the altitude. I could barely take a few steps before feeling puffed and having to stop and rest. I felt light headed, a bit dizzy, but embraced it.

Interesting things I learnt:

  • The Incas were big into sacrifices to the gods (this is also still a common culture for many Peruvians in the regions).
  • Similar to the Eqyptians, they mummified their dead, but, first broke their spine and mummified them in the foetal position. This symbolised the rebirth into another life.
  • The tombs of the mummies were dug into the side of the mountain, however most have now been grave-robbed for any riches that were inside.

During this part of the tour we managed to lose one of our group (who went back to the van rather than the meeting point), one person fainted (luckily we have both a nurse and a paramedic in the group!), and I quickly realised that altitude was not good for digestion – and toilet paper must be carried at all times…

As we all arrived back to the van, a ‘Take My Breath Away’ rendition using local pipe/flute instruments was playing over the speakers. Loved the irony!

The remainder of the days’ tour included a delicious buffet lunch, and more site seeing. By the time we arrived at Ollantaytambo, Josh and I were sight-see’d-out. What a long day.

After another tour of Inca ruins and struggling to climb up steps with the altitude, we were very grateful to eventually lie down at our cute hotel in Ollantaytambo. Legs were aching! I was pleased that my phone had the evidence recorded of my 22,000 steps. I could certainly feel it.

I branched out from my now fav tipple, and tried a strawberry flavored pisco sour at the bar next door – yum! Our first group dinner that night was a laugh as we had a few more pisco sours and got to know each other. This tour is going to be fun.

The following day, Machu Picchu awaited us.

Four of our group had been walking the Inca Trail (so we hadn’t met them yet) and the rest of us (I’m thinking sensible, not lazy) took a leisurely train up and soaked up the scenery from the comfort of our carriage.

The bus up to the Machu Picchu site was steep and just back-to-back switch backs to the top.

Gosh the crowds. 5,000 tourists visit Machu Picchu every day, and are allocated either a morning or afternoon ticket (booking in advance). Amelia our guide did her best to take the less popular route so we’d get the best photos and avoid overlaps with other tours meandering through.

The first time you get to see Machu Picchu is the view at the top of some initial steep steps, and it’s the quintessential postcard photo that everyone has seen. To see it in person is something else. Wow!

To be honest I had never thought of Machu Picchu as being the main highlight I was looking forward to on the tour, so to be surprised in awe, with all expectations exceeded was a good feeling.

It was another long day of walking, legs aching and then it started to rain. Luckily we weren’t much later to arrive otherwise our view of Machu Picchu would have been completely hindered by the clouds. Cue an onset of stomach cramps and the rain becoming heavier, meant for a much quicker exit overtaking tourists back to the entrance point…

We all got stamps in our passports, which I did for the novelty purpose but in the back of my mind I remember someone telling me having non-country stamps can make your passport invalid. I suppose I’ll find out at some point if so!

Back down in the town of Machu Picchu, the day’s exhaustion meant the pisco sours tasted better than ever.

Josh, Saxon & I decided we were going to continue our party mood by buying beers for the oncoming train and bus journey back to Cusco.

Boozy pee with cheeks out next to the bus on the highway = tick.

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