Peru is an incredible place.
In Lima, we ate a lunch of fresh seafood cooked only by the lime juice in which it was served, huddled under a propane heater in a restaurant perched on the edge of a cliff, as the sea mist swirled and deepened around us. And that was the second best meal we had.
The best meal of our whole trip was when we ducked into a neighborhood café in Cusco to escape the rain and were captivated by the young woman frying doughnuts four at a time. With sweet syrup drizzled over them and 10 seconds from oil to plate, they cost us five soles, or about two bucks. The six tables in the café were filled with people eating doughnuts and watching Peru play Venezuela. We were halfway done when the crowd cheered as Peru scored, and we had just finished when Venezuela tied the game. As a Vikings fan, I could sense how it was going to end so we slipped out long before the final score of Venezuela 3, Peru 2.
Cusco is the ancient capitol of the Inca Empire. A lovely old city of about a half million people, its only downside is that it is located at a little over 11,000 feet above sea level. When we stepped out of the plane and began walking up the ramp, we paused, gasping and hearts pounding as we were exposed to the thin, twice-as-high-as-Denver air.
We took it very slowly the first day - I moved at a rate equivalent to a sloth with a heart condition - and the next morning felt like we had fully adapted. At least until our tour guide, Miguel Mario Luque Sullcarana (best tour guide ever) started leading us up into the mountains to check out some of the various archeological sites that make this such an incredible place to see. He didn’t ever appear to get winded, while I was regularly stopping in theory, to take pictures, but actually to try and get my pounding heart under control.
Heart pounding became a theme. There was a lot of heart pounding for us in Peru, particularly a couple of days later when we were at Machu Picchu. This is the fabled lost city of the Incas, “discovered” by a guy from Yale named Hiram Bingham. It wasn’t really lost – the Peruvians knew where it was all the time, but in 1911 when Hiram took some photos back to Yale, everyone was pretty excited. We certainly understood why when we saw it – it’s a stunning sight, built on the top of a mountain at the cost of an almost unbelievable amount of work. And if the sight of the city doesn’t start your heart pounding, some trails that are 3 feet wide, with no guardrails and a straight drop off of a little over half a mile will get the old ticker turning over.
I did the math. If I’d tumbled over the edge, it would have taken about 10 seconds before I hit bottom.
That’s too long. Do you know how many times I could have completed the thought, “Well, that was dumb,” in 10 seconds? I checked – 13 times.
Luckily, the test was just hypothetical. We got back off the mountain in fine form, if not a bit shaky, and soon were on our way back home, safe and sound. I’m glad to be back to my regular life.