Our time in Cusco was a whirlwind of emotions and experiences. Altitude sickness is really a big word there. You talk about it often, and there are pit stops with remedies of coca leaves and teas wherever you go. We stayed at an incredible hotel in Cusco with the best service I have ever experienced anywhere I have been in the world. And that’s saying a lot. This was especially pioneered by the concierge at the hotel- Matias.
We immediately bonded and he was there to help out with everything we needed. Following up on the rainbow mountain tour before we left. Sending us to buy hiking boots and oxygen beforehand. Waiting for us to come back from rainbow mountain and admitting he was worried and watching the door until we returned! Listening to Nicci’s recount of her altitude sickness symptoms daily, and when I gave him the ‘contain her’ look, successfully reassured her that she was ok. Organising a 4pm check out on the day we were leaving. And even sending a bottle of champagne and chocolate strawberries to our room on the night we got back from Machu Picchu.
In Cusco, at the Palacio del Inca hotel… we met our first angel. Matias. He went over and above the call of duty for us. And left us with a feeling of safety and security in an unfamiliar place.
I had not been well since The Sacred Valley- the first night in Cusco. And as much as I wanted to lie in bed and be sick, I knew that time was not on my side. With my sister there for only 5 days, and all the excursions booked, there was no option but to be in complete denial. And I did that well. I tried all the potions my father sent me travelling with, but nothing seemed to work. The 3.30am wake up calls, 5200m above sea level altitude, and jam packed days climbing and walking, probably never helped the situation. By the last night in Cusco, when everything I booked for us could be ticked off a list, I succumbed to my body. I even cried. A lot.
It’s amazing what your mind is able to do. After that day, lying in bed, beat, I was feeling every symptom of altitude sickness that Nicci had been reciting and repeating for the past 4 days. The tingling in the fingers (that had not been there before) was raging that night in bed. The dry mouth, the headache, the stomach. You name it I had it. I could hear her googling and reading them to me in my mind. As she lay sleeping next to me.
And then her voice was replaying in my head… “What if it is ALTITUDE SICKNESS Megan. You only have 3 days Meg. You are being irresponsible with your body!”. And instead of rolling my eyes in my mind and taking a sip of Pisco sours in reality, like I had been doing… I started believing her. I was feeling every symptom. Definition of psychosomatic anyone! I woke her up , “something’s not right Nic… I need to see a doctor”. And she rolled over and sleepily said, ‘we’ll go in the morning’.
Huhhhh? My neurotic sister never jumped up and called reception to order me an ambulance. Hmmmm ok- maybe I’m talking myself into feeling this all. I got back into bed and passed out next to her!
One thing I knew, was that regardless of what it was, I wanted to see a doctor in Lima, not Cusco. Nicci and I left Cusco and touched down in Lima. So excited to breathe again. Literally. A friend of Nicci’s had given her the contact details of a woman who lived in Lima- Danisa. Nicci was on the phone to her at at 6.30pm we were going to be collected and taken to her doctor. What happened over the next day did not follow the same script as when I was in Lima alone the week prior.
We needed to get into Lima from the airport. UBER! Except this time it was taking longer than usual. Nicci and I were impatiently waiting in the sun. I was running up and down the street trying to find licence plate XYZ123…and the sun was getting hotter and hotter. ‘Taxi, taxi’ could be heard all around us, out of the mouths of locals. Yes! Nicci interjected- ‘Meg cancel the Uber’. Anxious to get to the doctor on time, and out of the heat we followed the man to his car, not exactly thinking straight. 15 minutes in crazy traffic, watching the clock intently, and our man, pulled over into a gas station. Hmmm this is strange behaviour from a taxi I thought. The bonnet was popped and water and oil was being passed from the man, to the gas attendant and back again. Impatiently waiting I started saying… ‘OK rapido. Cita con el médico!’
OK OK he hurried up the watering and oiling and got back in the car. Attempt one to start the car. Unsuccessful. Attempt 2. Unsuccessful. Attempt 3,4,5. I saw a taxi out of the corner of my eye, and jumped out to stop him. Nicci with her big eyes in the back was trying to piece the whole thing together. Our guys shouted something at the taxi who then shook his head at me and drove off. I ran after his car through the gas station, shouting after him Taxi, taxi, vamos, Miraflores. Nope- the taxi drove off. I stormed back to our dead car thinking, what the hell did this man say to him?!
Nicci gave me a big look that said… what the hell is going on. As the man kept chanting alarm problemo, alarm. Bien! Bien! And I kept saying No bien! Cita con el médico! Attempt 15. The the growl of the engine could be heard and we were in business. Nervous laughs all round, I jumped back into the car. Taking out my phone and loading Waze as I knew this man had no clue what he was doing. Directing him as we drove. Derecha. Izquierda. Derecho!! We saw the sea and the promenade and I breathed a sigh of relief. According to Waze we had 10 more minutes. Which gave us 5 minutes to check in, drop our bags and go to the doctor.
Nope, too good to be true. Our incompetent excuse for a driver was pulling over the tourist police and rambling away. Nicci was convinced he had been pulled over for driving to fast. I rolled my eyes and corrected my sister, telling her… nope he is asking for directions. Getting fed up I shoved the Waze map in his face, and said- Derechoooo. Mira aqui! Showing him I knew where we were heading. He looked at the map and continued driving. Some more instructions followed and eventually we pulled up at the hotel. Finally. Nightmare over.
We handed him the 50 Sol. He stared at us blankly waiting. OK byyyeee I waved. Wheeling my bags in. Nicci stayed near him trying t
o figure out what he was saying in conjunction with the eyes. ‘No No, 2 personas. 50 y 50 (cincuenta y cincuenta). Nicci tried to stay and reason with him to explain that Uber’s quote was 50. And at that point I interrupted, pulled her hand with my one hand, the wheelie bags with the other, and said- usted está LOCO. byyyeeee, shuffling her into the hotel. Chancer!
Moral of the story- only Uber or take a licensed taxi in Lima! And don’t follow the local shouting taxi, taxi to his car!
Danisa organised for us to be collected. It was doctor time. And we jumped in an air conditioned car. Ahhhh. Already feeling contained, the 3 of us went into the doctors office as we conversed in broken English and Spanish about my symptoms. Me talking as best I could, Danisa translating and the doctor responding. After a stethoscope on the heart and lungs, a stomach check for an appendicitis or colitis and the piecing together of my travel story I was officially diagnosed. Drum rollllll- It’s a TRAVELLERS BUG!! common in all travellers from a change in food, water and food preparation. Nothing serious.
The most amazing part of this visit to the doctor was, he was not working on the day. He came in to see me especially, as a favour to Danisa, and when I took out my wallet to pay, he refused to accept payment. This is a true story. He came into an office he was not working from, at 6.30pm, just to make sure I was ok and could carry on, on my journey. This man who knew me from nothing, out of the goodness of his heart, gave up his professional and personal time to check me out and and
make me better. As I am typing this, I am still as shocked as I was that night. It’s unheard of… well from where I come from anyway. And so we meet the second angel!
A sigh of relief and antibiotics prescription later and we were off to get my meds and food for the next few days. Gatorade and soda crackers- with no butter or oil. No fruit. no vegetables and no dairy. Yummm can’t you taste the cardboard?! Danisa took us to get everything and then was on the phone to her house telling them that there were people coming for dinner. No discussion, we were her guests. Home made chicken soup and noodles for me with boiled chicken - cheese and wine for the rest. FOMO!! But grateful FOMO, it was like being at home and having my mother look after me.
Danisa took us into her home, brought us into her family who are as special as she is. Particularly bonding with Debora her daughter of a similar age to me. Like mother like daughter. There is a genuine interest in other people. A calm and gentle demeanour. And an attitude of ‘nothing is too much’. I have yet to
meet more caring, and genuine people. That night, Danisa made a toast to my illness, which in actual fact brought the 4 of us together, in forming what I have no doubt will be a warm and continuing friendship. And so we got to to know the third and fourth angel in the Peruvian chapter of this story.
and then it was time for Nicci and i to go our separate ways. On the mend… I said goodbye to my sister and sent her off, back to her family who missed her so much. With stories, surprises and wayyyy too much hand luggage. To her I say, Nicci, thank you for coming to join me and being part of this adventure. At times you may have made me rethink my return date to London :), but for the most part, having you with me made me feel that much more weak, that tiny bit more vulnerable and a that much less in charge. In hindsight, that feels really good after so many weeks of the opposite.
I love that I have you to be strong when I need to be weak. That in the midst of the chaos whether on a mountain or in a madman’s car, afterwards we can laugh. But now that you’re gone… I’m toughening up again, finishing my antibiotics, and g
etting ready to take Colombia by storm. Have I just given you 10 new grey hairs!!??
No no put the old school cliche of what Colombia is about out of your mind. It is much more than the land of Pablo and prostitutes. I’m going to beaches, forests and hammocks. And yes, some mandatory fiestas are on the cards. Wifi and service may not be flowing… so you’ll need to sit tight until I can tell you all about! Hasta luego…