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Published: January 14th 2010
and the sacred river
I realized after my day wandering around Cusco that I got pretty sunburnt, although it wasn't hot and was overcast and occasionally rainy. The weird thing is, I don't think I've ever had a sunburn on the backs of my hands before. I guess there's a first time for everything.
That night, I hung out around the hostel and met some people in the bar area. After a few rounds of Cuzqueñas, I started to feel a bit dehydrated, so I switched to water--just in time to learn a traditional Peruvian drinking game with dice called Dudo. Actually, the game reminded me of one I saw people playing in China a few years back. I wonder if it's the same game? (Speaking of familiarities - the indigenous people here remind me a lot of the Tibetans; they have similar features, though their crafts are quite different.)
I went to bed on the early side, since I had to wake up for an early morning tourbus and because I was exhausted from the previous couple of days of travel. I have to say, the beds at this hostel (Pariwana) are pretty comfortable. When I woke up, I got a visit
for good luck and prosperity
from the guy I arranged the tour with (Lenin Carpio - firstname.lastname@example.org), and he just confirmed the time for me to meet my tour group. An unexpected visit, but excellent service, I'd say.
The Sacred Valley tour itself was about what I expected, which is to say it was not exactly what was promised. Although the guide spoke English, and there were a few other English speakers on the tour, I'm happy to report that my Spanish is still pretty good - at least when it comes to understanding what is said (rather than speaking) - because I was able to pick up most of what the guide said in Spanish. The first few stops on the tour were mainly shopping for crafts or quick photo ops.
The first significant stop was at Pisac, where our short hike at altitude (about 10,000 ft, still lower than Cusco) was enough to tire everyone out. We learned how some buildings that were deemed important - like temples for the Incan gods or for royalty) could be identified because the stonework was cut for perfect fit, while the more common buildings were simply piled up. We also learned about the Incan
used to transport all sorts of things, these are just outside the Pisac market
trinity - Mother Earth in three parts - and about the Incan cross
, which is representative of the three levels of existence.
Mostly, I was impressed by the vastness of it all. The Andes are tall and steep, but the Incas managed to use them well. The two types of terraces - those with high walls for security and those with lower walls for agricultural purposes - were incredible to see, and sadly no longer in use by the indigenous people for reasons of preservation. I was also very impressed the the variety of the flora - cacti of all sorts, trees like you'd find in the San Fancisco area, and more.'
At the end of the tour, I hung out with Sofia and Justin, a couple from Long Island (though Sofia is Peruvian) that I met on the tour bus. Instead of returning to Cusco, we stayed in Ollantaytambo (oh-yahn-tuh-ee-tahm-bo) to catch the train to Machu Picchu. We had about two hours to kill before the 7pm train, so we sat at a bar and just chatted. We met another couple there, I don't recall where they were from (Americans though), but they were working on putting together
The stone is the upper half of the Incan cross. On the summer solstice, the sun shines through the mountains in such a way that the shadow cast is the other half. The chackana is drawn in the mud in front of the rope.
a trail guide for the vicitinity. We had a great time, which is why when I looked at my watch and it was already 7 we had to rush to try and catch the train, catching a motortrike taxi on the way.
We failed. The next and last train of the night, at 9pm, was full. Luckily, the man I spoke to behind the ticket counter said he would check for us for any last minute cancellations, and would allow us to trade in our tickets for the train the next morning (for the small price difference). Of course, when we came back an hour later he wasn't there anymore, and the next guy behind the counter wanted to make us buy new tickets. After Sofia argued with him fruitlessly for a while, the man I spoke to returned and hooked us up with no questions. Fortunately we were also able to locate a hostel nearby for relatively cheap - S./20 per person (about $7US), and that was for a room with a double bed and a room with two twins. Although Justin--who by the way, had been ill with some stomach thing for the last few days--wanted to
compare the cut stones of the temple to the laid stones of the common building
find a place with a TV, we couldn't find anywhere like that. When we came back to the hostel we liked, though, the man who ran the place was nice enough to bring one to his room for free (I think they ended up tipping him this morning for it), and moreover he stayed open late so we could go get dinner and woke us up in the morning at 4am for our train!
Well, this morning we did get up and did make our train - the scenery on the way back was really nice, but I slept the whole way to Machu Picchu. Since Justin and Sofia were still doing a group tour and I was not, we said goodbye, and I spent the early part of the day hiking up Montaña Machupicchu (Mount Machu Picchu), which overlooks the entire site. In contrast to the ruins below, which were crawling with tour groups, I don't think I saw as many as 20 people on the hour-and-a-half hike up. (Actually, they had a guestbook, and there were lots of names for the day - I think not many people made it all the way up). Unlike the more
famous Huayna Picchu, across the ruins from where I was, this mountain does not have controlled access (Huayna Picchu is limited to 400 people per day, and you need to be there very early to be one of those people). Since this hike doesn't seem to be in any guidebooks, it's relatively untraveled. No ruins up that way, but the vistas and plantlife more than make up for that.
After nearly falling down the cliffs on my way down, I hiked around the Incan ruins at Machu Picchu for about an hour or two - I couldn't really handle any more ruins and I was exhausted from the hike, In any case, without a guide I wasn't really sure what I was looking at anyway.
I ate lunch in town - it seems all the tourist spots have these set menu options, where you can get 4 courses (one course is either a drink or dessert) for less than what an entree would cost. The food has also been pretty good. At the Pisac market I ate a very delicious empanada, which was quite different from a Mexican empanada, and in Machu Picchu I had an asparagus soup
and grilled alpaca (yum!). Actually, the only food I didn't think was very good was the food at the buffet that was included with my tour, and that was also sort of expected since they cater their bland flavors to many people from all over. Even there, though, the rice pudding and black corn jelly dessert was pretty tasty.
Well, that's about it for Peru. Tomorrow I'm off to Santiago, Chile. ¡Hasta luego!
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