Posted by: Dave | February 28, 2009

Cusco: Time for an Altitude Adjustment

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

I leave early tomorrow morning (Sunday) on the 7-day trek to Machu Picchu. Since arriving in Cusco, Peru on Thursday morning, I’ve learned from other travelers and trekkers that this 7-day endeavor is less common, and quite a challenge. I guess I knew all of that, but it’s interesting to meet people who have spent 4 and 5 days on the Inca Trail and other trails in the area and hear about their treks. We’re hiking for 3-4 days on the Salkantay Mountain range, and on Tuesday or Wednesday we’ll hike up over 16,000 feet . Cusco is at 11,000 feet and you can definitely feel that in the air. Just for a frame of reference, at 12,000 feet, the human body can only absorb 60% of the oxygen that it can at sea level. That’s why it was important to get here a few days before the hike started – to allow for acclimatization and adjustment to the altitude. What’s interesting is that while we start at 11,000 feet and go to 15,000, Machu Picchu is only at 8,000 feet…. so the last few days of the hike are essentially downhill. If you’re lost on all that – the tallest peak in the Colorado Rockies is 14,000 and Denver’s altitude is 5,281 feet.

Cusco is an interesting town. It was the “hub” of the Inca Empire and in the native language it is literally translated as “navel of the world.” There are important Incan ruins just outside of town and all over the nearby Sacred Valley. The closest is Saqsaywaman (strangely enough, it’s pronounced “sexy woman”) and we did the steep, short trek to the ruins. Here are some pics:

Saqsaywaman was destroyed by the Spanish when they invaded and conquered the Incan Empire.

Saqsaywaman was destroyed by the Spanish when they invaded and conquered the Incan Empire.

Imagine this temple in all it's glory 500+ years ago. It would have had 100 foot towers and dominated the skyline.

Imagine this temple in all it's glory 500+ years ago. It would have had 100 foot towers and dominated the skyline.

The Incas are known for the incredibly strong architecture.

The Incas are known for the incredibly strong architecture.

Mom - this one is for you. More color!

Mom - this one is for you. More color!

Me... chillin at Saqsaywaman.

Me... chillin at Saqsaywaman.

The town of Cusco maintains some of its native charm, but as the tourist base for Machu Picchu it has turned into a bustling town with vendors of all sorts who hassle turistas in the street. “Buy this,” and “eat here” gets annoying when you hear it every 2.12 seconds. It’s a really poor town, and it’s interesting to compare its situation to that of Calafate in Argentina which has done extremely well to develop into a nice small tourist town, capturing the business for those that visit the Perito Moreno glacier. What’s cool about Cusco is that it maintains that everyday life of a rural town. We wandered into a market and saw all sorts of handmade goods and a meat market that was incredible. You could see every cow part you ever imagined (and some you can’t imagine) among other animals. I’m holding back from some of the more vivid butcher photos, as I don’t want to lose any readers.

This photo has been rated PG-13

This photo has been rated PG-13

The butcher's block.

The butcher's block.

The native Incan culture is easy to see in local arts and crafts.

The native Incan culture is easy to see in local arts and crafts.

At the market in Cusco.

At the market in Cusco.

Outside the local football club's stadium.

Outside the local football club's stadium.

It’s been good to take it easy for the last few days in preparation for the hike, but I’m excited to get out there and finally get to Machu Picchu next weekend. That’s the end of my trip as I’ll be heading back to Arizona immediately afterwards (I’ll be home in Tues. Mar. 10).

No more posts on this blog until I’m back from Machu Picchu (and probably not until I’m home), but I’m hoping that my trek and visit to Machu Picchu provide some great stories and photos!

Thanks for checking in. Look for something on March 10/11.

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Responses

  1. Ironically, I was just watching the travel channel and they had a special on Machu Picchu. Pretty interesting history there! I had no idea that it was only rediscovered in 1911! It made me laugh when I read your inserpt about Saqsaywaman because when they pronounced it on the show, I was like….did I just hear that correctly?

  2. so Schif, Denver is “The Mile and 1 Foot City” now?? interesting.

    i’m still waiting for pictures of Llamas but that mule playing soccer will get me by.

    And at least you finally got to hang out with a Saqsaywaman.

    cant wait to hear all the details of the trip.


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