The air is thin and breathing is difficult.
For the adults. The children, six-year-old Ty and ten-month-old Nathan, seem unaffected. Our research suggested altitude sickness can start once you ascend quickly to heights greater than 8000 feet (2500 meters) above sea level. Our plane had just deposited us at 11,152 feet (3,399 meters). To add insult to injury, it was a steep walk from the tarmac to baggage collection. With laboured breaths, we drag ourselves into the baggage collection area wondering what folly we had gotten ourselves into this time. CUZCO
. Peru. High up on the Peruvian side of the Andes Mountains, it once served as the esteemed capital of the great Inca Empire, before the marauding Spaniards, pursuing gold and spreading Christianity, drove the inhabitants into extinction.
But let’s backtrack.
Two days prior, we had arrived in Lima, the beating-heart capital of Peru, a country on the western end of South America. Peru shares northern borders with Colombia and Ecuador, eastern borders with Brazil, with Bolivia in the southeast and Chile down south. Ten million people are sardined in Lima (30-odd percent of the total population) which overlooks the mighty Pacific
Travelling with a baby, we are ushered to the Special Services line and cleared immigration and the chaotic Jorge Chavez airport in no time. Awaiting us were Bertha and Carlos, the parents of our AirBnB host, Katherina, who, like us, was somewhere exotic in the world answering the irresistible call of wanderlust. Exiting the airport, we find ourselves in the bustle, crush and din of the decidedly over-populated, third-world feeling section of Lima called Callao. Pedestrians stream down the sidewalks some stopping occasionally to patronize roadside vendors who hawk their wares under the shade of a million oversized billboards. Motor cars, overcrowded public buses and motorcycles jostle for space with the ubiquitous three-wheeled motortaxis or trimovils, all weaving in and out of the ridiculous traffic, honking incessantly. Fitness buffs and dog walkers share the landscaped median. There is a certain energy here, the kind we had come to expect travelling in South American cities and we immediately decided that we liked it.
Carlos turned the gray van on to Avenida Costanera, the multi-lane Malecon in the San Miguel area. Our apartment - a clean, well-appointed, two bedroomer - is located on the
eighth floor in a modern high rise with panoramic vistas over the Pacific. It’s almost midnight. We are tired.
It’s 11 am and a thick, cool blanket of fog still hovers over the Pacific obscuring the panorama. We nibble on gas station sandwiches while we wait for the nearby lunch restaurant to open. Lunch at Mi Propiedad Privada is a delectable feast - tacu tacu con lomo saltado, causa, ceviche. Ty ‘discovers’ Inka Cola and Nathan sucks down una chicha morada
. Peruvian cuisine takes a place in our top 3.
We sightsee by Uber and Lima impresses. Preconceptions dissolve as first-world infrastructure, multiple green spaces, world-class malls, residential high rises come into view. We stroll in plazas, watching Ty make and chase bubbles; we listen to a trio of youth play awesome violin music against the backdrop of birdsong; we lost ourselves in a warren of graffitied side streets of Barranco stumbling upon tiny food houses and engorging ourselves silly.
Yes, that was two days ago. Now, we are in Cuzco and straining for every breath.
We’ve got to get out of here. NOW!
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