Peru: Our Highest Highs and Lowest Lows
It was hard for me to really think of how to write this Peru retrospective. Not because Peru wasn’t full of amazing places, food, and things, but because I couldn’t find a way to tie them all together. Talking with Matt about this dilemma I was having, he pointed out that maybe what all of these experiences have in common is how extremely different they all are. As is often the case, he had a good point.
In Peru we faced many extremes. We hit our highest altitude on the trip so far (15,000 feet above sea-level) when we reached the top of Salkantay Pass on our 4-day trek to Machu Picchu. But we also explored the Amazon rainforest from the Amazon River itself (0 feet above sea-level). The Salkantay trek was also the sickest I’ve been on the trip. My body didn’t acclimate to the altitude properly, in spite of getting to Cusco several days before embarking and taking Diamox (altitude medication) before and during our ascent. After summiting the pass, my blood oxygen level dropped to low 70s (lowest it’s ever been) and I had to be put on oxygen before I continued descending! The hike is already considered to be one of the hardest hikes available in the region! Conversely, our Rainforest experience was a luxurious, low-altitude stay where we boated along the Amazon river the majority of the time. I could even breathe properly the whole time; truly spoiled! It’s also where I’ve gotten the most mosquito bites in my life — and I went to summer camp in Minnesota as a kid!
We explored a tiny, tiny fraction of the incomprehensibly large city of Lima, but we also walked several laps around a small 10-20 family village in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest. We stayed in a Hilton Double Tree hotel like fancy men, but also stayed at the first Air BnB I’ve ever given a negative review—it was terrible, but the guy was really nice!
And in the biggest extreme of Peru, it was our last country in South America. The ending bookmark to the first four months of our trip. It’s funny because it’s the first place where South America matched my original expectations of the continent. The cities we stayed in all had deep architectural roots in Spanish colonialism, the streets were filled with vendors, stray dogs, and the occasional person in traditional Andean garb. We got to see more smaller towns in Peru as well, which exposed us to the less polished, less tourist-focused South America.
I think Peru is a great ending for our South America leg because through these rapid extremities, we got to experience more. Without turning this into a South America retrospective, I will quickly say that both Matt and I feel that we rushed the latter two-thirds of this leg of the trip. Where we took our time in Ecuador and got to really know each city and the places and people in it, the rest of the trip became more and more focused on doing more things as quickly as possible. It’s hard to balance these two notions. You don’t want to “miss” anything and this continent is full of so many magical experiences. Check out our Fighting Complacency and Embracing Routine article for more thoughts on that matter. Looking back though, I’m glad we got to do so many things.
I’m happy Peru matched our overall South American experience. In 3-4 weeks, our shortest stay in any country so far, we crammed in so many activities. Just last weekend, we were roaming the Amazon Rainforest searching for as many species of animals we could possibly find, following our personal guide with an impeccable sense of smell, Lucho. Two weekends ago, I pushed my body in the most physically and mentally challenging hike I’ve ever done and stood atop Salkantay Pass before looking down at Machu Picchu from atop Machu Picchu mountain. Three weekends ago, Matt and I walked for hours exploring Lima and rebuying some of my stolen camera gear. The future is going to come at a slower clip—we are going to slow back down, thank God—but, I would be lying if I said I haven’t enjoyed constantly doing things. And Peru is the perfect manifestation of that.