There are different kinds of journeys in life. Some are by jet or train to foreign lands. Some are road trips over the hills and through the woods to grandma’s house. Still other journeys take us deep inside to a place we know little about… ourselves.
I’ve felt empty for a long time, my spirit drained from a parade of failed relationships, a stressful job that is merely a paycheck and the constant roadblocks I encounter on my career path as a writer and artist. With no real support system, no family or close friends who have my back, I’ve trudged onward alone.
In the last couple of years, things have come to a head, especially in the past few months. I know I can’t continue on the path I’ve been on. Something, maybe everything, has to change.
One more thing, and I hesitate to say this as it doesn’t quite seem real, my ophthalmologist tells me there’s a good chance I’ll go blind from a condition he made me aware of about a dozen years ago, myopic degeneration. And yes, I am seeing the changes of things that may come to pass. That’s a different kind of journey, indeed. The prospect makes me work harder toward my creative goals and toward seeing as much of the world as I can while I can.
Machu Picchu in Peru has been on my bucket list for years. Peru, the land of the Incas, is well-known for its spirituality. In fact, many people make spiritual pilgrimages to this beautiful land to reconnect with themselves and Mother Earth. So when a Gate 1 Travel tour to Machu Picchu and Cusco came into my email inbox, I knew I needed to do this trip to help me change course. Certainly I didn’t expect it to be a panacea, but maybe it would help me see myself in another light.
The tour originated from Miami, so I had to fly from Los Angeles to Miami, to Lima and finally to Cusco. It was a long trip. By the time I stepped out of the jet in Cusco, my body ached and my patience was thin.
Unfortunately, one can never make a first impression twice, and I made a bad one. I’m far from perfect (I guess that makes me human). I brought a lot of bad energy with me from LA and unleashed it at the Cusco airport when I couldn’t locate my luggage.
The rest of the tour group had already gone to the bus as I searched for my lost luggage. I felt I was on my own and was going to be left behind. I let our guide, Adriel, know that my luggage was missing, but he was distracted. How could he not be? He was busy rounding up the other tourists. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was angry and rude, even after I found out that the porters had taken our group’s luggage to the bus before it ever made it onto the baggage carousel– and my luggage was there at the bus. Lesson learned. Later on, I apologized to Adriel in private, but… you can never make a first impression twice.
Animator and entertainment mogul Walt Disney said a lot of sage things like, “Keep moving forward.” So I took his advice. I moved forward from this and told myself to relax and trust. Once again, a thousand apologies to Adriel.
As my emotions began to settle down, our bus lumbered up the cobbled, winding streets of a rustic little town outside of Cusco. My attention was drawn to the landscape of shabby, mud brick houses with terracotta tile roofs and the tangle of electrical wiring that connected them. I wondered if the arrangement was safe.
Many of the houses were unfinished. The roofs sagged. Dogs wandered about everywhere. People sat in front of their houses, gathered in family groups and happy friendships.
As we left the town, the mountains that had served as backdrop to homes now took center stage. I snapped some photos through the bus window of the monumental peaks that dominated the topography. They were our steady companions on our journey to the Urubamba Sacred Valley, more than an hour’s drive away.
Although Lima, with a population of nearly 8.5 million people, is Peru’s largest city, the country is a mostly rural culture. Our tour bus wound through the mountains past fields of corn and potatoes, sheep, cattle, pigs and llamas. Rustic homes diminished by the dramatic landscape nestled into the foothills. Mountain folk, some dressed in traditional colonial attire, worked in the fields.
En route, I began to notice a throbbing headache and my stomach became queasy, the apparent symptoms of altitude sickness, although I was taking Acetazolamide to prevent it. The city of Cusco stands at 11,000 feet above sea level. Our journey to the Urubamba Sacred Valley would take us to a lower altitude, but still much higher than most of us are accustomed, around 8,000 feet above sea level. I hoped that a good night’s sleep would help me feel better, but we still had a full day ahead of us.
Our first stop was not our hotel, but rather, a restaurant in the Urubamba Sacred Valley where we had a taste of Peruvian cuisine. This delightful, nutritious and sometimes mysterious fare is derived from the indigenous Inca civilization and influenced greatly by native dishes of Spain, Germany, China, Japan, Africa and Italy. When immigrants from these countries came to Peru, many of the ingredients they used in their traditional recipes were not available. They adapted their recipes with whatever was available in Peru.
Potatoes, corn and chili peppers are main staples of the Peruvian diet, as well as quinoa, kiwicha, maca, lupine beans, tubers such as yucca, guinea pig, and alpaca. The Spanish introduced rice, wheat, chicken, beef and pork into Peruvian diets. Peru also grows about 20 different varieties of fruit, some of which are only found in that country.
Guinea pig is a common dish on Andean tables and provides an inexpensive form of protein. I did not notice any guinea pig as part of the buffet at our first lunch. Although I wanted to try it, my stomach was pretty upset from the altitude. None of the foods at the buffet were labeled, so I chose some quinoa soup and small portions of just a few of the other dishes. When you’re suffering from altitude sickness (and lack of sleep), it’s best to eat light and stay hydrated.
After lunch, we continued on to nearby Pisac Village where the whole town has been converted into a marketplace to sell their handicrafts. Adriel walked us into the maze of stalls with various souvenirs and trinkets, most of which did not interest me, and let us wander on our own for a bit. This place was very touristy, and I was put off by the fairly aggressive sales people.
Many of the women and children were dressed in traditional costume. Some carried adorable little lambs. The scene begged for tourists to take pictures. But if you did, the subjects expected you to pay for their pose.
Although the official currency in Peru is the Nuevo Sol, Peruvians will accept small denominations of American dollars, as long as they are in new condition. They expect to be tipped, so I brought a sizable stack of singles and fives with me for that purpose.
After about 30 minutes of wandering, we boarded our bus for our final journey of the day to our lodging in Urubamba. By the time we arrived, it was dusk. As we gathered in the lobby, some of our group drank Coca tea, which helps with altitude sickness. I was not aware of this until the next day. I was not aware of much that day. I just wanted to go to bed and shake my malaise.
Our welcome dinner was quick and quiet. We were all exhausted and anxious to get some sleep. In my lovely, rustic room, I took a heavenly shower. Then I hit the pillow and slept like a stone. We had an early call the next morning, as we needed to be on the bus by 5:30 am to catch the train to Machu Picchu.