Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
107Trip End Mar 09, 2008
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Cuzco is located about 3,300 metres above sea level. This may not sound very high but it is enough to wreak havoc on your body, particularly if you fly into the city rather take the much recommended prolonged bus journey which acclimatises you en route. Symptoms vary from a seemingly universal constant headache to dehydration, fatigue, disturbed sleep and feelings of nausea. The sole remedy is coca leaf tea. Coca is grown in the lowland jungles of Peru and is an apparent cure-all for every type of ailment. Peruvians swear by the tea to aid altitude sickness
Driving through the town on day one it was instantly apparent that Cuzco was an appealing little place to spend some time acclimatising before our much anticipated Inca Trail. We passed Plaza De Armas (every city has at least one of these) and it was spectacular. Neat, tidy, awash with flowers and trees and bordered by churches and other majestic structures. We would be happy to call this place home for a little while.
It's lucky we were all so fond of the place as a horrible affliction struck almost every member of our party of five. On day one Mike was floored and spent a few consecutive days in bed. Next Iain was struck - unfortunately on the same day he had quietly boasted to me of his apparent lack of any remaining altitide symptoms. And so it continued.
The one positive was that we always seemed to have 4 people available to play Settlers the board game we had planned to play during our 3 day acclimatisation period
Our four day stint was wracked with turmoil as each person fell sick and we communally wondered whether they would be fit enough to set out on the trekking adventure. Iain's 48 straight hours in bed the days preceding our journey looked like the answer would be "no" but somehow he pulled through and was ready the night before. It may have had something to do with the fact that the trekking agency had a policy of "100% no refunds".
Our only day venturing out of Cuzco after 3 days of cabin fever was a day trip to the beginning of the Sacred Valley. We visited the colourful Pisac Sunday markets and aquainted ourselves with the colourful outfits that the locals wore to attract photographs from tourists. The encouraging suggestions of "¿photo amigo?" from groups of little girls with flowers in their hair and baby alpaccas clutched tightly in colourful sacks were soon followed up with "one sol each!". Four of us ventured out to explore the Pisac Inca ruins up in the nearby mountains. These date back to the same age as the more well-known Machu Picchu ruins and were an impressive site set amongst rolling hills, rocky edifices and unique Incan agricultural tiered landscape
A great warm-up for the main event!
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Cusco is, at 3200m, officially "at altitude", and is a required three day acclimatisation stop for those wishing to take the Inca Trail, a journey on which you will go through 4200m.
Altitude, shmaltitude was my body's reaction. I noticed very little breathlessness, sleeplessness, headaches or any other symptoms. This Inca Trail was going to be a breeze as my super fit athlete's physique was absolutely in sync with the challenge at hand.
Having to stay three days in Cusco is no hardship. The old quarter has been lovingly preserved and is full of nice places to wander. Tourist trap it may well seem likely to be, but competition is fierce among the restauranteurs, such that the only loser on the ten sol three course menu is the alpaca that is delicately grilled to act as its centrepiece.
The Spanish architecture wrapping the main square with arches is wonderfully elegant, and forms a perfect stage for traditionally dressed women of all ages to wander around with alpacas and llamas of various ages. Its easy to tell those who are trying hard for the tourist dollar without sufficient investment: they offer you a photo attempting to pass off what is clearly a puppy as the signature baby llama cutesy shot
Three days prior to departure we settled all our bills for the trek, had our briefing and headed out for yet more decadent dining - all under the guise of building adequate fat reserves for our 32, 39 or 45 km journey. Depends who you ask.
The prospect of our best meal yet and the knowledge of parting with US$500 just minutes earlier sent my body into convolutions. I managed to proceed rapidly from a status of happily-menu-in-hand-ready-to-gorge, through I-think-I-need-some-air in just seconds, before a flat sprint into the toilets. In my haste I failed to notice it was the ladies' toilets, much to the amusement of my fellow diners.
Their amusement was to be shortlived however, as thin walls and inadequate background music ensured they caught all three acts of both ends of my body in a comprehensive expulsion and meltdown. I emerged a broken, shattered, shaking, chilly shadow, ready for a cab to the hotel.
Of our fellow travellers, Liz, Mike, Pete (and of course Claude) - only Mike had been heavily ill, an illness that seemed the result of a poor pizza decision in Lima. It would seem this was not the case. My wellknown Florence Nightingale streak which extended to making the desperately ill Mike one (1) cup of tea I place as the core of how I got sick. I must stop being so damn nice.
Our cheery trekking company got a whole lot less cheery at the prospect of any refund - although technically the penatly for a cancellation 48hrs prior was only partial
The first night of my fever was quite entertaining in retrospect. I was freezing, and Claude did well to locate 8-10 blankets to keep me warm. Sometime in the middle of that night, my body fought back and I found myself superheatedly hot and not cogent enough to figure the one foot thickness of blanket may be a factor. Somewhere in that haze I thought I had discovered the secret to intrabody nuclear fusion. No kidding, I even took furtive notes.
Upon regaining sensibility about 30 hours later, I didn't tell anyone about my revelation. Not because it was nuts, but because I wanted to guard my secret. Let me tell you, the notes you take in that state are pretty special. I looked at them on my final night before our trail departure. They do not even constitute handwriting... just lots of squiggly lines. I don't think I was very well.
Be that as it was, I still had to get well or face another tedious travel insurance claim. On my side was the positive that I wasn't altogether that unhappy at getting out of four days trekking that I had only agreed to in a seemingly similar bout of madness.
On our final day before departure Little Mrs Til-Death-Do-Us-Part took an all day trip around the surrounding areas of Cusco, leaving me to fend for myself. Fend I did, making the signature medical decision to try to have four meals that day in an effort to rebuild some strength. By this time of the illness (and eating nothing in 36 hours) I was sufficiently weak that climbing stairs was murderous. Perfect preparation for a four day trek. At some point the local pumpkin soup - seasoned with three metric cups of salt, as are most Peruvian dishes, kicked me back alive. As ever, the good folks at Lipton deserve appropriate kudos for the medicinal properties of their elixir.
This is as ready as I get. Now onward, upward, and hopefully not outward.