Here is an excerpt from my journal when I traveled to Peru in 2008. In July of 2013 I will lead a group there to have a spiritual experience of the sacred sites. (See Calendar for details.)
I now understand why songs are written about Cuzco. I get it why there are so many ex-pats living out their days there, walking the cobbled streets, partaking in the rich culture, hiking the hills, and exploring the untold numbers of ancient ruins. Did you know that Cuzco claims to be the oldest continuously occupied city in the world?
The Incas were there in the 1500’s. Another surprise for me as I thought of them as much farther in the past. However, there have been many cultures throughout history that have enjoyed, and lived and died for, the beauty and wonder of that area.
Described best by Author and Shaman Jorge Luis Delgado: “Cusco was the capital of the Incan Empire from its inception in the 14th century through the Spanish conquest by Francisco Pizarro in 1533. The culture of Cusco is a blend of Spanish and Inca and especially known for its architecture constructed of enormous boulders and cut-stones. Some boulders weigh over 190 tons and are so perfectly shaped and fitted that no mortar was used. Because Cusco is surrounded by twelve guardian mountains where the “Apus” or superior spirits reside, the City was regarded as a sacred city or “house of gods.” The City was designed and laid out in the form of a crouching puma with the “fortress of Sacsayhuaman” as its head and the confluence of the Huatanay and Tullumayo Rivers form the tail in Pumaqchupan. Sacsayhuaman strides a hill or highest place overlooking Cusco. Perceived as a fortification, it was also a temple, observatory, refuge, and location of magnificent reunions of the Empire’s citizens.”
Upon arrival it reminds one of a New Mexico town, with the scrubby desert hills and adobe architecture. Yet when you come into the main center of the city, and stand in the Plaza de Armas, you feel the majesty of its colorful history. Cobbled streets, cathedrals, markets, shops, hotels, and restaurants with their iconic balconies set the scene for the bustling tourists and locals, including traditional natives with their alpaca or llama in tow.
But first things first. You may feel good upon arrival, but it won’t take but a few hours to feel the effects of being at 11,000 ft. Altitude sickness is a way of life in Cuzco. Vendors meet you in the airport parking lot with various remedies, and hotels are set up with oxygen and coca tea. While there are a few things that are offered to ward off the intense headache and nausea, the most prevalent is the coca plant. Whether taken as a tea, in candy, or chewing the fresh leaves, it is a necessary part of the Andean tourist diet.
While the coca leaf contains chemicals that can be used in the manufacturing of cocaine, when taken in its natural state, it is filled with nutritious benefits and is vital in staving off altitude sickness. As the tee-shirts say, in Peru coca isn’t a drug it is a sacred medicine.
There are a number of other sacred medicines that are available in Peru. The various shamans and curanderos we worked with introduced us to a number of them. Descriptions of these will be included in future articles.
Meanwhile, during my first night in Cuzco I held my head, practiced breathing and tapping techniques, tried self-hypnosis, and anything else I could manage to make the migraine go away. While there may have been mild relief from my attempts, the cure occured when a member of the hotel staff appeared, in the morning, at my door and at my request, with the quick fix. After I swallowed a capsule that promised relief, she poured rubbing alcohol on her hands, rubbed them together and wiped my brow and asked me to inhale the fumes deeply. She left, stating I would be fine in 30 minutes. She was absolutely right about that.
Note: Having learned the lesson of altitude sickness, no one on our 2013 journey will be left without remedies to this expected and avoidable malady.