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Mate de Coca, my new friend

Machu Picchu, Peru

overcast 15 °C

IMG_4868.jpg

The altitude thing was worrying me. Having spent much of the previous week in Quito with a pounding headache and dizziness, just as I was starting to feel a bit more acclimatised, I leave for a week in the Galapagos, back to sea level, doh!! I was worried about getting sick again going to Cusco, which at about 3,400 metres above sea level is significantly higher than Quito. Luckily I found a new friend, mate de coca, or tea made from the leaf that cocaine is extracted!!! Not as bad as it sounds, as you would possibly need to ingest kilos of the leaves to get any kind of cocaine-style effect, but tea brewed from the leaves is a traditional way in the Andes to combat the effects of altitude sickness, and it bloody works! This innocent looking leaf is notorious worldwide and surrounded in controversy. Completely illegal in most countries of the world yet extremely important to the indigenous people of the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes. Illegal because of the possibility of extracting cocaine yet culturally significant in this part of the world, even considered by some living in the very high altitude plains and cities of the Andes to be essential for well being.
Mate de coca

Mate de coca


The train to Machu Picchu

The train to Machu Picchu

I was greeted by a parrot at the hostel at Agues Calientes

I was greeted by a parrot at the hostel at Agues Calientes


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It feels a bit strange at first to be offered coca tea as a welcome drink in the hostels and hotels but actually tastes OK and gives a very welcome energy boost. I am not sure if it was drinking the tea this time or that the acclimatisation from Quito had yet to wear off, possibly a bit of both, but I felt quite OK this time and raring to get out there and explore this fascinating part of the world. So here we are, in the Inca heartland of Peru, high up in the Andes. From Quito I had taken a flight to Cusco with a brief stop at Lima. I then spent just one day in Cusco, just time for a quick walk around the central square, the Plaza de Armas, before catching the train through the sacred valley to Agues Calientes. This little strange tourist town is in a valley right behind the famous, the majestic, the lost Incan sanctuary of Machu Picchu. The train ride to get here itself was pretty through the beautiful valleys of the Incas, following the Urubamba river. I thought it a good idea to stay for one night in Agues Calientes then catch the early bus the next morning to the ruins to try and beat the crowd. My plan went perfectly.
Agues Calientes stopover

Agues Calientes stopover

Agues Calientes stopover

Agues Calientes stopover

Agues Calientes stopover

Agues Calientes stopover


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Arriving to the site at 6.30am, it was peaceful and special, even though completely covered in cloud! I am sure Machu Pichu must be here somewhere!! I took a walk to a bridge that the Incans had built to defend Machu Picchu from invaders. It is essentially a large gap in the trail to the site with a wooded bridge that can be pulled away to prevent unwanted visitors accessing the city. It seemed to do its job as Machu Picchu was not discovered by the early Spanish invaders. I returned to the ruins and watched as the sun became stronger and started to burn through the cloud. Very few other tourists, just a few llamas, were watching with me as the cloud gradually cleared to reveal mysterious Machu Picchu in its full glory. Once an important sanctuary for upper class and well-regarded Incans, little is really understood as to the fate of this city. This mysterious ancient city gradually revealed itself to me I had just about an hour of peace and tranquillity to fully appreciate the scale, the history, the ingenuity of Incan skills and dedication, before the hordes of tourists started to descend on us. Thousands of people from all nationalities only interested in taking photos and not, it seemed, soaking up the atmosphere. People doing ‘jump shots’ and stupid poses, very annoying. It suddenly felt like I was in Disney land or something, it was amazing how quickly the feeling was lost. Anyway, Machu Picchu blew my mind, inspirational, my imagination was in overdrive. I returned back to Cusco on the train, during which we were ‘treated’ to a cabaret and a fashion show (lots of alpaca stuff of course). I was feeling pretty inspired.
I am sure Machu Picchu is here somewhere...

I am sure Machu Picchu is here somewhere...

Machu Pichu finally revealing itself through the clouds

Machu Pichu finally revealing itself through the clouds

large_IMG_4813.jpgThe Incan bridge to keep the Spaniards out

The Incan bridge to keep the Spaniards out

Watching Machu Picchu appear through the clouds with my llama friend

Watching Machu Picchu appear through the clouds with my llama friend

IMG_4841.jpgIMG_4850.jpglarge_IMG_4880.jpglarge_IMG_4908.jpgAlpaca fashion show on the train back to Cusco!

Alpaca fashion show on the train back to Cusco!

I was greeted by a parrot at the hostel at Agues Calientes

I was greeted by a parrot at the hostel at Agues Calientes

Agues Calientes stopover

Agues Calientes stopover

Agues Calientes stopover

Agues Calientes stopover

IMG_4799.jpgIMG_4825.jpglarge_IMG_4831b.jpglarge_IMG_4862.jpgIMG_4869.jpgIMG_4885.jpgIMG_4888.jpgIMG_4892.jpg8IMG_4906.jpglarge_IMG_4914.jpgIMG_4921.jpgAgues Calientes, the train line runs right through the middle of town

Agues Calientes, the train line runs right through the middle of town

'Caberet' on the train back to Cusco

'Caberet' on the train back to Cusco

Posted by Spinky 16:28 Archived in Peru

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Comments

Really fantastic place Karen, love the way the town appears out of the clouds like that. Why can't we have trains like that down here in the south east ??????
Great shots Karen, long may you reign..
Take care, go safe, enjoy - love as always Dad XXXXXXX

by Roy Spink

amazing! so jealous, and your pictures are so good, and from such a different perspective than we'd have all thought of, wicked, girl, (gordon bennett enjoyed them too)

by suze eggleton

Breathtaking scenery and wonderful photos, I'm so glad the tea worked and you felt a lot better Karen.
Lots of love and miss you.....Mum XXXXXX

by carolansp

Amazing pictures, Congrats! Mate de coca saved my trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu. Upon my return to the US I could buy a box of mate from nutriperu which an online retailer based in Quillabamba, Peru. Bye bye coffee and good morning mate de coca!

by sapoman

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