Nausea. Dizziness. Headaches. Fainting. Vomiting. Death. All serious complications of Altitude Sickness where Lonely Planet says:
“Altitude sickness is not a joke. It doesn’t matter how fit you are; some people will get it and some people won’t. Be especially careful if you’re flying in from sea-level Lima to Cuzco, which is 10,000 ft. above sea level” (which is exactly what we were doing).
And this morning I thought I had it: upon landing I woke up feeling my stomach rumble with a little light-headedness, and I felt like I had a hard time breathing. My first thought was “oh no, I got it. I have altitude sickness. Get me an O2 tank.” 10 minutes later at the arrival gate I then realize that our plane had turned around while I was sleeping, that therefore I was actually still in Lima at sea level, and that I’m a paranoid drama queen. Ok, you win Altitude Sickness.
Thankfully 2 hours later after waiting in Lima’s airport, the weather cleared and we were able to board a replacement flight to Cuzco 2 hours later. After landing a mere 90 minutes after take-off, we found ourselves wandering about 10,000 ft. (~3,000 meters) above sea level. The last time I was this high up was 4 years ago in Denver (about a platry 5,700 ft. above sea level). The best part? No symptoms yet (knock on wood as I’m typing this). Ok, I win too, Altitude Sickness.
Now the plan was to get our asses asap to Ollantaytambo, the midpoint city between Cuzco and Aguas Calientes, so we could catch our evening train to Machu Picchu. Here’s the tricky part for you travelers: once you leave Cuzco airport you’re going to get bombarded by touts overcharging you up to 20-30 soles for a ride to anywhere in the city. We wanted to get into the collectivo/bus station at Pavitos to find a shared van that would take us to Ollantaytambo, so we settled on a not very wise decision for a pirate (no company listing, some independent guy with no official badge) taxi that gave us a good deal for 8 soles. But then here was the catch: before taking us to our intended destination of Pavitos, he took us to at least 2 different places selling us overpriced (if not, fake) Machu Picchu tickets and private taxis to Ollantaytambo (which are twice as expensive as the 10 soles you’d pay for a collectivo). I didn’t give in. If you’re caught in a situation like this, you gotta stick to your guns be and tell him:
“I already bought my tickets to Machu Pichhu” (even though I didn’t, but I knew you could buy them at a legit office in Aguas Calientes)
and: “I want you to take me to the collectivos at Pavitos.”
He may reply that the collectivos left for Ollantaytambo hours ago (which he did) but remain firm. Tell him you don’t care and you want to go to Pavitos.
So we got to Pavitos where we met a bunch of people trying to sell us rides on their empty collectivos. One guy said we either had to wait hours for 2 more people to come (because it was a Sunday, he said, it was going to be a slow day), or we could leave immediately and pay 60 soles to get there (6 times the agreed amount!). We told him we would wait.
Exactly 2 minutes later I walk around the corner and I find a nearly full collectivo heading to Ollantaytambo. They saw me and immediately told me that they fit 2 more people. And that’s when I quickly pulled my bags out of the first van and shuttled it to this one. So long, sucka!
I admit, I may have saved (25-8 = 12) soles for the taxi from the airport, ($120-$70 = $50 USD) for the tickets to Machu Picchu, and [(25-10 = 15) + (60-10 = 50) = 65] soles for the transport to Ollantaytambo (for a total of 77 soles and $50 USD = $76!!!) all by being really stubborn, but what I get for my frugality is being crammed into a van of 15 people meant for 10, and my butt balancing itself in between two seats for a 2 and a half hour ride up an endless series of hills. So, choose your posion.
After a pretty windy and bumpy bus ride, we found oursleves in Ollantaytambo´s Plaza de Armas, the heart of a charming little town. But it´s the lush wonder of being surrounded by cloud-covered mountains on all sides that makes you feel like you´ve stumbled upon something otherworldly.
After gushing at our unexpected finding, we decided to hike up the Inca ruins. Ollantaytambo is regarded to be one of the last (if not, the very last) stronghold of the great Inca civilization before they were finally wiped out by the Spanish. And you´ll see ruins of castles and forts dotting the hillscapes around Ollantaytambo, keeping to themselves secrets of a bloody past.
So Kseniya and I decide to jump a little wall and continue trekking off to the side of the mountain. The trail started becoming more precarious and steep, as it was obvious we were not supposed to be on it as tourists. Nevertheless, our impetuousness rewarded us with some amazing views…
After about 3/4 of a mile, it came to a point where the people following us had turned back, the trail became really a mishmash of badly placed rocks, it started to rain, and the wind started picking up pretty heavily. Seeing that the trail literally was a path to nowhere, we turned back and took a detour.
Now we´re waiting on our evening train to Aguas Calientes, which is sort of the base camp to Machu Picchu. Did I say Machu Picchu?! YES, if all goes according to plan, we´ll be at Machu Picchu by dawn tomorrow!
– At time of posting in Ollantaytambo, it was 57.2 °F – Humidity: 62% | Wind Speed: 2km/hr | Cloud Cover: scattered clouds