We left Lima and flew to Cuzco on the first leg of our journey.
Cuzco was quite a culture shock to me. When we left the airport we were driven by taxi and arrived at the most lovely and clean town featuring a beautiful square with steps leading to a magnificent church at one end and flowers all around in tubs. It really reminded me of somewhere in England, Stratford Upon Avon or Worcester, it is very pretty with lots of expansive and rather majestic white architecture. When we first arrived, we noticed that many people were moving around quite slowly but it didn`t register with us initially, why this was. After just a day though the high altitude really hits home and I began to feel extremely unwell. This is why it is sensible to move slowly in Cuzco, it helps to conserve energy.
Coca tea is a mild stimulant and is from the same plant that we obtain cocaine from. It`s given to visitors to Cuzco and some other parts of south America, to help to stem altitude sickness. It didn`t do a thing for me and it tastes bitter, like green tea but my companion drank it in huge amounts until he was absolutely wired. By day two, I was so pukey I took myself to the chemist who suggested I take anti-allergy medicine and that did work, thank goodness. Altitude sickness is horrible and relentless and sadly coca tea is being discouraged now, because of it`s potentially harmful effects. I think it`s a shame because it is an ancient tradition and it isn`t as if we are all going to come home and become cocaine addicts!
Around the square in Cuzco you will find lots of shoe-shine boys. Many of them wear balaclavas to hide their identity as it is considered shameful to be in such a lowly position. Most of them are street children who are simply earning money to stay alive but as in Lima, the police often raid them and take away their shoe shine boxes and their means of earning enough to eat. It`s a cruel world for so many children.
We took the train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes which is the small town that sits at the foot of the mountain where Maccu Picchu is situated. I have to say, the train journey was spectacular running alongside the jungle and the fast flowing, white water Vilcanota river, also known as the Urubamba river if you happen to be Spanish. It`s a thrilling journey with many twists and turns and you can lean out of the window and see the whole length of the train ahead of you on the wide curves of train track. Machu Picchu lay hidden from the world for a long time because its location is so remote and hard to get to. It was discovered by an American explorer, Hiram Bingham in 1911. It`s located high up on a mountainside and Aguas Calientes is down in the valley beside the river. It takes a bus about 20 minutes to climb the narrow, steep zig-zagging dirt track that connects the two. I found the journey absolutely terrifying. By the time we got to where Maccu Picchu sits, the river looked like a thread of cotton hundreds of feet below us but the back drop of the jungle clambering up the mountains which were all around us was well worth the trip, I was staggered at the beauty of it, it is totally awe inspiring and breath taking and I will never forget that journey.
Maccu Picchu is an ancient Inca site built in the fourteen hundreds and is probably a sacred and religious site although this has not been proven. It`s thought that several hundred people lived there and it is visited by so many tourists now, there are serious concerns about preserving the site so I am glad I was lucky enough to go when I did. I was stunned to find scrillions of mossies so high up the mountain and got loads of bites there. I wondered how the Inca`s coped and was amazed to witness how developed a people they were, with clever channels built all around the site providing fresh running water. It reminded me a bit of Pompei in how advanced the culture was all those centuries ago.
When we went back down to Aguas Calientes, we visited the famous hot springs there for a dip but there were a lot of people already in the water and it looked so murky and uninviting, we decided to skip that idea! We went for something to eat, more fish stew but very nice and stayed for a day before returning by train to Cuzco, ready to move on to Bolivia.
It was dark as we travelled back. At one point I looked up and saw a huge forest fire burning all across the mountainside…..