After a crisp 32 hours in Lima, we made our way to Cusco for the suggested two days of acclimation ahead of trekking the Inca Trail. Flights are dirt cheap so we chose that over ground transit, which put us into the mountain town around noon. Highly recommend flying to Cusco instead of taking the bus – it’ll save several hours of travel time.
Our cabbie dropped us off only to find out our lodging for the next two nights was a ghost of hostels past. Chris got a hold of someone off of their Facebook page who happened to own a different hostel, Native Soul, about 20 mins walk through the city center. If you follow the turn by turn directions on their listing, that is. Finally finding the place after climbing hella flights of stairs with all of our stuff on our backs was a wonderful feeling and a nice surprise warm up for the next five days of adventure. If you have never been to Cusco, let me be the first to tell you that the city is basically just a real life version of a stair master.
As you could imagine, we were ravaged after that and made a bee line for food. Not 30 seconds after leaving, someone yelled “Do you live here?” in Spanish. My first instinct was to keep walking because, who are we kidding, we clearly don’t look like we belong. Come to find out it was a fellow traveler who was doing an open ended stay in one of the hostel’s apartments after falling in love with the city.. so the question from his perspective was pretty reasonable.
We told him we were on the prowl for chow and he offered to show us the conveniently close, best cevichería in the city – Sakana. It was there that I learned about the ceviche I’ve been missing out on my whole life.
After some wandering and our hiking brief, we stumbled upon PER.UK which also had a baller showing between the Alpaca steak, which was surprisingly awesome, curry, and three pepper beef steak + sweet potato gnocchi. Yes, that’s four entrees. Yes, we’re fatties (or foodies – your call).
The next morning came aggressively early at 4am so we could get breakfast and get to Rainbow Mountain before it got too crowded. August is late winter in Peru so you’d think there’d be more in the way of heating but we learned quickly that is not the case. Good thing we came prepared for cold nights in the mountains because our van driver was anti-heat, as was the open air cafe we fueled up for the day at.
An hour of winding, bumpy mountain passes later and we were at the trailhead (~15,500 Ft elevation). Cusco is around 11,000; quick math means this was another significant jump from the sea level of Lima – an important fact for later. We reached the colorful summit (17,060ft) about an hour and a half of tiny steps and deep breaths later (well for me anyway… Chris is savagely fit and power walked up like it was no big deal). Still, I fared better than most people who were taking frequent breaks, some puking from elevation sickness, and others who copped out and were being led up on horseback by the wildly athletic native mountain dwellers.
In addition to being shocked by their ability to run up the mountain in sandals nonetheless, folks were selling tasty treats, souvenirs, and goading tourists into paying for a pic with their (adorable) alpaca rocking sunglasses. After seeing us reach the summit with relative (to other tourists) ease, our guide suggested we take the indirect route back to catch a view of the Red Valley. I’d had enough for the day, knowing what we had ahead of us the next four days, so Chris and I headed back to the van while Justin went solo-splorin’.
It was a good thing we opted out of the hard mode back, albiet for unrelated reasons, because the altitude started to hit me about halfway back. A headache came first, which was tolerable until a few minutes sitting in the van when the nausea hit. It clearly wasn’t the van driver’s first rodeo as he whipped out what I thought was a mini shooter of tequila. It ended up being a natural Peruvian headache remedy – a liquid you rub between your hands and the inhale the fumes. I kind of wish I’d let it take me over the vomit threshold because the ensuing van ride down was not pleasant.
Going down the rough mountain roads felt like I was one of game pieces in Perfection, tossing my stomach around like it was inside of a dryer. At lunch, I ate approximately three bites of bread to Chris’s three plates of veggies, but it was enough to keep down an Excedrin, which was my savior for the day.
Lesson learned: maybe pay attention to the altitude when you do mountain things. It might cue you to take the prophylactics the travel nurse gave you for this exact purpose. Or, you can wait to do this hike until after the Inca Trail, which will have you acclimated to almost 14,000ft.
All in all, the hike was unique and a solid warm up for starting the Inca Trail the following day. And we really couldn’t complain since Chris haggled this day trip to be included in our trek package 😎