gra-dult-hood n.

1. A stage in life between graduation and adulthood.
2. Gradulthood often involves jobs that don't fulfil a graduate's expectations.
3. A term coined during the recession.

A Gradult Abroad: South America, Part One.

Breathless views in Cusco.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous Gradulthood post (A Brief Prologue #2), following graduation in July 2009, I stayed on in Leeds and spent a year working in a restaurant, as well as undertaking a part-time Spanish course. Both the restaurant and Spanish were important and enjoyable parts of my life for 12 months, and enabled me to go travelling in South America in the summer of 2010. In the first part of ‘A Gradult Abroad: South America’, I will write about my time in Peru.

Arriving in Cusco, Peru on the back of a 15-hour flight, and a night spent on the floor of Lima airport, I had no idea what to expect - my first glimpse of the city left me breathless. Literally. Cusco is one of the highest cities in the world. At 3,310m elevation (roughly 2.5x higher than Ben Nevis) the air is very thin, and it proves a struggle to walk more than 20 paces before breathlessness kicks in. So why am I here? To walk for 4 days…

This however, isn’t just any old walk; it’s a trek through the Inca heartland to the ancient city of Macchu Picchu. After the first day’s trek, what really struck me was the sheer number of stars you could see in the sky! Never in my life have I been so far away from artificial light so as to see that amount of stars, quite amazing. Another thing that you notice is how cold it is! It was winter in the Southern Hemisphere at the time, and the night-time temperature drops to around -11°C. Following a particularly rough nights sleep one of the guides woke me up with a cup of traditional coca tea. Wow. Forget legalising cannabis, what we really need to legalise in the UK is coca tea, what a great drink! It perks you up straight away and the Peruvians believe it will solve pretty much anything, and yes, in case you hadn’t guessed it comes from the same plant as cocaine.

Token Machu Picchu shot.
A few days trekking later and Macchu Picchu is finally in sight. Set deep in the Andes, the pre-Colombian 15th century Inca site is quite something. If you can push to the back of your mind the resort-type town you’ve just walked through, the visitor centre at the entrance, oh and the 100’s of other people around you, it feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by this incredible ancient city. My vocabulary is really not equipped to describe such a spectacle, so to save myself from reaching for the thesaurus, take a look at a clip from ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ that really helps to give a feel for the place:

Despite spending a year on a Spanish Course, my first overnight bus cemented the realisation that knowing how to describe my neighbourhood, facial features, family etc. in Spanish are no use at a Peruvian bus station. After initially loading my rucksack onto a rather nice looking bus, and patting myself on the back for booking with a good company, I realised that it was in fact the wrong bus. Following a quick dash to retrieve my bag and find the right stand, I settled into my not so nice bus, and prepared myself for a bumpy 18 hours. My destination? Bolivia.

Oh, I may have forgotten to mention something about Peru. They eat Guinea Pigs. Ergo, I ate guinea pig. How was it you ask? Surprisingly fatty, very strange, better than the nondescript fish ceviche, but not quite up to the standards of the ‘meat and potato on stick’ speciality.

Next time on 'A Gradult Abroad: South America', Bolivia.

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