26 Jun

Getting High in Cusco

Cusco Flag, Cusco, Peru

The plan was to take our time getting to Cusco from Lima. We were going to spend a few days, stopping along the way at Nasca and Arequipa to split up the journey.

Then we learned that the Inti Raymi festival was happening in Cusco on June 24th so we thought we would head straight to Cusco instead and visit Nasca and Arequipa after that.

We checked into flights and buses and decided that, at 1/3 the cost, the bus it would be. Sure it was going to be a 22 hour bus ride but I had heard that South American buses were ‘da bomb’ and so thought that 22 hours wouldn’t be so bad.

Boy, was I wrong. After the first few hours of the trip (in the dark because it gets dark here early) we turned inland and started heading over the Andes. We spent the next 9 hours swerving and swaying as we switchbacked our way cresting and descending mountain after mountain…in the pitch black. I didn’t sleep one wink.

It was worth it once dawn broke. As the sun rose and light filtered onto the landscape, it revealed that were high in the Andes on the altiplano. It was stunning. I peered out the window to see nothing but miles and miles of scrubland punctuated with huts and stone fences penning in llama herds. The smoke from the villagers hearths filled the crisp cold air and the sun glinted off the frost and frozen waterways. It was amazing.

Dawn broke at around 6AM. That still meant that we had about 9 hours ahead of us. We descended a long way from the plateau, swithbacking the whole way. This was not tolerated well by more than a few on the bus as they awoke and soon a well worn path was created to the bathroom that, unfortunately, was right by our seats. This did not add to the experience for me.

We spent the rest of the trip cresting and descending various mountains and following river valleys before we dropped into a large, flat valley right before Cusco. One more intense climb and descent saw us entering into the city finally.

The scenery was amazing and it was an adventure but I think, in the future, we will break our bus trips up a bit.

Sitting at 3300 meters, we have certainly noticed the altitude here in Cusco. At first I wasn’t sure if our headaches and nausea were from the bus ride or the altitude, but by the next morning we knew it was the altitude for sure. I seemed okay, a little winded for sure but not too badly, but J was feeling nauseous and took a little more time to adjust. I went and got some sorojchi pills from the pharmacy and they were like a miracle – within about 30 minutes he was feeling much better and could come out to play. We’re both still taking them to keep the headaches at bay, and we both feel winded at times, but overall I think we have it licked.