Published: April 23rd 2012April 18th 2012
Lord of the Earthquakes Procession
Teams of locals line up to carry the statue in their red robes.
K - After a long but beautiful journey up into the mountains we reached the final destination of our time travelling – the former capital of the Inca empire, Cusco
. We took a taxi into the historical centre and checked into a house converted into mini apartments just up from the Plaza de Armas. We met Senora Elena – the housekeeper and mother in law of the Dutch owner, who didn’t speak a word of English which made things entertaining as we tried to iron out a few small issues. The funniest of which was us having to explain that the electric shower wasn’t earthed and kept giving us shocks. Google translate wrongly informed us that shower head was ‘Alcachofa’ – which actually means artichoke. Elena found this hilarious! The thought that vegetables were giving us shocks – bloody useless internet!! Anyway, Cusco looked a lovely city and we were grateful to have somewhere really nice in which to unpack and relax for the next two weeks – the longest we had stayed anywhere in all of our travels!
Monday signified the start of Holy Week, which is a very special day for the city – it is the ‘Lord
of the Earthquakes’ procession. Apparently, a few hundred years ago a statue of Jesus is said to have stopped a massive earthquake from destroying the city. So every year the statue is paraded around the streets and strewn with red flower petals. Tom and I had fun getting in amongst the crowd and taking photos although there were some very tough tiny Peruvian women determined to get the best position so we spent quite a bit of time removing their elbows from our ribs!
T – Yes, they were a dogged bunch, and the closer that the statue came to us the more the crowd swelled to try to touch it and receive blessings. We were all held back by the military and local police using nothing more than a rope and some shinny guns. Everyone in town had turned out in their Sunday best and teams of local men, all wrapped in red robes and with preened moustaches, took it in turns to carry the statue on its very slow progress around the town. After a couple of hours we managed to slip away in the opposite direction – what a crowd!
K – Tom’s sister, Beth,
and our friend, Hannah, flew in from Lima the next morning – and we couldn’t wait to see them, so we went to meet them from the airport only to find that you are not allowed inside (why? Who knows?!) So it was a slightly less attractive reunion for us all in the car park outside. It was so lovely to see two familiar faces after so long – they had been up since three in the morning but were still in high spirits and eager to see the sights of Cusco. After a quick catch up we hit the historical centre and had a good wander – the pedlars are out in full force in this tourist town and found the four of us (especially blondies Beth and Hannah) too good to resist. We were offered everything from massages to paintings. Eventually we found a balcony overlooking the square and had a nice cold beer whilst watching the people below. Beth was particularly enthralled by the women in traditional dress who chase tourists with a lamb (in bonnet) under their arms demanding money to have their picture taken – very funny!
T – Cusco is a classy place
and luckily, accommodation in town can cater for every part of the tourist purse. You are, however, encouraged to use that tourist purse at every street corner and we spent some of our last rations on a BTG tourist ticket that will allow you entry to a selection of Inca and cultural sites around town and deep into the Sacred Valley to the south-east. First on the list was a visit to Cusco’s Sexy Woman – as the tourists like calling it and the Peruvians insist on pronouncing it. The ruins at Sacsayhuamán look down over the town from its vantage point high up on the hillside and we immediately start to pant and pause for breath when we are only half way up the roads and side streets towards our goal. Altitude is still a problem for us and occasionally, like today, we would look at each other with wide-eyed puffs and grunts, silently wondering when this acclimatisation that’s meant to have happened over the last three weeks is ever going to kick in?
The Inca novice and casual connoisseur can’t fail to be impressed by the scale and bizarre Jenga-like finesse with which these huge rocks have
been fashioned into the walls and stairs of this large fort. I mention Jenga, but really, these babies aren’t going anywhere – there’s no cement, just shear force keeping it all together. We take it all in, roam the site, get lots of photos and stare at masses of school children who have all come up to re-enact Jesus on the cross on Maundy Thursday in front of the big Jesus on the hill nearby – it must have been every kid in town! Beth, Hannah and Kiran have several girl band photo pose moments and we go get a coffee before being joined that night by their friend Dan, a teacher working in Lima. There were no boy band photos taken and we remain convinced that this was the right decision.
The following day we walked the town and took in some museums including the Museo De Sitio Qorikancha which holds a series of mummies and human skulls promoting the successes of Inca brain surgery and skull deformation. Everyone has hobbies, but not everyone gets hobbled by them.
On Good Friday we left Dan in Cusco and took a taxi for around s./60 (£14) to Ollantaytambo
hours into The Sacred Valley, as part of our two day journey to see Machu Picchu. I’d been really looking forward to returning to Machu Picchu and had even read through Hiram Bingham’s book on his discovery courtesy of Project Gutenberg
. We didn’t do the Inca trail this time as the cost was a little too much to justify (it was free last time I went!) so a train trip from Ollantaytambo would be a nice change of pace. Our taxi driver went a little off-road and took us on a winding rock-fallen path through a beautiful river valley before finally re-joining the road to Ollantaytambo and proudly proclaiming our route a short-cut. Having never seen the ruins at Ollantaytambo before, we were all very impressed – every ruin we sought out was a on a grander scale than the last and so we were neatly on course to appreciate MP.
Whilst in Ollantaytambo, I saw someone praying in what remains of the Sun Temple. It wasn’t a lost tourist, but a local and it dawned on me how recent, in historical terms, the Inca Empire was. This guy felt he was a decedent – and why not –
at the same time as the Incas were completing the expansion of their domain, England’s Henry VIII was shopping for wives and mulling over whether he had enough cash to invade France, while Spain starting fitting ships for a rather long voyage it had in mind for somewhere off to the West. This cultural link was further confirmed when a kindly old gent in the village invited us to look at his collection of guinea pigs – on came the lights to his kitchen and Kiran was immediately swarmed by these little balls of fur squeaking and jostling for food on the dirt floor. While she and Beth were coo-cooing and patting away, Hannah and I cast an eye around this man’s home – TV, table, pot for cooking small balls of fur, two dead sheep on the wall and an alter with some human skulls and candles. Thank you for hospitality, good day.
The train ride to Aguas Calientes
was good fun and went through some excellent mountain scenery before arriving in the town whose main function is to now serve those wishing to bus it up the hill the next morning for a look at the Inca
Girl band pose
prize in the clouds. This town has improved in leaps and bounds since my last visit so we were up early the next morning to get a bus to the ruins. The thing is, so was everyone else! The buses start off at 5.30am as the site opens at 6am. The sun has already risen by 5.30am and so all the thoughts of a majestic sunrise over this lost city are firmly laid to rest by the time your half way up the hill, but not to worry, as the views just kept getting better!
Machu Picchu is fantastic to look at – it looks awesome. It’s truly looks like a lost city, made by a people who worshipped the mountains like they worshipped the gods and so it was fun trying to match the sacred carved rocks in the quarry and those scattered around the site to the contours of the surrounding mountains of those they were meant to represent. We explored the complex at our own speed and took hundreds of photos of the terraces, buildings, alters and rock sundial calendars, occasionally coming across other tourists asking sundials for healing powers in deep meditation. Each to their
own – but 10:1 they’ll buy another friendship band and llama jumper on the way out.
What else is there to say about Machu Picchu? It’s a marvel in an inspiring natural setting, sat on a bend in the river, high above the eyes of anyone down below and over looked by mountainous peaks - it’s a top spot to be an Inca from and odd to think the Spanish never found it. The walk back to Aguas Calientes was a very pleasant stroll downhill and took about an hour and a half. We had an early lunch and soothed away the afternoon in the local hot springs before some shopping in the market stalls and boarding our train back to Cusco
After a lazy Easter Sunday with Dan who, having drunk a local homebrew on a mountain bike tour, was now ill, we visited the Qoriqancha-Santo Domingo Convent to see how it had been built around the existing Inca walls. We then launched upon a mammoth shopping spree of the local alpaca goods. The following day, Kiran joined Dan in the sick bay after eating some semi-cooked kidney beans. I’ve had my share of poisonings this year,
but Kiran’s iron stomach had yet to betray her in quite the same way, until now and she unfortunately spent the last few days of our travels being horribly sick.
Dan went back to work feeling thinner and to cheer Kiran up we drove off to the local market town of Pisac
– more ruins were in order and maybe a ride on a horse. We knew the market would be good, but were unprepared for the alpaca onslaught. It was so good that we never got to see the ruins at Pisac, and we spent the afternoon in a great local restaurant on the square sorting out coming home gifts for relatives.
K - On the way home we stopped off at the Cochahuasi Animal Sanctuary – I had read about this amazing little place by the side of the road in other travel blogs and was sure that it was worth a visit. We were given a quick tour by the owner as he explained each of the animals’ reasons for being there. It was all very sad – some creatures like the pumas were found drugged performing in a nightclub whilst parrots had plucked out
their feathers after a lifetime of being kept in the dark. To our delight, however, we stumbled across a sleeping pile of ‘rescued’ puppies – we figured that they were far too cute to have come to any harm. One little guy made the mistake of rolling over and looking up at us so we seized him and all had a good cuddle! The other highlights of the sanctuary were three condors – they had been poisoned by bad meat by local villagers who use their feathers to sell to tourists. We had seen condors about 300ft up above us in the Colca Canyon, but now, inside their enclosure, only 20 foot or so away we were uneasy – they were huge birds. One flew over our heads and we all tried to keep our nerve – apparently they will never hurt you because they are scavengers but still… what birds! T
– Luckily for us all Cusco had a final festival up its sleeve: a local produce and manufacturers’ parade! It was here that the costumes really came out in force – such bright colours, with full-on national dress and elaborate outfits and masks. Different groups represented their
Looking out over Ollantaytambo
Houses are perched on the far cliff-side.
own specific area of expertise, eg vegetable production, steel workers, sowers, brewers etc., all danced to their own music and drum beats through the Plaza, often out of time, twisting and jumping and thoroughly enjoying themselves. The festival went on all day and became a fitting end to Beth and Hannah’s holiday, and to our world trip.
By the time it was our moment to leave Peru, we had been travelling for over eight months, passed through 13 different countries and taken around a conservative 25Gb worth of photos. Although our trip had come to an end, it had come at a time at which we were looking forward to returning to our own country, seeing family and friends and starting up our lives all over again. As we spent our last Soles in Lima airport on our final café cortado, I thought to myself what a great time I’d had - I should be dining out on this for years. Cheerio. K
– ¡Hasta luego! Max
There are more photos below