Incan History Module 1 (Lima, Cusco and the Peruvian Andes)

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South America » Peru » Cusco » Machu Picchu
September 11th 2011
Published: September 11th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

Hola! We´ve just torn ourselves away from the ChocoMuseo in Cusco. I wanted to sign up to the chocolate making workshop, but Olie reminded me that we´ve already attempted it in Ecuador. It all looked and smelled so good! I now want to open a ´Casa de Chocolate´ as well as a cake shop and handicrafts shop! Anyway, better do this update on Peru. We´ve had an amazing few days, despite a lot of early mornings, chilly temperatures in Cusco (I´m talking two tops, two fleeces, a coat, gloves and scarf!), blistered feet and aching legs!

04/09/11 - Arrived at our stop-over destination of Lima about 1am and made our way to the One Hostel in Barranco, a beach side neighbourhood in Lima. Hostel was gorgeous and as the owner had been out the night before, her dad greeted us at breakfast and gave us some local hints and tips. Made our way up to Miraflores; an upmarket tourist area with numerous cafes, restaurants and shops. Our market purchasing is getting out of hand - we need a more restrained person with us! Ended up purchasing a small oil painting on the Artist Parade at Parque Kennedy, despite telling each other that morning that we shouldn´t buy anything else. Things aren´t going well for the 15kg baggage allowance on our Argentiian flights! We then enjoyed a snack lunch whilst watching local couples dance (tango...i think!) on the park´s dance floor. We hadn´t heard great things about Lima, but the more affluent suburbs that we visited that day were lovely. Sea front apartments with balconys were in abundance and selling for approximately 50k GBP. We could see how a lot of Americans have set up home here. That evening we enjoyed Ceviche - a Peruvian dish of raw fish cooked slightly by marrinading in lime juice and chillies, served with plantain and sweet potato - it was delicious! Peru is meant to be the top place for South American cuisine (not much of a contest so far!)

05/09/11 - 5.30am rise for flight to Cusco (bus is 22 hours...we couldn´t face it, so splashed out on a flight). Someone had told us that because it´s always overcast in Lima, but very rarely rains, people don´t bother finishing their houses with a roof in the poorer neighbourhoods...they literally stop at the side walls. On our way to the airport we saw these houses. Bizarre! They were hanging their washing out to dry on the second floor...almost like a rooftop garden. The flight was delyaed (grrr), but we arrived in Cusco by mid-day and dumped our backpacks at El Tuco hostel which is just outside the centre (pretty much on a motorway slip road, with 5 roads converging at a perilous crossing!) Cusco sits at 3,300m (altitude sickness is common) and was the former capital of the Incas before the Spanish took control in the 1530s. It is also another UNESCO World Heritage Site (they seem to dish out this title to anywhere with a colonial church or a cobbled street!) Having said that Cusco is very beautiful. Red roofs dominate the skyline and the Andes form a very pituresque backdrop. We sat on one of the many wooden balconys in the main square for lunch, full of colds and not feeling particularly up for the ´alternative´ Inca trail we were about to embark on. After another disasterous visit to a market (gloves, football shirt, jumper), we went back to the hostel and sat in bed reading trying to warm up (reminds me of our old house Mum!) That eve we had a wander around and after a hostel cooked pasta dinner, we shared a delicious chocolate torte - Peru really does have much better food.

06/09/11 - A lie in! :-) Ate lunch at a veggie joint and then wandered up steep, narrow streets into the San Blas district. Breathetaking - literally! We met our Inca group at 3pm in a hostel with fabulous views over the city. Learnt that we´d be spending the next 4 days with 2 couples; one Argentinian and the other Scottish. We had signed up to an alternative Jungle, Hiking and Biking Inca trail with PIE Peru, which consists of an 80km downhill mountain bike ride on day 1, two full days trekking in the Andes across recently discovered Inca paths and the final day at Machu Picchu. When we met the group, we thought the Scots might on to see if they did! :-) That evening we went to the Two Nations restaurant and shared an alpaca steak and a beef wellington, with home brewed beer.

07/09/11 - Picked up from our hostel at about 7.30am and drove to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. Pretty place with Inca ruins (that we didn´t get to see!) Carried on up to 4,300m, to Abra Malaga, the highest point of the mountain road and starting point for our 2nd mountain bike attempt (uh oh!) This time we kitted out in a ridiculous outfit...helmet, goggles, knee and elbow pads and bike gloves...fully prepared for a fall. After the previous -4C start point, we also took every warm piece of clothing we currently own. Not appropriate for a balmy 15C but at least we tried! Set off on our hydraulic suspension bikes (phew!) and actually really enjoyed the 50km downhill on smooth roads. What a difference a decent bike, warm weather and beautiful Andean surroundings make. Depite all this, of the 6 of us that started, not all of us made it down unscathed (and it wasn´t me that messed up!) Corner one witnessed the demise of the Scottish girl (sighting a skid and bus as her reasons for getting back in the van) and on km #49 the Argentinian girl flew straight over the handle bars after squeezing the forbidden front brake! As we´d already made it to the rest point (including her over competitive boyfriend who´d sped off to the front), we had no idea what had happened, but heard hysterical screams and tears as the minibus pulled up. A gash on her chin and cheek as well as a massive black eye looked pretty bad and I paniced for her. Whilst I was insisting we should try and get her to hospital, our guide (Luiz) disappeared, returning a couple of minutes later egg! What was he playing at?! Fortunately he knew what he was doing. By applying a technique apparently taught to him by his grandfather, he ´stitched´up her cuts (butterfly stitch style) using the inner membrane of the egg shell! To be fair to him it worked quite well and looked pretty neat (she still has it on have to wait c.8 days for it to fall off naturally). Since she was in a lot of pain, we all decided to call it a day and after mounting the bikes onto the van we headed on to Santa Maria...a tiny Andean village with very little going for it (apart from cheap beer...1.1 litres for about 1GBP!) That evening we all went out for dinner to the only restaurant in town...suprisingly, really nice food!

A quick pause in our day to day goings on, to give you a bit of info about the various Inca Trails (geeks).... As I´ve mentioned before, we were on an ´alternative Inca Trail´ which only about 50-100 people do per day. Olie chose it because ´he didn´t want to do 4 days of trekking´, which I read as ´it´s cheaper´. We learnt from our guide that the government heavily endorses the ´classic Inca Trail´ and spends a lot of money marketing it as the ónly Inca Trail´ (obviously because it makes even more money from the permits!). In reality, there are hundreds of genuine trails that the Incas built and used throughout the Andes as a means of connecting their expanding empire. Luiz told us that there is an equally beautiful ruined Inca city called Choquequirao, close to the Salkantay mountain range, which lacks the government endorsment and therefore only attracts about 100 people per day, compared to the 2,500 that are allowed to visit Machu Picchu! Crazy.

08/09/11 - Given the previous days drama, our group of 6 became 4 (as the Argentinian couple decided to rest and recover). The 4 of us therefore set off for our cloud forest Inca trek; ignorant to what lay ahead! We began in the Santa Maria valley and immediately started to climb for 5km, 500m up to a height of 2,300m (if it it doesn´t sounds high, it was!) to a lookout point over the river valley and mountain range. Along the way we endured numerous precarious cliff paths with sheer drops (Mum = hands and knees moment!), visited a traditional Peruvian kitchen with about 30 guinea pigs (a Peruvian delicacy) running around on the floor, saw some baby Picuro (beaver like Andean mammal), passed coca plantations and coffee farms and took a well earned sleep in a hammock before lunch! (wow...long sentence!) Luiz kept his promise from the previous day and made us all try coca leaf, the traditional way. You chew dried leaves into a ball at the side of your mouth and then introduce a bit of plantain ash paste into the mix. It numbs your cheek (used to be used as an anaesthetic by Incas) and creates more saliva so that you don´t need to drink so much water climbing these Andean slopes. It was pretty gross and as soon as Luiz walked away we spat it out. The final leg involved walking over a very rickety wooden bridge (with some snapped planks!) and getting pulled across a ferocious river in a wooden crate (see photos). Finally, 8 hrs later, we reached the natural hot springs of Santa Teresa for a well deserved muscle soak. Here we learnt that the paths we´d walked were used by Inca postman to communicate messages from city to city (they used to run these paths in 2 hrs!) Hard work, but amazing views and some great info from our guide.

09/09/11 - 6 became 2! After breakfast (jam and bread...again!) the Scots pulled out after mulling over the news from dinner the previous evening that yesterday had merely been a warm up for today. England 1 - Scotland and Argentina 0 :-). The hot springs had worked, as apart from the blisters our limbs were feeling suprisingly up for the challenge. The 3 of us set off (walking sticks in hand...Olie had found a random wooden stick, so Luiz donated me a proper walking pole :-)) at a decent pace. For a solid 3.5hrs we climbed up over 1000m to the summit of Llactapata mountain - the leg burn and sweating was intense! A packet of Ritz crackers later and we began the descent down the other side, with the promise of our first view of Machu Picchu. After a brief lunch stop, we visited the hidden ruins of Llactapata. Although not much of a spectacle at the moment, if the vegetation was burnt away as it was at MP, it would reveal a smaller scale but similar settlement. The trek down was crazy. Soooo painful! We both had blisters on our feet, but Olie particularly suffered (claiming he had no skin remaining on any of his toes...although at the time he was far less eloquent with his phrasing!) We hobbled for another 3km to Hydroelectric (literally a working power station), to meet the scivers and catch the train to Aguas Calientes (base camp for MP). Luiz wasn´t was a tough day with some lows, but overall a great sense of achievment. Aguas Calientes was a nicer than expected mountain town, with the train track acting as the main street (doesn´t aid sleeping, despite 2 days of trekking!) We enjoyed our first Pisco Sours at dinnertime and headed to bed early for our 5am start the following morning.

10/09/11 - Prepare yourselves, this is the day we went to Machu´s going to be looooooong! Reunited, our entire group took the first bus up to MP...the lost city of the Inca´s, which sits at around 2,500m. It was rediscovered (according to Luiz) in 1902 by a local Cusconian archeologist, who found 2 families living within the ruins. In 1911, American archeologist, Bingham, stumbled upon the complex and claimed it as his own find, scrubbing out the marking left by the Cusconian, in favour of his own (bloody Americans!) Anyway, after a pause for some picture perfect views, Luiz took us round the main sites within the city; a 3 hour tour which gives an indication as to the size of the complex. There are 2 main sections - the agricultural terraces (with store buildings kept cool by the winds) and the urban citadel. We began at the Guard House, a great viewpoint to guard the city from potential invaders and wild animals. We then climbed down the terraces (via some resident llamas), through the Main Gate and on to the stone quarry. Here we learnt how the stones were carved and shaped (using other stones) and it was also the first evidence that MP was never finished, as many half carved stones remain in the quarry. Rocks were carved differently depending on their special places (i.e. places of worship, royal residencies etc.), the stones were shaped into more brick like slabs, which were constructed as dry stone walls, with straight, flush lines and a polished finish. This looks odd in contrast to the ´worker´ buildings which consist of more rugged stones fixed together with mud - it appears almost as if the royal structures were constructed by machine in a later era. No-one really knows why the two different architectural methods were used - just a lot of speculation.
We then visited the Temple of the Sun; the Inca House (royal Inca room with ensuite (?!) and a priests abode next door); 3 of the 16 fountains which irrigate the city from rainfall in the mountains. The Condor Temple was next up - the condor was important as a link to the Gods, carrying the sacrifices seemingly up to heavan. The temple is an example of how the Inca´s worked with the land. Within the temple two natural rocks remain untouched which form the Condors wings (building around existing stone work was common practice and represented the great respect they had for Mama Pacha - Mother Earth). Temples and important worker houses contained royal mummies (in feotal position), as they believed that these people still lived (in a better world) and therefore continued to rule them (dreams and hallucinations most likely!) A bit trippy and weird, but still widely believed and interesting in any case. Some mummies have been discovered in the snow capped mountains in northern Argentina and were so well preserved by the freezing climate and methods used, that apparantly they look like they only died yesterday!) We´ll check this out in Salta! Anyway, back to our this point we inherited a brash American tourist who had lost his own guide. He didn´t listen to anything, yet asked questions on what had just been said (you know the type!) Finally, we visited the ´Sector of the temples´, which clearly remains unfinished and confirms the likelihood that MP was abandoned after the Spanish invaded Peru. From here we could look over the Plaza Principal and ceremonial rocks, although our minds were distracted by our final exhersion, up the looming beast that is Wayna Pichu (steep peak that forms the backdrop in most photos of MP). History lesson over.

After what felt like a million steps up, down and back up again we made it to the summit of Wayna Pichu and admired the alternative view of MP and the surrounding cloudy peaks. I was desperate for the loo, so we legged it down in record time (over taking Germans, Japanese, Americans and Australians by the dozen) and then took the bus back to Aguas Calientes. After a pretty boring wait (we reckon Luiz had forgotten to book the train tickets in time as we were on the 9:30 departure) we swapped our train for a bus at Ollantaytambo and eventually made it back to our hostal at 1am - exhausted!

11/09/11 - (Olies in to finish things off in style!) After a great free breakfast and a hug and a kiss from our extremely friendly hostal owner (only Emma got the kiss) we trapsed back to junction whatever to pick up our big backpacks and have a soak in El Tucos boiling hot showers! Emmas feeding me bits of choclate as I write this - its working out quite well for me!! Basically we´re done with Cusco now (its been great) and are heading to Lake Titicaca (probably straight to the Bolivian side but we´ll let you know). Hope everything is good for you all at home - I´ve discovered a new favourite fruit called granadilla, where you peel off the skin and then suck out the juicy inards. Apparently its very popular with Peruvian children which is probably why I like it so much...(not in a perverted way). Right I´m done - adios amigos! Love and hugs Olie and Emma


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