Cusco and upwards...

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January 27th 2016
Published: February 3rd 2016
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C: The flight From Lima to Cusco was just over an hour and we got a ridiculously cheap taxi to our next hotel which was very nice and certainly had more of a Peruvian feel than the one in Lima. We unloaded the luggage and went off to explore. I love city travelling and especially ones with lots of history so Cusco was right up my street and made a refreshing change from the more modern cities of North America. It was originally inhabited by the Incas but not much remains from their time unfortunately as the Spanish did a pretty thorough job of looting it and destroying most of the buildings. Fortunately the Spanish built attractively so there's still a lot to see. There's a beautiful central square surrounded by balconied buildings and several churches including the cathedral. We did a tour of a Franciscan convent and were shown round by a very sweet guy who was trying to improve his English. He had clearly learnt a script so wasn't really able to answer our questions but he tried really hard. He seemed to be only about 20 and he did speak the local, traditional language too - Quechan. I've been reminded once again over the last few weeks how poor the English are at languages generally and I feel quite ashamed at times that my Spanish isn't better. Throughout Peru, we noticed how obliging and kind the people were which just added to the many charms of the country. As well as the large, covered central market, with every kind of llama meat and coca product going, Cusco also has some fun little markets, full of bright coloured Incan fabrics, that we explored and a chocolate museum and cafe where we indulged rather too much on chocolate crepes and fondue!

The city is literally built right in the mountains and many of the buildings hug the mountainside. When we returned to Cusco after Machu Picchu we did a really nice (but steep!) walk through lots of winding streets up to two churches, the second of which had a fantastic view across the whole city. There are quite a lot of Incan people wandering the streets in traditional costumes, sometimes to have tourists take their photo for money, and sometimes just going about their business. There were also loads of lovely little courtyards inside the buildings. We had lunch in one which had a cafe in it which Roger particularly enjoyed as it was also home to two very friendly golden retrievers! We found another lovely courtyard with fountain and lots of flowers in colonial building that used to be the palace of the archbishop. There is one set of Inca remains which you can visit but the Spanish built a church and monastery on top of it so now you can only really a few of the original Incan walls. Nothing to compare to Machu Picchu....

We had decided to tackle Machu Picchu from further into the Sacred Valley rather than travelling all the way from Cusco so on our second day in the city we headed off to a small town called Ollantaytambo. It was a bumpy ride on a collectivo minibus filled with locals and tourists alike, but through some lovely scenery and when we got there we were really pleased we had made the journey. (R: I was also pleased the lady in front of me who had brought several hundred eggs on board made the journey without dropping them!) C: The town was originally Incan and the small streets still adhere to the pattern set down over 500 years ago, so lots of sweet alleyways and cobbly walkways with streams running down channels alongside them. It was built in a small valley and there are still Incan remains on the mountainsides at the edge of the town. Our guest house had a very traditional feel and had beautiful Peruvian fabrics everywhere. On the final day there we climbed up to the ruins on the mountainside which used to be Incan graneries.

So the next day was Macchu Picchu! I was particularly excited as I think, for me, this was the main motivation for coming to South America and certainly the site I had most looked forward to. We took the hideously expensive (tourist trap but who can blame them?) train at 7.45 and reached the small town below MP after about an hour and a half. There were then numerous coaches to shuttle you up the mountain. It was a drab town so we headed straight on. We had been about worried about the weather, apparently sometimes the whole thing can be covered in cloud, but it was fine. It can often be a bit of a anticlimax actually seeing something you've seen so many pictures and videos of but this really wasn't. The setting is what makes it. A huge complex of ruins on a ridge between two picture perfect cloudforest-covered mountains surrounded by lots more mountains. It was spectacular. There are loads of walkways and although you have to climb (a lot!) you get to see the area from a multitude of different viewpoints. The buildings themselves aren't massively spectacular but what's so amazing is the feat of engineering that caused them to be there. It's 2400m above sea level and 450m down to the river valley. It amazes me how the Incas had the ingenuity and the capability to build what would have been considered a city at that elevation and everywhere looked you could see how they had adapted to the surroundings, most obviously with the row upon row of agricultural terraces down the mountainside. We had about six hours in total and although we had been encouraged to get there early, it was actually better in the afternoon because there were less tourists! We must have taken over 100 photos, don't worry I'll make Roger do some serious editing before subjects you to any of them, but we were also content just to sit for a while and take it all in. It was an expensive part of our trip and some of the logistics, especially afterwards, were tricky but we are both so glad we made it.

R: I also did the extra walk up Huana Picchu, the mountain you can see in the background of most pictures of MP. You have to pay extra for this and they only release 400 tickets per day, so I had booked in advance. The walk up takes about 15 minutes and gives a different look over the valley and temple complex. It's made more difficult by the number of steep drops and lowper Oxygen levels due to altitude. To be honest we didn't have any real trouble with the altitude, except I found it harder to catch my breath on the walk. I also attempted to walk Wayna Picchu, the higher of the two mountains, but the trail was filled with inexperienced walkers and there weren't many passing places. I had told Cate that I would be down in an hour, and this definitely wasn't possible. Also, to improve the mood, several of the walkers were playing music loudly through their iPhones as they walked, which wasn't that fun for everyone else. So I got to a good view point before turning around. But Huana Picchu was so peaceful by comparison and there was just me and one other American up there. We chatted for a while, but soon we just stopped and enjoyed being free from all the tourists while taking in the view.

We also enjoyed watching the llamas lolloping around Macchu Picchu. They were taking it much more in their stride than most of the sweaty tourists!

On our return to Cusco, we had Peruvian tapas which was delicious. Alpaca carpaccio was a favourite, having eaten Alpaca a few days before from a menu called the "Love the Alpaca" menu. I'm still not quite sure if it was the right way to love them. Tapas also included other traditional Peruvian dishes, but not a whole baked Guinea pig, thankfully.

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