The bus company I'd booked with to cross the border from Bolivia into Peru were really helpful with all of the border formalities and having a driver who spoke English who could explain what we needed to do and where was a definite plus. The connection in Puno was pretty straightforward but the second leg of the bus trip was tortuous to say the least. We ended up arriving almost two hours late due to having an exploded tyre and a shake down from what I think were customs officers looking for contraband goods people were smuggling in from Bolivia. When I did finally get to Cusco I have to say I really liked the hostel, shame I can't say the same about my roomates for the first few nights who were rude, arrogant, loud and totally inconsiderate of the other people in the room (I'll leave you to decide which nationality they were).
They practically shouted at each other across the room when they came in and made no effort to be quiet, I know staying in hostels is never the quietest place (hence why I travel with earplugs and a facemask as essential items) but when you are staying with people who show no consideration for others it just compounds the lack of sleep. Anyway that aside I met some really cool people including my now friends Jen & Gareth. The morning of my first full day in Cusco was mostly filled with sorting things out, paying the remaining balance on my Macch Picchu trek and posting home gifts (god bless the Peruvian post as they all arrived). However after all of this tedious stuff I did manage to get some sightseeing done at the Inca ruins of Qorikancha (Quechan for 'golden courtyard'). The Spaniards unfortunately built over the top of the ruins and these in part form the base of the church and convent of Santo Domingo.
All of the original gold and silver pieces which lined the walls were looted and melted down by the conquistadores, the richest temple in the Incan Empire stripped bare. The remaining stonework which is left today is supposed to be an example of some of the finest Incan architecture in Peru, the joints are so fine that you can't get even a sheet of paper between the stones. The replica of one of the Incan gold panels is incredible and with a bit of imagination you can envisage what a pretty spectacular place this must have been. A modern painting shows a painting of the Milkyway showed how the Incas interpretted the heavens and how astronomy fitted into their belief system (the temple was also an observatory). After a few hours here enjoying the views and trying to fit taking photos in around the huge tour groups I decided to check out the small archaelogical museum.
They operate a bizarre entry system to all of the museums and sights in and around Cusco using a 'tourist ticket' which costs around £30 and is valid for ten days (if you do a four day trek to Macchu Picchu
then you need at least a week in Cusco if you want to see everything), insanely though not everything is included in the ticket, you'd think they'd make it so it's all or nothing, bureacracy, gotta love it! Anyway the museum, which was included in the ticket, was a bit dissapointing and the main highlight was the Inca mummies on display. I'd seen enough for one day so headed back to the hostel for a BBQ and happy hour (which is how I met Jen & Gareth). The following day, Sunday, I took a tour to the Sacred Valley, a quick and easy way to see quite a few sights in one day.
Things got off to a slow start as protests (this I found is a common Peruvian event) slowed down traffic so that it took more than hour to get out of the city, much to the disgust of one complaining couple, more on them later! We stopped briefly enroute to the Sacred Valley for Ronnie, our guide, to explain about the different varieties of crops that grow in the valley (something like 300 types of grain grow there including the weird looking black corn, Peru has around 3000 varities of corn and the largest variety of potatoes in the world I think) as well as getting to get a great view down into the valley itself. Next stop was a small market town of Calca
where we got to feed llamas and Alpacas and Ronnie taught us how to tell the difference between the two.
Entrance to Qorikancha
I didn't really walk around the market itself too much (mostly to avoid buying more stuff!), besides feeding the animals was far too much fun! Yet again the cantakerous couple complained, saying they couldn't hear the guide, they didn't want to stop at the Market or see the animals, I really wondered if they read what the tour involved before they signed up for it because no one else was had any issues, well only with this couple anyway! The Market town of Pisac
was next cue yet more grumbling as we weren't getting to see the ruins here, though I have to admit I too was a little disappointed by this but then I put that down to my own stupid fault for not asking when I booked. Sunday is the biggest Market day so the town was heaving, after a brief tour Ronnie left us to our own devices, again I was avoid shopping I went on the hunt for some good photos of the local people and I also wanted to sample some of the good food on offer.
Also I only wanted to grab a snack rather than the all you eat buffet on offer as I was meeting the guys for dinner later, for a meager s./10-20 I had freshly squeezed orange juice, homemade banana cake, fruit and freshly made empenadas straight from the bakers oven. Next to the oven was the guinea pig enclosure, another tasty morsel on my 'to try' list of exoctic cuisine. Ironically after we all met up again the moaning minnows were the ones who'd done the most shopping out of everyone even though they'd said they weren't interested in shopping. Our lunch stop was in Urubamba
, I was supposed to stop at the first restaurant but after a quiet word with Ronnie I told him I was going to stick with some of the others to avoid having to having an hour of my life drained from me by Mr & Mrs Negativity and just grab a drink, being sympathetic and a bit of a star he of course oblidged, phew! After Urubamba it was onto the highlight of the day for me, Ollantaytambo
, gateway to Macchu Picchu.
Stonework at Qorikancha
As I wasn't going to be seeing this as part of my 4-day trek it was my main reason for taking the tour. Ollantaytambo is wedged in a valley, protected by the mountains and was where one of the last great battles between the Incas and the Spaniards took place. One of the most amazing things about the Incas is that were so incredibly intelligent, particularly when it came to the relationship between the sun and moon to natural geological formations. For instance at Ollantaytambo if you look carefully you can see the profile of an Incan man outlined in the side of the mountain and when the sun is inline with this feature on June 21st it highlights the profile. Another example of their ingenuity was displayed in how they designed their storage buildings for preserving their food; halfway up one of the mountains they built a store that was positioned so as to make use of the prevailing wind to keep their food refrigerated, genius if you ask me.
Courtyard at Qorikancha
One thing I don't understand with both the Mayans and the Incas is why they built such huge steps when they were such tiny people, I'm taller than the Mayans or Incas and I found some of the +600mm steps a struggle. Ronnie also told is about how the Incas communicated between different villages, cities etc, messengers would carry lengths of different coloured rope which had specific meaning. Unfortunately the understanding behind this system has been lost as the Spaniards ensured such information was destroyed, something which was relatively easy to do as the Quechans relied more on verbal communication than written so they just massacred those with the knowledge so it could not be passed on. These messengers were also phenomally quick, the record for completing the Inca trail is around three and a half hours set by one of the porters, the fastest Westerner (who was Dutch) did it in about nine hours so god only knows how fast they did it in Incan times.
Replica of some of the gold panels that existed at Qorikancha
We only walked about half of the ruins but the views were incredible and well worth the visit as a precursor to Macchu Picchu. After several mesmerising hours we went onto our last stop of Chinchero
, another market town with a small but interesting church where we got to see the villagers in traditional dress and watch the sunset. The inside of the church was decorated with religious murals in a Moorish style (I forget the specific name for this style of painting) and once again showed a fusion of the Incan and Catholic religions. After a visit to the church we paid a visit to a local house that had been converted into a working museum and a cooperative store where we were treated to a weaving demonstration as well as a lesson on how they use plants to create the various dyes.
View over Qorikancha
There is one plant in particular nicknamed Incan Shampoo, that they use both to wash their hair with and to clean the wool but obviously not at the same time. Enroute back to the bus we grabbed more street food before making the journey back to Cusco to the sound of the nestles back catalogue on Panpipes, no LSD necessary it was trippy enough as it was! A slightly surreal end to what was definitely a great trip. Cusco After arriving back in Cusco I arranged to meet up with some of the guys from the tour at Paddys for a few drinks after dinner. I'd promised Jen and Gareth that I'd see them at 8pm back at the hostel to go for dinner. Clare & Arouj came as well and Clare seemed to think she knew where there was a good italian and Mexican joint, we were all salivating at this point so anything filling and reasonably priced would've hit the spot.
I want my mummy!
It wasn't to be and after ques to get in at our second choice would have meant an hours wait we plumped for an unassuming joint with a s./15 (about Ã�Â£3)menu, a bargain some may say but it hardly filled the void so it was off to Paddys for drinks and dinner round two. We totally screwed up how long dinner took so none of the guys from the tour were there. Arouj's friend Dave (who it turns out is a proper Yam-Yam from Wolverhampton) arrived the next day and we all headed off to see the site of Saqsawaman together. The closest Inca site to Cusco, the ruins are only around 20% of the original site however much of the stone was looted by the conquistadores for houses and churches in Cusco. After a strenuos uphill hike from the plaza de armas we arrived part-baked at the top of the hill and entrance to the site itself.
Window detail, Inca Musuem
The walks are staggered as part of the Incas defensive strategy, resembling some toothy fortress. As well as the main structure itself there was a series of carvings into the natural rock resembling seats or a throne, an amphitheatre and a natural rock slide. All of the ruins I'd seen so far had been incredible and I felt as though they were all building up to the grand finale of Macchu Picchu. Dave & Arouj were debating whether or not to go to the Christ the Redeemer statue but hunger kicked in and we were already late to meet Clare for lunch. After a quick descent we were back at Paddys and contemplating our plans for the afternoon, the guys were trying to decide whether or not to head to the ruins at Moray
but I'd made my mind up I needed to finish doing my final preperations for my tour the next day.
Looking back down towards Plaza de Armas as I make my way up to San Blas
I hired a slightly larger daysack, bought a new torch to replace the terrible one I'd got from Blacks and raided the supermarket for sugery snacks and sunscreen. After dropping all my gear off at the hostel I had to head back to Enigma's offices for a briefing so it was back in a taxi, I however managed to hail a taxi with a driver who claimed he knew where he was going but I don't think he could even read the directions properly! As a result I was 20minutes late (I hate being late) and feeling pretty flustered. After our guide, Ã�Â Edgar, had gone over the trip details again and we'd all had a chance to chat I was relieved however to find my tour compatriots a rather lovely bunch, they were only four of us total and it can always be a risk in small groups that you don't get along with the people you're with, thankfully this however wasn't the case.
Women in traditional dress
We were told we were going to be picked up around 3.30am in an attempt to avoid the road blockades that the protesting farmers were going to be setting up the next day (they were protesting against the governments plans to privatise the water at source). After the briefing I went with Pete, Mike & Stephanie for a quick drink while they had dinner. Rather kindly they'd already shouted for the taxi back to the centre and then treated me to a Pisco sour which I thought was really nice of them since I'd only known them about half an hour. I couldn't stay to take up their dinner invite as I'd already arranged to meet the guys for dinner. Jen & Gareth also had an early start for their trek so it was an early one for all of us and we headed off to finish packing and attempt to get some sleep.
Plaza de Armas by night