As I left the huge and chaotic city of Lima, you pass into an infinite desert under grey skies. You pass numerous towns and see the beginning of the Andean mountain peaks rising up and up into the horizon. It was all breathtaking.

Then night settled and there was nothing much to do but watch the telly. After ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and pirate copies of ‘Final Destination 1 and 2’, I decided to try and fall asleep. Many a time I was shaken awake as the bus toiled up steep roads upon the mountain slopes, as it goes up and up around the mountain peaks. It’s a bit scary mind you, but it’s completely safe.

The days before my trip, I was actually quite paranoid about the bus toppling off over the cliffs because of an earthquake (earthquakes are common here in Peru, and I’ve had to experience them. Even during my cup of tea!) Or perhaps the bus driver was a recovering alcoholic who couldn’t resist a swig before driving! Yes, I know it’s dramatic, but that’s just me being silly me!

The next morning I woke up to a bright day and being surrounded by escalating mountain peaks, I was finally surrounded by the Andes of South America. It was breathtaking as the lower parts on one side of the mountain range is covered in dry desert flora, and on the other side it would be covered completely in freezing snow.

Day1: The city of Cusco and capital of the Incan Empire

Finally, Cusco. It is most probably the most unique and different place I’ve ever seen as it lies directly above the mountain slopes in a deep and wide valley and all you see for miles are tops of various mountain ranges and snow covered peaks. The city is fashioned in old Spanish style with numerous red roofs that that all slope up and down into the valley. The city is all slopes, and no even ground.

Surrounding it are archaeological sites of the city when it was still the Incan capital. The whole city used to be fashioned in the architecture of the Ancient Incas with tightly packed stones and pyramid like tiers and levels of farming grounds, but since the arrival of the Spanish and Western world influence, many of the inhabitants have traded their ancient building materials for the simplified brick and mortar that we know of today.

Many of the Incan temples and housing places are still very well preserved and the few gold ornamentations that these buildings once housed. Unfortunately, a lot of the golden artefacts and statues in precious metal were looted by the Spanish and melted down and lost forever.

Being so high up causes many to suffer from severe altitude sickness. Luckily, I never had it, just a mild headache as I went further and further up the mountains. At one site I had met a teacher who had worked and lived in Cape Town and was saying how se missed it all so much, especially Nandos! So there I was talking about Nandos chicken some 4000 feet up on the Andes Mountains amidst ancient Incan ruins. What were the chances?!

Day2: Macchu Picchu and the amazon Jungle

I had to wake up at 5:00 am so I could get the bus to drive some 2 hours to Olayatambo to catch a train to Aguas Calientes (Warm Waters). It was a long drive that descends some 2000 feet into a town in the deep valleys of the mountains.

Finally, we arrive at the station. It’s packed with tourists. Olayatambo is a little town that lies on the border between the dry Andes and the Amazon Jungle and as you go deeper towards the jungle you start seeing the dry arid vegetation vanishing as deep green ravines and thick lush vegetation start replacing it all. Luckily at this point you don’t start feeling the humidity as you are only at the border and some 1000 feet high above sea level. As the train takes you past snow-covered mountains and dry farmlands, you enter the Amazon. You see more ancient Incan ruins, such as their farming grounds and housing in their traditional stone work.

After 2 hours you reach the humbling and tranquil village of Aguas Calientes. It’s situated between two huge mountains and a rushing stream for the Amazon River running through it. There are no cars, lots of markets and restaurants. It’s completely peaceful and mentally healing.

I then had to take a bus up a steep ravine laden mountain to get to Macchu Picchu, lost city of the Incas and Holy place of worship. It was built right on top a mountain peak. To the East of Macchu Picchu you see the Amazon and the Empire they once owned and to the right, lay the West and Andes Mountain range, the other half of the empire. It is one of the world’s seven wonders as no one knows how it was built and what happened to its mysterious inhabitants. But, they do know what the Incas used it for. It was spiritual place for high nobles and priests as the Incas worshipped the sun god, Inti. The Incan astrologers would live in these high places and look to the skies and stars for advice for various problems or ideas on the running of the vast empire. From the news they had acquired they would send numerous messengers to and from Macchu Picchu throughout the Incan Empire.

It was also a place where the chiefs and nobles would seek advice. It is still considered a holy place for many for the descendents today, regardless of their conversion to Catholicism.

There has been another discovery of another lost city which also served the same function as Macchu Picchu but to the South of the Empire. These holy cities are hard to reach and well hidden as not just anyone could enter them.

Day3: The festival of the Sun God Inti Raym

June 24th. I had chosen to go to Cusco and the Highlands during this time as it is marked as the Festival of the Sun God, Inti Raymi (Inti meaning sun in Quechwa). Inti was the all powerful sun god who the Incas worshipped and who numerous human and non- human sacrifices were made to.

Today Inti Raymi is a parade with local people dressed up in the traditional Incan gear partaking in the traditional dances and playing the traditional music. One man gets to be the Incan chief and the locals and tourist crowd go wild on seeing him. In Peru and in the highlands the people still speak the ancient Incan language of Quechwa.

Everyone speaks Spanish and many have converted to Catholicism, but have adapted so many facets of the Catholic religion to the old culture. Many still live according to the old traditional ways of the people before the Spanish invasion. In fact even here in Lima, many people have mixed the traditional Quechwa with Spanish making their own flavour to the language.

It was most likely one of the most awesome experiences of my life. I really did not want to leave, but my student lifestyle and budget had forced me. It was worth every penny.

Since becoming an official heritage site to the world, Macchu Picchu is heavily regulated by the Peruvian government and soon one day it will be off limits to tourists as they will no longer be able to set foot upon the grounds. The constant stream of visitors and tourists are slowly deteriorating it.

I bumped into two Aussies and they exclaimed that my kind are not commonly found here, by this he meant that he definitely not seen any South Africans. He has truth to those words. I was the only South African there. We are rare in this side of the world. So I think Peru and Cusco should definitively be next on your travel list!

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