Years ago, Peru was an esoteric country, one too inaccessible, too… at the end of the world- maybe also because I was living in Europe at the time. Now that I have become a seasoned traveler, the distances are measured in hours, half a day, a day, but not in thousands of miles. That way I can always fool myself that countries, people and cultures are all close or, really, just a few hours away…
Peru was thus closer than I thought. We left Chicago on a hot humid August morning, and a few hours later, we arrived in Cusco, the old Peruvian establishment in the core of the mountains. The air was fresh, crisp and rejuvenating, and the sunlight was inundating the mountain peaks. We ignored the lack of sleep, and debuted our stroll on the small narrow quaint streets of the city. We liked it all: the rocky pavements, the simple, yet genuine farmers markets, the traditional clothing that many locals wore, the flute music, the tea, the ceviche, our boutique hotel.
The next morning we started climbing. The paths through the woods were narrow, rocky, and we went up and down in a sinusoidal pattern. In many places, the narrow footpaths opened into large deep valleys, having us almost instinctively trying to support our backs against the mountain wall. It became hard not to get dizzy looking down. Some of the paths were built by the old Incas, and we started listening to stories about how, hundreds of years ago, the Incas were able to transverse the mountains much faster than imaginable.
With each level of altitude, my breathing became faster. After half a day, the pauses became longer. The valleys and snowy mountain peaks offered extraordinary views, and my eyes and mind were enchanted by what I was witnessing, and somewhat inebriated by the rarefied air up high. We continued to climb, and the layers of clothing also became more numerous. We then penetrated the white fluffy clouds. I felt I was at the roof of the world.
At 12,000 feet up high, we found a small windy tent on a naked peak, where we rented mountain bikes. We biked down 5000 feet, on a sharp edged track. For two hours, while biking, and being only with myself, I was in a state of bliss, looking around me at the immense beauty of the mountains, while touching the whitest purest snow and the vapors of the clouds, and taking in the cold yet powerful rays of sun.
We reached a turbulent large river, and continued our trip on a rafting boat, until sunset. I had an enormous collection of emotions that kept accumulating through the day, and that, to that time, I was unable to let out. While rafting, we started screaming and laughing, while being hit by waves of cold water from all directions.
The sunset came quickly and the night even quicker. We started climbing on an abrupt path through the woods with large savage trees, while the night became deep and dark. We were on an unknown path, at the end of a first day that tested our physical and mental resistance, and we felt strong and alive.