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Published: November 23rd 2014
Never have I been so grateful to have visited a place in my life.
Cusco is the place tourists go to get acclimatised to altitude before trekking to Machu Picchu.
A few weeks prior to leaving for Peru our doctor told Nikki and I to cancel our trip. We had both been ill for three months with whooping cough and I had also developed pneumonia as a complication due to a late diagnosis of whooping cough.
Our lungs were damaged.
We took an overnight coach from Nazca to Cusco and when we woke up we both felt VERY ill.
If you have ever had altitude sickness before you will know how we were feeling. I heard the people sat in front of us mention they thought they had it and I laughed as I thought they were mentally giving themselves altitude sickness, but as we got higher it got worse. They were right. We all had it.
When we got off the coach the first thing we did after our 10 hour journey was get some food before looking for a pharmacy for
altitude sickness tablets. Inside the restaurant they had incense burning. The longer I sat there the less I could handle it. The altitude sickness felt like my head was a grape being squashed, ready to explode. The incense was quite literally stealing my oxygen. O felt like I was being suffocated. I became out of breath, like I had been running. My heart began to beat faster through anxiety due to not being able to breath, I could feel myself started to freak out. I opened the front door and stood outside to catch my breath. We couldn’t enjoy our meal as we were in too much pain.
We went to the pharmacy, which felt miles away but was actually only up the road. Every pill, potion and tonic they had available we bought. We even bought a canister of oxygen to take with us. The pills helped a little but not much. I had read chewing on coca leaves helped. As it is a derivative to cocaine I didn’t know how much to take and didn’t want to take too much so only put a few leaves in my mouth. They tasted disgusting and were so
dry they stick to the inside of your mouth like glue. They helped a little but not much. The altitude sickness now became bearable but I was very concerned about the trek. I decided not to worry too much as I had a few days to acclimatise.
I wasn’t too fussed about visiting Cusco prior to coming to Peru but Cusco is a little gem. Good restaurants, some amazing buildings to visit and photograph, I’ve heard the nightlife is good too although I didn’t sample it. Shopping for the latest in alpaca fashion and my favourite thing, the chocolate museum.
As I am a huge lover of food in general but especially chocolate we opted for the full experience. We got to roast the beans, grind them down and most amazingly sample what we had made. As we added ingredients the guide told us about the history of chocolate in Peru over the years. We learned how the Inca used to drink their hot chocolate, with chilli added to it. Up next, the Maya, the guide asked Nikki if she would volunteer for the next bit. Nikki quite rapidly said “NO” then pointed to
me. “I’ll volunteer” I said, not knowing what I was letting myself in for. The guide explained that the Maya used a special ingredient in their chocolate, as she said this she began to put on surgical gloves and got a small bag from another room. She began to open the small bag and removed a large cactus spine “The secret ingredient is human blood” she said.
Oh shit, what had I let myself in for?
Not one to back down I took a deep breath and held my hand out ready to have my index finger stabbed by the huge cactus spine. A small crowd had begun to form looking at the woman with a huge cactus spine in her hand and surgical gloves on. “Oh no” she said “The Maya didn’t use blood from the finger, they couldn’t get enough blood from there. They got the blood from the tongue!” Now the crowd had got a little bigger and all of them were looking to see what I was going to do.
I love experiencing new and different things from around the world, this was not one of the
things I would normally volunteer to do, in fact if I’d have known in advance I wouldn’t have volunteered but as I had already agreed and as a crowd were watching my male pride got the better of me.
I took a gulp and leaned forward, I poked my tongue out, the guide held my tongue with her index finger and thumb and slowly moved the cactus spine closer to my tongue. I could feel my heart beating faster. I was essentially about to get my tongue pierced.
“ONLY JOKING” the woman said as she put the cactus spine away. The crowd began to laugh and clap, my heart was still racing and my palms clammy but I was happy I didn’t back down now.
The look on Nikki’s face, a look of ‘I can’t believe you are doing this you idiot’ the adrenaline rush, the fact I got lots of chocolate, all of these reasons made it so worth going to the chocolate museum.
Over the course of 48 hours here, prior to trekking the Inca trail, the altitude sickness eased up slightly but I was still
a little concerned what may happen once the trek starts.
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