Before classes began in Peru, we headed off to the mountains to see the city of Cusco and many Incan ruins, most notably Machu Picchu. Since we have been living on the coast, flying into Cusco, at 11,000 feet above sea level, was definitely a slight shock to the system. We acclimated ourselves by taking back the very popular drink mate de coca. The coca leaf is widely used in many communities throughout the Andes, as it helps cure altitude sickness and quench thirst and hunger. However, this sacred plant has received strong criticism from outside Peruvian borders.
Eradication of the coca plant has been strongly supported by the United States and other nations because coca contains cocaine alakoids, a major ingredient of the drug. As many shirts in Cusco can attest, "coca no es droga (coca is not a drug)." Drinking coca de mate and chewing the coca leaf does not have any effects close to that of cocaine. Therefore, I was excited to drink mate de coca, which was delicious, and chew the coca leaf, which made me feel like a major league baseball player. Above all, this made me feel like I had instantly terminated (or possibly began) my career in politics.
After spending a night in Ollantaytambo, we headed off on the train to Aguas Calientes, at the base of Machu Picchu. "Wait a second Corey, did you just say train?" Yes, unfortunately because this trip was organized through the study abroad program, we would be taking our trip to the Machu Picchu via the old-timers route of bus and train, and not the four-day trek on the Inca Trail. Though I have tried convincing my older brother to come down to Peru to hike the trail together, he has used words like "med school" and "education" to justify his absence. If you know stated older brother's e-mail address, feel free to send him a message explaining why this trip would be cooler and more relevant than anything he is learning.
Arriving at Machu Picchu the next morning was incredible. Having enough time for several hikes, we first went up Waynapicchu, the mountain that you see in the background of many pictures of the ancient ruins. Sick views ensue.
Later, we took a precarious walk down a trail with many areas to slip and fall a long, long way to arrive to the Puente Inca (Inca Bridge). Though the bridge was being repaired, it was still a great opportunity to appreciate the views and appreciate the fact that I was no longer experiencing growth spurts and my coordination was intact.
Finally, we headed to Intipunku (Sun gate), where we could see Machu Picchu from afar and the end of the Inca Trail. On the way up, we were lucky enough to spot a few llamas running full steam ahead. Later in the day, we also spotted some llamas in better position for some sweet pictures in front of the ruins, thus completing an important study abroad goal.
Seeing Machu Picchu is pretty indescribable. The absolute massiveness of the ruins, the complexity of the structures, and its remote location are unbelievable to take in. The fact that it was not rediscovered until 1911 is a testament to how incredible of an accomplishment this site was. Nevertheless, I still had many more ruins to see and so much more to learn about the indigenous culture and language. Since this blog is getting pretty lengthy, I figured I would use my next blog for all that (thus giving you two opportunities to comment).