Above, Below and thorough the Sacred Valley

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May 23rd 2011
Published: June 6th 2011
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On the count of three I had been told to run, and so I did. But it was hard to run with the huge weight that languidly rose into the air behind me, the folds of the fabric slowly filling with air. Gradually I made progress towards the cliff edge ahead of me, and before I knew it my feet were no longer pushing the ground away, they were dangling in mid air, and the view opened up around me.

I was paragliding, and the stunning mountains and patchwork fields of The Sacred Valley were the backdrop. Lewi stood atop the hill where I had stood just seconds before, waving and watching as together with the pilot I climbed higher and higher.

It was a beautiful calm feeling as we soared gracefully through the air, wind whistling in my ears as I peered down at the farmers diligently rooting potatoes from the earth hundreds of metres below me. Condors rose effortlessly on the thermals and the craggy peaks of the mountains shimmered in the midday sun. All too soon though we began descending and bumped back to earth in a hay field. It had been a great experience but was over far too quickly. Unfortunately Lewi's flight was even shorter and although we both agreed that the sensation of flying was amazing we both came away slightly disappointed with the fact that we'd paid a considerable amount of money for a combined flight time of only 20mins.

We returned to Cusco, to the room we'd eventually settled into after turning down numerous others and being turfed out of the one we did like. So far we had not been over inpressed with the standard of service in Cusco, there seemed to be too many tourists here for the good of the city. Hotel managers were rude, touts jostled for position with shoeshine boys on the streets, and breakfasts were measly. However there is no denying that Cusco is a very beautiful city, or that it is blessed with the perfect location to visit some of the most impressive Inca sites in the country. There is also no denying that we had a nice time here and that they brew a good beer: Cusquena.

We had spent a relaxed couple of days ambling the hilly cobblestone streets of San Blas and around the charmingly chaotic Plaza de Armas. With Harry and Bex, a couple of new friends we'd met on the bus from Arequipa, we sampled the delights of Inca Kola. A fluorescent-yellow fizzy drink, so popular that here in Peru it even outsells coca-cola (the only exception to worldwide coca-cola domination). The sugar high from this Irn-Bru-esque beverage had us all buzzing for hours as we swapped travel stories and shared downloads for the majority of a very pleasant day.

Adding to our list of new acquaintances, that evening we struck up conversation with a Dutch psychologist, in a quirky bar where the bouncy sounds of the Buena Vista Social Club mingled nicely with the mojitos in hand. We'd been so engaged with our socialising that we hadn't embarked on any sight-seeing and we'd already been in town for two days. Research had been done however on the price of entry tickets to the many sites of archeological interest (not least Machu Picchu), and we'd discovered that student tickets were half price! Not letting the fact that we had graduated from university three years ago deter us, we found a few loop holes and with some assistance from certain un-named sources we successfully duped the system.

Clutching our 'estudiente boletos turistico' and catching our breath from the steep 30min climb from central Cusco we arrived at Saqsayhuaman. Say it aloud... It may sound like sexy woman but it actually means satisfied falcon. It was an impressive site, which sprawled across the hilltop. Sadly only 20% of the fierce ruler Manco Inca's fortress remains today. The spanish conquistadors, in 1543, defeated and slaughtered the thousands of Inca warriors here, destroying this city in order to build their own. What does remain though is amazing, especially the huge, three tiered fortification which zig-zags the length of the site. Cusco was designed to represent a Puma, Saqsayhuaman being the head, and these walls it's teeth. Each block was about 6ft tall and the incredible feat of creation was not lost on us.

Not wanting to be "Inca'd out" by the time we reached Machu Picchu we selected just one other of the Valle Sagrado's Inca destinations to explore - Pisaq's mountain top citadel. We were glad that we did, as it was a beautiful and very well preserved example of an Inca city. On it's precarious perch, with terraces spilling over the sides, the extensive site contained military and residential buildings, huge stone doorways, still functioning water channels, and even tunnels carved through the mountainside. We strolled all around the area on dramatic cliff-hugging paths, the river and little town of Pisaq far below us. We mused at how fit the Inca's must have been, walking up and down that incline is no joke...which is why we took a taxi.

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