From the moment I laid eyes on Cusco from the plane, I knew that I had
arrived at a sacred land. I am not sure if the fact that I was traveling here with some of my best friends, to a place that I had dreamed of visiting for so long, incremented the magical experience. Nevertheless, I was certain that this ancient city held the fascinating rich culture I had learned about.
As soon as I stepped down from the plane, there was a basket full of Coca leaves for the passengers that arrived to collect as a way to prevent altitude sickness. I hesitantly grabbed some of the leaves thinking that I was being tricked by the DEA but then proceeded to get my luggage.
In the taxi ride to my accommodation, I was trying to take it all in. The city was buzzing with activity. Llamas and alpacas were crossing the streets alongside pedestrians. Quechua women in their colorful garments carried babies or sheep wrapped in shawls to their backs. Men and women walked around selling handmade jewelry, beggars were found in the corners, and people played music all around. It was an eye-catching spectacle.
Because the Peruvian Andes region, where Cusco is located, is at an altitude of 3399 meters high, I was concerned about the implications it would cause on my body. It is recommended for people to take a day or two to acclimate to the elevation and to refrain from drinking and doing too much physical activity. The altitude affects everyone differently and some people are more susceptible than others. That is why I started drinking the famous Coca tea that all the locals drank. Thankfully I did not have any symptoms of altitude sickness and in spite of my apprehension of getting high from the tea, I simply felt fine.
With a day to recover from the trip and to adapt to the new surroundings, we strolled to the city center at Plaza de Armas, the square full of restaurants and lively ambiance. We got a table with a balcony and against the recommended advice of refraining from alcohol, I decided to order a Pisco Sour. With a view of Cristo Blanco watching over the city while the sun was setting behind the mountains, surrounded by great company, and with such a warm feeling of gratefulness, I just had to make a toast to that moment of magic. Salud to that!
(Photographed below: Plaza de Armas, Inca Ruins Sacsayhuamán, Cristo Blanco)