Let me explain to you what 22 hours on a bus is like. Our bus was surprisingly a somewhat luxurious semi-cama (half bed seating) double-decker. We were on the top deck in the front, which had some nice views of the countryside. Leaving Lima, we stopped in Ica to pick up a few passengers, including our friend Ben who had gone there early that morning for a day trip. Because I cannot read in any sort of moving vehicle without vomiting, I appreciated the personal TV that tucked into the seat in front. We also had a dinner and breakfast provided that clearly weren’t very remarkable because I don’t remember what they were. Brent and I shared an Inca Kola that was offered to us and that was probably the first and last time I will drink that. I’ve heard it described as cream soda but to me it tasted more like carbonated Double Bubble, disgusting. Besides not walking for almost a full day (not counting the treacherous trip to the bathroom at the back of the bus), I’d rate my first long bus ride as a pretty neutral experience. Definitely wouldn’t do it again though because you can take a flight from Lima to Cusco for $40 more (yes, I did know this at the time, still not sure why I opted out).
When we arrived in Cusco (or Qusqo as it’s spelled in Quechua), it felt like we had been on a boat for days and solid ground never felt so welcome. The elevation there is 11,200 feet and I was rudely greeted by altitude sickness, a new experience for me. For the next two days I rested in a dazed state, eager to return to my bed for fear of fainting on the hilly cobblestone streets. The locals all urged me to consume insane amounts of mate de coca and coca candies, their cure all, but after eating nothing and vomiting much I think I established a taste aversion that will continue well into the future. Lucky for me, Intro Hostel where was stayed had very comfortable beds, free tea, and a bathroom right outside the dorm room.
(Cusco was cold and rainy – too much for my taste! Here’s the calm before the storm)
Thankfully, I began to come to on day 3 which was day 1 of our Jungle Trek. Eleven of my new best friends and I packed into a van to Ollantaytambo, our first pit stop. In the bus were fellow Americans Amanda and Victor who just finished teaching English in Barriloche, Argentina, Hagar and Noam, two girls fresh out of the Israeli Army, Claudio, a Swiss med student, four crazy Argentines and us – Ali, Brent and Ben. Our first adventure was downhill mountain biking from a mountaintop into the jungle. The first ¾ of the ride I have tried to block out of my memory because we rode with freezing rain whipping at our faces and drenching our bodies. When the rain finally subsided at lower altitude, we would be reminded of the horrible experience at every turn in the road where a river had formed from the rainfall and we would ride through it, furthering the misery (or excitement, according to some).
We ended up in the tiny town of Santa Maria where Brent, Ben and I met Segundo and Diablo, our rafting guides for the afternoon. Diablo (meaning devil) was an insane kayaker who preceded us down the river. At one point he did one flip too many and came up smiling with blood gushing down his face, what a thrill seeker! My favorite command from Segundo was “get down!” and I would quickly jump down into the raft before a giant wave. Brent wasn’t quick enough for one of those commands and went flying into the water. Toward the end, Segundo decided that Ben and I were too dry and on the count of “1-2-3 rafting!” pushed us overboard. Thankfully the water was much warmer in the jungle than on top of the mountain! Day 1 could have been enough adventure for me, but we still had three more days until reaching Machu Picchu…