Altitude Sickness & Cusco – Days 129 to 131

Sat 9th – Mon 11th Jun

The bus to Cusco was long and despite being relatively comfortable, I felt like I’d been run over by it!

After food I fall asleep but I wake a few hours later with bad stomach cramps and feelings of extreme nausea. With a few deep breaths, I manage to keep being sick at bay and fall back to sleep. This is the pattern for the most of my journey. I’m sure I have food poisoning.

Now morning has come, breakfast is a big no no. I can barely stomach water. Christ I feel bloody awful and a thick head is setting in too. Breathing techniques and dozing get me through the rest of the journey. When we arrive in Cusco, I speak to Tyler, the guy I met on my Nazca tour and he tells me that what I’m feeling is altitude sickness and that part of our journey took us to over 6000m! Altitude sickness never dawned on me!

I grab a taxi and go to my hostel. It’s a bit out of the way and the driver has trouble finding it but finally I get there. A quick check in and at last I can lie down. After about 2 hours I decide I should at least take a look around, especially before it gets dark. I set off towards Plaza de Armas and it’s true, Cusco is a beautiful place but I can’t take much of it in. Soon my stomach cramps are making me pause in the street and I think I’m going to be sick on the spot! That’s it, enough is enough….I go to a pharmacy and explain my symptoms. £8 lighter, I‘m armed with some sickness tablets and something to help with digestion. I take them immediately and have no choice but to ho back home. By 1815, I’m shattered and feeling shit so just go to bed!

I feel slightly better upon waking but still not great. With the need to acclimatise before doing anything I want to do here, I decide to do bugger all today. I research things online, spend a lot of time debating (internally and with friends) going to an ayahuasca retreat and a host of other things from my bed! Later that afternoon I feel up to eating so venture to the local shop to get some something easy on the stomach. I round off my perfectly lazy day with a bit of Netflix. (I decided against the ayahuasca too).

It’s Monday and after the 2 days they say it takes to acclimatise, I think I have. God I feel human again and can even manage breakfast!

Finally able to do something, I’ve booked onto a free city walking tour so I tottle off to the meeting point for our 10am start.

Angela our guide is very informative and tells us the streets are so busy because June is the festival and celebration of Cusco. There are parades throughout the main plaza everyday. Today is the kindergarten kids.

She then explains the rainbow flag. I had thought for a devout catholic town the flying of the gay pride flag in such abundance was quite a statement but the rainbow flag here is of 7 colours which represents Cusco – not 6 colours which is the pride flag.

Plaza de Armas id one of the most magnificent squares I’ve come across so far in all central and South America. It’s buildings are phenomenal.

The main day in June for celebrations is the 24th. On this day, in the main square, they sacrifice a black llama and offer the heart to the sun. Apparently tickets for this can go for over 300$! They are giving something back to Pachamama (Mother Earth). Despite the Catholicism here, there are still a lot of old Inca traditions that run throughout the city and its people.

One of the places where it all happens is San Pedro Market. This is open from 6 until 6. It has a very famous architect – Mr Eiffel (of said tower) himself.

This place sells everything from fruit and veg, souvenirs, cheap (fake) alpaca goods. It also sells coca leaves in various forms – leaves, powdered, sweets, cream, chocolate. On one breakfast stall it sells cows feet jelly which has been boiled with fruit.

Perfect collagen apparently but I think I’ll pass!

Another stall sells the San Pedro cactus.

Very famous in these parts just like the ayahuasca but much much stronger. Local people can buy it to make their own trippy brew. I must add that these are seen as medicines and not get off ur tits drugs which they are now becoming more and more famous for (with more and more shady sellers and ceremonies).

When people start something new – build a house, get married, start a business etc. For good luck, they make an offering to pachamama. This includes a bag of goodies with candy and such like in it but also a foetus of a llama! These are hanging up in the market place for people to buy!

The city is a complete mix of old Inca and new Spanish. This is represented in the people and their beliefs and also in the streets and buildings. In a lot of religious pictures here, u will find subtle references to Inca beliefs in them – a cuy served up on the dinner table at the last supper and the Virgin Mary’s body depicted in a triangular shape – to represent the mountain so in essence pachamama.

The Spaniards built a lot of their churches over the top of the Inca temples…to quell the Inca religion and enforce theirs. People who didn’t comply were burned. All street names were changed from Quechuan to Spanish.

We then go to the house of Pachacuti. You can’t be in Cusco it learn about the Incas without knowing about this guy. It is believed he created the Inca empire and it was him that ordered the construction of Machu Picchu. There are statues of him everywhere (gold for man as hold was seen as tears of the sun (women are silver and tears of the moon)).

His house is now an archeological museum. One of the most interesting finds here was the mummy of a small boy, buried as an offering to the gods.

The belief being u pass over into another life and serve other gods. Only talented children were given and it was seen as an honour by the family to gave their child chosen. This mummy was found with an alpaca bone flute so the child must have been accomplished at music.

Offerings and sacrifices were a big part of Inca culture and pretty women used to be offered up to the gods too.

We wander further round the streets, into more if the old Inca style buildings. A lot have subtle representations from the chakana cross which represents the 3 stages of Inca life. The condor, puma and snake are representations of these 3 levels.

The condor was considered the must sacred bird. They could fly long distances and therefore were thought of as the messenger of the heavens. It was considered a sacred animal because of its connections with earth and the skies.

The puma was a symbol of power and strength, a great predator and thus represented life on earth. Cusco was therefore created by the Incas to look like a puma…take a look at any map and the one below

Cusco In quechuan is qosqo which means means centre/middle and Cusco is in the middle of the puma.

The snake represented the under world and was believed they could communicate with the gods and thus send messages to pachamama.

With snake symbols on the blocks of the houses, this was seen as yet another fusion between the Inca traditions and beliefs to the Spanish takeover.

We stop at a little park area where there are local indigenous women weaving with alpaca wool. It can take nearly 2 months to make a scarf! More interestingly here are real life alpaca’s and llama’s. How cute are these guys! Alby the alpaca

and Larry the Llama for my friends Mel & Larry’s little girl Rosina….

Tour over and very interesting it was too. The Incas is a massive topic and 2.5 hours is not nearly enough to grasp everything in. Luckily my next stop after lunch is to book me some tours so I will get to learn a lot more.

Following a great lunch at a superb restaurant Cicciolina, I go to find a tour agency! There are millions of them here but from research and speaking to others I go in search of one in particular.

After a long detailed chat, lots of questions asked and challenged on the few negative reviews I’d read, satisfied I sign up!

Im so excited, in 2 days time I will start the 5 day Salkantay trek which ends in the one and only bucket list place – Machu Picchu! I have wanted to go here for years and very soon I will be!

To learn more before I do go, I’ve booked also to do a tour of the sacred Valley tomorrow. I think it may be info overload as there’s so much to take in and learn from this era….but will be very interesting for sure.

I’ve been out and about for hours, so around 5pm I walk back to my hostel, cook some dinner and chill with the tv….Early start tomorrow.

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