“All I want to do in Peru is eat ceviche.” So said Monica as we headed to the final continent of the trip. A week later we were curled up in the fetal position in the Inca city of Cusco, Monica shaking uncontrollably like a Chihuahua at Christmas. A parasite caught by eating uncooked fish? Bacteria from unclean water and contaminated produce? Whatever it was, notwithstanding six months of adventurous eating on the streets of the world, this time we ended up in urgent care…in Lima airport (you have to wonder when an airport has its own emergency room).
Despite this hiccup, two of the best meals we have had on the entire trip were in Peru – trout in Lima for Thanksgiving and alpaca steaks and organic veggies in Ollantaytambo on the Inca Trail. We refused to be beaten by a bug so much smaller than we are. And so we interviewed up a storm and absorbed the culture and history of Lima.
In Cusco we marveled at the Inca Temple of the Sun (which the Spanish colonizers promptly built a gigantic church on top of) and enjoyed the golden glow of the main plaza at night.
Determined to remember this fascinating country at its best, we drew on Positive Psychology’s peak end theory and spent our final days hiking, climbing and scrambling up the big daddy of Inca ruins…Machu Picchu and Wayna Piccu. After a 5am start to the morning we headed out of Aguas Calientes with light daypacks and oodles of enthusiasm. Two hundred meters into the hike we picked up a little friend who decided to follow us all the way to the summit.
I'll admit that after a couple of kilometers on the flat I was over confident and wondered why friends had said the climb up to Machu Picchu was so strenuous. Oh. My. God. How wrong I was. We are hardly strangers to exercise (even at altitude) but this was full on. After 75 minutes and at almost 8,000ft above sea level we arrived at the ancient ruins sweating and panting like the perrito who had accompanied us. For most of the way up we counted 100 steps before stopping to breathe for a few seconds. Unbelievable. But the workout was well worth it for the views of the surrounding mountains, for being in the thick of the forest breathing thin air, for getting a feeling for how the Incas felt so many years ago climbing these same heights, and for the smug satisfaction of knowing that we had avoided the tourist buses snaking their way to the top. After downing a Gatorade and Monica taking a brief snooze against the walls of the ruins we charged on up to the final peak of Wayna Picchu at just under 9,000ft above sea level. The climb up was treacherous and slippery as the rain began to fall.
The view of Machu Picchu from the very top was stunning. There we were, up in the clouds, swimming in endorphins and just staring out at the Inca terraces neatly packed into a forested mountain top. There was a moment up there that the enormity of this trip dawned on us – six continents in six months have been a true privilege and a genuine challenge. It is something that we will always remember and that has strengthened us individually and as a partnership.
We slowly wandered down the mountain in the pouring rain feeling at one with this natural colossus. In the final analysis, the lesson of Peru – particularly Machu Picchu – is that the good life is not without its difficulties. Indeed, it may very well depend on them.