Breakdown in Peru
I was slowly getting acclimatised to the altitude on our trip to Peru. We had been based in Cusco which is at 11,000 feet for a few days and my chest wasn’t as tight as it was on arriving and I was no longer struggling to catch my breath.
I remember the first evening when we arrived in Cusco from Lima. Our guide had recommended a restaurant just a few minutes from the hotel. We were promised a buffet and a local show.
My wife and I set off on foot because we were told it was only a few blocks away. Walking even short distances at eleven thousand feet, when you are not used to it, is arduous and it took us much longer than expected to walk to the restaurant. Although it was on a fairly gentle incline, we were exhausted when we walked into the restaurant, well before we ate from the buffet and watched the show.
We had a great evening but even walking downhill to the hotel was difficult and I felt like an old man in slow motion, walking slowly and often gasping for breath between steps.
But two days later the frequent headaches had subsided and I felt a lot better.
The next day we had a very early breakfast before six am. It was still dark when we climbed into the coach and set off. We climbed a steep hill through the favelas of urban Cusco on our way to the Sacred Valley, a few hours drive away. It was far too early for conversation so we half awake as the coach trundled through the countryside.
When dawn broke I was surprised to see many villagers in national costume. In other countries that I’ve visited, national costume is worn mostly either for special occasions or for the tourists. In Peru, however, national costume is still worn quite naturally, every day of the year.
Our destination, that day, was Ollantaytambo an Inca archaeological site, in the Urubamba Province, some 60 kilometres or so from Cusco. Along the way, we stopped off at a mountain village to see how the baby alpaca wool was dyed with plants and minerals and had the opportunity, of course, of making a few purchases.
I seized a photo opportunity and left everyone to appreciate the show while I took my camera and headed along a path, just outside of the village.
When I travel in a group, I strive to be the first or the last member, so that I can seize photo opportunities that don’t include people in the photos.
I love taking portraits, but landscape photos are marred, in my opinion, when there are people in the shot.
The air was crisp, and the early morning sun pale as I walked along the path, immersing myself in the countryside. As usual, I was searching for interesting angles. Photography is one of my favourite ways of discovering. It encourages me to be inquisitive and attentive to my surroundings. The actual photos are often unremarkable, but I get a lot of enjoyment from taking them.
I took a few photos and had a few memorable moments before rejoining the party in the village. I even bought a baby Alpaca scarf from a smiling woman on a market stall and she let me take a portrait or two. It was magic.
Then we headed to Ollantaytambo and were able to enjoy our plastic ponchos in the rain as we visited the archaeological site.
Ollantaytambo is only at 9,500 feet but we were still suffering a little from altitude sickness and decided not to climb all the way to the top of the hill for a view of the village and enjoyed it from half way up.
We all met up in the coach after the visit for the two-hour trip back to Cusco.
We were exhausted.
As we climbed the mountain pass that separates Ollantaytambo from Cusco the sun was setting and the light was slowly fading.
Just after the summit, we heard a loud thud and the coach lurched and leant over to the side. The driver turned the engine off and we all looked out of the window to see if it had collided with another vehicle. There wasn’t another vehicle in site.
The driver and the guide talked for a minute or two before they announced that the back axle had broken and the coach couldn’t pursue its route.
We were stranded in the middle of Peru at 12,500 feet. The highest we had ever been in Peru.
Thinking back to that incident now, I had made a tandem jump the previous summer from 10,000 feet and there we were, 2,500 feet higher.
I asked the guide if I could seize the opportunity and take some photos a short walk from the coach and he said that it wouldn’t be a problem because he had a few calls to make.
I set off, very slowly over the road and into the fields to take some late afternoon photos. Most of the other passengers stayed in the coach.
When I had finished taking photos I returned to the coach. A few people had been able to jump onto another tour bus back to Cusco and the guide informed us that a replacement coach was on its way from Cusco to pick us up.
Within the hour, we were back in another small coach, on our way back to the hotel. As it was smaller it was able to take a few short cuts along the mountain roads and we all arrived just behind the other coach.
After an excellent meal, we retired to bed, ready for another excursion the next day.
A visit to Machu Picchu, the chance of a lifetime.
This is the sixth in a ten-part series of travel tales.
8. The Bali Run