Arriving in Cuzco early morning.
My whole body hurt when I woke up. A whole day and night in a bus, I had definitely enough. But there we were, Cuzco, one of the highlights of our South America trip. At a height of some 3.600 meters above sea level the city used to be the capital of the mighty Inca Empire and is considered nowadays as the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city.
It was not even 8am when we got out of the bus into the cold by the „Mercado Central“, the central market. Next to us was the San Pedro train station so we used the chance to arrange our train tickets to Aguas Calientes for the evening.
Aguas Calientes is the closest village to Machu Picchu and the starting point for many tours. Unfortunately Peru Rail has a monopole for the track and the prices they charge are really western. As I read that the train tickets get sold out quickly I tried to book them in advance through the official Peru Rail website, but it didn’t work. There were few direct trains from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, but these were sold out already...of course. The other possibility was to buy tickets from Ollantaytambo which was about half way. We were lucky, they had free places for the 8:30pm tourist class. Some 34 USD each was the price we were supposed to pay. We would have liked to buy the return tickets as well, but the lady behind the desk apologized and told me that the system wouldn’t let her book them. She told us to buy these in Ollantaytambo.
Ollantaytambo, what a name. Difficult to pronounce, difficult to remember.
Random dog or random guys?
We stepped out of the train station again. Hopefully we will be able to buy the tickets back, otherwise we might lose more time that we could afford.
Outside were some old ladies selling coca candies. According to locals coca leaves help to reduce fatigue, hunger and cold, as well as the effects of altitude. They don’t produce a rush or let you feel high. I was really curious so I bought a package of the candies. Mmmhhh, sort of bitter, not really tasty.
At that point a taxi driver approached us and offered to take us to some of the touristic spots around Cuzco.
We didn’r really have time for that, but we had to get to Ollantaytambo in the evening. He thought about it a bit and said 50 soles, about 17 USD. Divided through 4 the price seemed fine. And we would save time. I told him we would use his services but not immediatly, we needed him for the evening. He agreed and we set up the meeting place in front of the big cathedral on the „plaza de armas“ at 6pm. The truth was we weren’t sure if he will be there at the accorded time, but if not we would organize another taxi.
We found a couple of good sounding hostels in my Lonely Planet Guide book so we started walking carrying our big backpacks on our backs direction center where they were supposed to be around. The city was still relatively empty due to the early hour and with the sun climbing higher it was getting slowly warmer. Cuzco seemed to be really a beautiful city full of colonial houses.
We just arrived at the plaza de armas when we were stopped by a 50 years old looking guy. He wanted to suggest us some accomodation and maybe some tours around Cuzco. What he was saying didn’t sound too bad, maybe we could have at least a look on that hostel as it didn’t seem to be too far away. And the price sounded fine as well. What we didn’t consider was that fact that the hostel was up a small hill. Under normal circumstances climbing up even when carrying all our luggage wouldn’t be such a big problem. Under normal circumstances. Here we were 3.600 meters above sea level. The climbing was tough, really tough. I felt like I’ve had been smoking since I was 5. And I’m a non smoker!!!! I guess all the ancient Inca gods liked us because we managed somehow and suddenly we were standing without breath in front of the Apu Wasi hostel.
It had a nice courtyard and looked really fine. We had a look on the room which was very spartanic (bathroom was a shared one outside) but it had 4 beds (actually nothing else) and we could stay just between us. The best on the hostel was the amazing view above Cuzco from the floor where our room was. And the nice hostel stuff of course. The only question left was if they will allow us to leave our luggage here while we would go to Aguas Calientes that night. We planned to stay in Apu Wasi the night after. They didn’t seem to have any problem with it.
While we were discussing by a cup of tea what to do next, the guy who brought us here appeared again. With some further suggestions. As we had no accomodation accorded in Aguas Calientes and we would arrive very late in the night we suddenly agreed that he would organize it for us.
Would cost us some soles more but in this case we prefered to save time as early morning of the following day we wanted to climb Machu Picchu. He tried to sell us also a ticket for some sightseeing spots very close to Cuzco, but we knew we had no time for that. This guy was trickier then supposed, on the invoice he wrote us for the accomodations he added automatically the tickets for that spots as well. I don’t like to pay bigger invoices with loads of text before reading them...good for us that I did it in this case. Of course I noticed that it included more then supposed and asked him to take it out making it clear that either we stay by what we agreed or we forget the rest as well. I didn’t say it in a unfriendly way but clear enough and he obviously understood. We payed, got our confirmations and decided to go for some sightseeing. It was time to see more of Cuzco.
Back on the street we decided to go further up the hill, somewhere over there was supposed to be Saqsaywamán, the ruins of an ancient Inca sight.
On the way I asked some locals if we were on the right way and they confirmed. Even then without the backpacks it was pretty hard to walk uphill. Damned altitude. But there it was suddenly, Saqsaywamán. We bought 4 tickets and passed by the souvenir sellers who tried to stop us. There’s not much left from the sight even if it looked quite huge. But what the visitors see nowadays is only some 20% of the former structure.
View about Cuzco.
There was one spot from where we had an amazing view above Cuzco and the hills surrounding it. It looked really beautiful. While we passed to another structure of the sight I noticed that something was happening with Dan. He seemed to need a break.
We let him down a by a little hill to recover and went up meanwhile. Here we met an older Czech couple which heard us talking in Slovak so they approached us. As our both nations lived together in Czechoslovakia for some 40 years and our languages are related we can understand each other without problems. The two have been traveling already for a week around Peru with a guide and advised us to drink coca tea regularly. It would definitely help against the heights they said.
We are here somewhere between 3.600 and 3.800 meters above sea level.
When we returned back a couple of minutes later Dan seemed to feel already better. We did some pictures all together and started walking back. Of course we had to pass by the souvenir sellers again.
Usually I don’t buy any souvenirs on the beginning of a trip but as Marian and soon even Dan seemed to be interested in some pieces I did an exception as well. After some bargaining I bought a typical Peruvian bottle bag and a black stone puma figure.
A little cave.
Little bit later we were back down in town and walked along the beautiful colonial streets. I really liked this city and its architecture, it felt like going back in time. After a good lunch followed by our first real coca tea, we proceed with our discovering tour. We even met a little demonstration procession, but to be honest, I didn’t really understand what all these people were demonstrating against. I was sure though they had some important reason to do so.
During all my research before the trip I saw an advice that it’s better the buy to tickets for Machu Picchu in advance in Cuzco.
There was a ticket desk in Machu Picchu directly, but according to the info on internet visitors could pay there only in Peruvian money and they needed the exact amount as the employees had no change usually.
In Peru I really felt tall, hahaha.
Wasn’t too difficult to find the place to buy the tickets in Cuzco. Within few minutes we were the proud owners of 4 relatively expensive entrance tickets for Machu Picchu. Expensive compared to most of the prices we faced so far in this country.
The rest of the day passed by quickly and we just noticed that the evening was approaching.
And we had an appointment on the plaza de armas with a taxi driver. I was pretty curious if he will appear. 6pm we were sitting on the stairs in front of the big church on the plaza de armas waiting. It was raining a bit, but it wasn’t too bad. There were loads of taxi passing, sometimes stopping nearby but usually some passenger got out or somebody got in. Then one taxi stopped close to us and I heard the driver calling my name. I came closer and realized that this wasn’t the guy we had the agreement with. But how did he know my name? The answer was simple. As our taxi driver wasn’t suddenly able to come he sent his brother. Well, why not. At least he confirmed the price we agreed upon with the driver in the morning, so we got in. Soon our taxi left Cuzco and got on the road direction Ollantaytambo. Machu Picchu, we were on the way.
They were ignoring me completely.