Friday, July 20, 2012

Dreams Come True in Peru...even when the trip starts out roughly.

The next few blog entries will be devoted to the 8 days I spent in Peru this summer; there’s no way I could fit it into one post.  (Well, I could, but no one would read it, because it would be 20 pages long.) 

Ever since I read about the Incas in History 101, my freshman year of college, I’ve wanted to go to Peru and see the ruins, as well as visit Machu Picchu.  This summer, my friend G-Money and I decided to make the dream a reality.  We booked a 4 day/3 night trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, got our plane tickets, and went. 

To say the trip was good is a severe understatement.  From the minute I stepped off the plane in Cusco, I was reminded why I love Latin American culture, and why I wanted to teach internationally in the first place.   And then there’s the fact that Cusco is a beautiful city, and on the trek I not only pushed myself physically, but was also surrounded by breathtaking views in every direction at each moment.  The experience is not one I’ll ever forget, and I’m excited to share it with you. 

Before we get to the good stuff, though, I have to tell you about the first 36 hours of our trip.  Not everything went smoothly, but it all ended up making for a pretty good story. 

First of all, when we went to the airport, G-Money could only get boarding passes for her first 2 flights (we had 4; it’s quite a process to get from Wisconsin to Peru) because we switched airlines midway through.  Not a big deal, but enough to make us a little anxious. 

Then, our first flight was running 20 minutes late.  Not a big deal either, except for the fact that our first layover was only supposed to be an hour long.  Thankfully, we made it to the connecting flight with no problems.

When we got to Miami, G-Money got her boarding passes for our last 2 flights.  …And we discovered that we were no longer on the same flight from Lima to Cusco.  We asked if we could get this changed, but were informed it couldn’t be done until we were in Lima. 

In Lima, we had to pick up the one bag we had checked and run it through customs, then visit the ticket counter and see if we could get on the same flight.  All of this, plus passing through security again, cut our 1.5 hour layover down to a 20 minute wait at the gate, and we both arrived (on the same flight) in Cusco, 2 hours earlier than anticipated. 

We took a taxi to our hostel and dropped off our bags in their storage room, as our beds wouldn’t be ready until noon (and it was only 9am).  We set off to pay off our trek balance with the trekking agency and then explore the city. 

Plaza de Armas, Cusco

However, I’d made a bit of a mistake in my logic in planning out how much cash to bring with me.  I’d forgotten, or didn’t think about, the fact that my bank only allows me to take a certain amount from an ATM per day.  After I’d taken my limit, and used the cash to pay off the trek balance, I no longer had any cash for the day.  G-Money was better off than I was, but was also having trouble withdrawing more money.  So we spent the afternoon wandering around, looking for things that were free, would accept US dollars, or accept Mastercard.  Perhaps needless to say, our options were limited.  We spent good amounts of time sitting on park benches in the sunshine, pondering where to go next and enjoying the beautiful weather. 

From our spot on the park bench.

And then, around dinner, we both started to get headaches.  I figured mine was from dehydration; I didn’t drink nearly enough water during the day.  Unfortunately, dinner for me was accompanied by a loss of appetite and followed by nausea.  Altitude sickness.

The city of Cusco is situated at around 3400 meters (11,200 feet) above sea level.  Trekking agencies require people to get to the city at least 2 days before treks in order to acclimatize and hopefully avoid altitude sickness.  Because I was stupid and didn’t drink enough fluids, I got it. 

Consequently, I went to bed sick at 8:30pm.

…And then I discovered what it means to stay in a party hostel. 
I could have slept through bar noise.  But I couldn’t sleep through the noisy conversations held in our room, with lights on, in the middle of the night, when I was already sick.  Or the couple engaging in intercourse in the bunk directly below mine.  Or the woman from the hostel who summoned G-Money and I at 6am telling us our guide was here for our trek and requiring us to go down to the front desk with our trip receipts and explain that no, we were not leaving until Friday, no matter what it said on HIS sheet. 

Nonetheless, when I got up for good in the morning, the altitude headache was nearly gone, the sun was shining, and our second full day in Cusco promised to be a great one.  

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