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Published: August 4th 2012
Cusco is as pretty a town as any that South America has to offer. Situated in the Sacred Valley it’s the gateway to the world famous wonder Machu Picchu, and is surrounded by green, rolling hills. From the main Square of Plaza de Armas you stand upon ancient cobbled stones amidst colonial era churches for which the boulders were pilfered long ago, from even further back Inca placed stones. In Cusco, you have a real sense of place... and what a place! What a place!
But there is more to be found in Cusco than Inca adventures. Home to the “World’s Highest, Irish run, Irish Pub” Paddy’s, which forges within some delicious Irish pub-grub; cottage pies, mash potatoes, gravy... (oh how our Northern tums have yearned!) Want Vegan food? Then take the advice of “The Road is Calling” as we did and head to Prasada, a hole in the wall hippy joint where the food is cheap, healthy and delicious (try the maracuya juice). Familiarities can be found in McDonalds, KFC and Starbucks (boo hiss) to name but a few. Coming straight from the rural Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca, these first world comforts came as quite
But we should have been better prepared knowing that when the season is at its peak hundreds of tourists flock to Cusco every day; pack on backs, poles in hand and shoes in boots. Most of these well prepared hikers take to the famed Inca Trail, a costly affair and one which requires much forward thinking. For Chris and I who have travelled without agenda for the most part, reaching Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail was out of the question as we were never going to commit to a date. What’s more, it’s expensive.
So, there were inevitable decisions to be made. Option One: Take the train and day trip it (which turned out to be very costly at only slightly less than most multi-day hikes). Option Two: Jungle Hike (of which we have done many). Option Three: Salkantay Trek (a five day test of endurance requiring camping, an elevation of 4600ms, and extreme temperatures). There was only one thing for it: the challenge of Salkantay! Though it wasn’t to be as simple as that...
Our next task was to choose an agency to book with. Easier said than done. Cusco is fit to
burst with travel agents, not all with reliable credentials or confidence inspiring reviews. We spent many an afternoon making enquiries and pricing tours and were surprised once again to discover a huge disparity between very similar treks, ranging from $200 to over £500 with the only discernible difference being the thickness of the sleeping mats.
In the end we made a choice on a whim. We were staying at Ecopackers Hostel, a popular and centrally located place where our first two days were spent pleasantly. They also had a travel agency offering the Salkantay trek in the lower end of the price range. As the agency was connected to the hostel we assumed that they would offer a good trip to preserve the reputation of the business as a whole. It proved to be a very good decision as the trip was fantastic, you can read all about it in our next blog!
Although we were extremely pleased with the hike, upon return to Ecopackers we were very disappointed to find that only Chris had a bed reserved for the night. (You can only imagine how pleased I was after five days of roughing it when all I
wanted was a hot shower and comfortable bed.) After much to do we were placed into another, larger dorm but told we would have to move the next day. Fair enough. Only it wasn’t. The following morning they asked us to check out and wait around for a few hours before we could check in all over again. The usually meek and mild Amy you might know disappeared behind a cloud of red as I stormed/ limped down the stairway to complain telling the staff in no uncertain terms that I wouldn’t be leaving the bed I had until another was ready for me. First world problems, eh?! It wasn’t like that, I assure you, but the time had come in life for me to be much more assertive and much less polite. Our further complaint regarding Ecopackers was the sheer amount of people passing through making it more like a train station than a hostel. And more concerning is the fact that our laptop case went missing with a silver necklace inside.
We were delighted to find Cusco in the swing of a very colourful festival as we arrived. The smaller square of Plaza Regocijo
was filled with school children posing for photographs in their class groups, each class in a different traditional Peruvian costume. The boys fidgeted, uncomfortable with the pomp of the occasion whilst the girls revelled in the pageantry, twirling their full skirts and long, black braids adorned in multi coloured ribbons. Uniforms of red jarred beside others of fluorescent pink. Hats balanced upon infant heads took all shapes and styles.
What we were experiencing was the first of a many day festival, the biggest annual festival in Peru, in celebration of the winter solstice. A tradition dating back to the Inca ages. Day long groups of men and women, boys and girls, paraded around the square dancing joyful steps accompanied by live music. One group particularly of note came from an agricultural University and dressed as comedy cowboys to act out a scene of drunken debauchery and bull fighting, throwing frothed beer amid the crowd.
We made every effort to absorb all that we could from the festival as another decision had been made recently making this particular festival our last. We had decided that the time had come to go home. Our journey had taken us from Korea,
to Japan, through China and all over South East Asia, to the Mighty Subcontinent and over South America. Though we had recently thought to extend our trip all the way up to Mexico our weary bodies have had to admit defeat, and both Chris and I have loved every minute of our travels so much we won’t continue half heartedly just to tick boxes. So, our lifetime adventure soon draws to a close, but before then... Machu Picchu!
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