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Published: November 21st 2014
I totally jinxed myself at the end of the last blog. It was mere hours after posting that blog I woke up at 2am and spent the rest of the morning on the toilet. Fortunately it had settled down in time for our 7:30 flight to Cusco. The flight was short and uneventful and we arrived at our hotel in Cusco at 9:30am. I was keen to have a nap before our afternoon walking tour of the city. It looked like it would be possible because the hotel said the rooms would be ready by 10. That was not to be, however. Carol’s was ready at 10:15, Barry’s at 10:45 and mine at 11:00. It was a bit annoying, mostly because I wish they’d been honest with us so we could have gone for a walk or whatever instead of sitting at the hotel.
Anyway, even without much of a rest, I joined the others for the tour. We were to meet up with four other people in Cusco – they were doing the Inca Trail with Barry. However, only two of them were in Cusco so far, and they had been in Cusco for four days so
it was just Cristina, Carol, Barry and me. We started off at the nearby San Pedro markets. Inside there were a small number of souvenir stalls, but mostly it was for food. One of the first sights we saw was a pig’s head dangling outside a butcher’s stall. No refrigeration in sight though, so we all agreed we wouldn’t buy any meat there. There was a lot of interesting foodstuffs there, but I wasn’t all that interested because my stomach wasn’t 100%. What is interesting is that in Peru they have over 3,000 types of potatoes! Not all of them were available in the market, but many are. There is even one which has many bumps on it, and apparently in days past a young woman would have to be able to peel the difficult potato to prove she was ready for marriage.
We then continued walking down to the main square (called Plaza de Armas, like every other Peruvian city) and Cristina pointed out the sites for us. We headed up a street next to the church where for some reason every second shop seemed to be a massage parlour with a lady or two spruiking
out the front. I figured it must be because of the people returning from the Inca Trail with sore muscles, but Cristina said she had to warn us that some of them feature a happy ending. We continued on and Cristina pointed out that many of the buildings in this part of Cusco are built on the foundations of Inca buildings. Cusco was the Incan capital, and their buildings were well-constructed for an earth-quake zone that it makes sense to use them. One of the buildings featured an apparently famous stone with many sides. I posed for a photo beside it, but I have to confess that I can’t remember what was so important about it.
We continued on, looping back towards the main square. Cristina showed us the two fanciest hotels in Cusco and of course we had to ask why we weren’t staying there. Apparently it is about US$1,500 a night, so that’s why. After being shown where some of the museums are, including the Inca Museum which I wanted to visit, we finished up by heading back to the hotel. Apparently the Inca Trail people had a meeting that night where they would get
their special duffel bags, sleeping bags and walking sticks. The more we heard about it, the more Carol and I were glad we weren’t going. Barry, however, was still not quite recovered from his illness (which seems to have been worse than my brief one) and wasn’t 100% sure he would go.
The next day was Saturday and we were heading out to the Sacred Valley. We were joined with the four Inca Trail walkers – Steve and Larissa, a couple from Perth; and Marie and Jemma, a mother and daughter from the U.K. – because the next day they would be heading off to the trail from there. Before that however, we had a full day of things to do. Before leaving Cusco, we stopped at an Inca site on a nearby hill called Saksaywaman (pronounced by English-speakers as “Sexy Woman”). We had a local guide for the day named Lilly who showed us around the site. It was a good preparation for our visits to other Incan sites because it was a little bit of a climb (not so easy at altitude) but not too much. From the top there were excellent views of the
city and it was easy to see why the place was used as a fortress. Apparently there were some large towers on the summit, but now there are only the foundations left. Most of the walls are zig-zagged shape, but unlike European fortresses, this was done to help make the place more resistant to earth-quakes.
We hopped back on the bus and headed out to the Sacred Valley. The valley heads north from Cusco and is a fertile area which made it so important to the Incas. Along the way we stopped at the side of the road for a fantastic view of the valley before heading to a small town in the valley. At the town there were three places we were going to visit. First of all was the home of a lady who hand-makes pottery. She gave us a demonstration of how she does it and the work was really good. Next most of us headed to a “chocolate factory”, although factory is not quite the correct term. The lady, Monica, makes her own chocolate with just cocoa and brown sugar. It was really tasty! Not everyone came to the chocolate demonstration, however. Marie
and Jemma had only flown in from the UK the night before and unfortunately their luggage didn’t come all the way with them. So Cristina had taken them off to sort it out with the airline.
The third place we visited was the home of a local family who made lunch for us. We started off with some corn (a variety similar to what we have in Australia but with larger kernels) and cheese. The next course was a potato soup. The main course was a stew of some sort, served with rice. It was all very nice, but to be honest, I was full before the main course arrived. During the meal we had some purple corn juice, but at the end they brought out some Chicha which is a fermented corn drink. It was pretty fresh, so the alcohol content was very low.
We hopped back on the bus and headed to Ollantaytambo where we were to spend the night. Before that, however, we had another Incan archaeological site to visit. The site at Ollantaytambo was a religious site for the Incas and is built on the side of a steep mountain.
Lilly took us up the many steps (with many breaks along the way for us to catch our breath!) and the views were pretty awesome. I managed to hold the group up. Not, I’m glad to say, because I was struggling with the climbing but because I was taking so many photos. Nobody seemed to mind, and we soon headed to our hotel in the town. That night we all went out for dinner, except Barry who still wasn’t feeling 100% and had decided to pull out of doing the Inca Trail. It was a really good night though, and gave us our first real chance to get to know the four who were heading off on the Inca Trail the next day. Oh and I’m glad to say that Marie and Jemma’s luggage finally turned up at 11pm so Jemma wasn’t going to have to walk the Inca Trail in her plimsoll shoes!
In the morning we said goodbye to the crazy people who were heading off to spend four days and three nights walking through and camping in the mountains. For Carol, Barry and myself, however, we were heading back to Cusco. On the way,
however, we had a couple of things to see. The first was a salt mine, Salinas de Maras. Amazingly, considering how far Cusco is from the ocean, the salt is extracted by evaporation. Apparently the water in the mountain was trapped from the time that the Andes were at the bottom of the sea, millions of years ago. The water is simply poured into the many (dozens? Not sure if it is hundreds) of ponds and left to evaporate, leaving behind the salt. Being a Sunday, there wasn’t a lot of work going on, but it was quite an impressive site.
Next we headed to another Incan archaeological site at Moray. This was a massive site of Incan farming terraces. Apparently it is 1,000 metres from top to bottom. We viewed it from the top (nobody particularly wanted to head down to the bottom) and Barry and I found it hard to believe but I think that was just because we couldn’t get a sense of scale. The temperature varies greatly on the different terraces, apparently creating many different microclimates. Because of this, it is believed that the Incas used it to experiment with different crops. Regardless,
it was very impressive. We then headed back to Cusco, arriving in time for a late lunch at the hotel. I was feeling lazy so I didn’t do much for the rest of the day.
On Monday we had a free day from the tour. This meant we could all do whatever we wanted. Naturally Carol, Barry and I decided to spend the morning together visiting the Inca Museum. Based on Cristina’s advice, we got ourselves an English-speaking guide. The guide’s services are free, although you are expected to tip them 10 sols per person at the end. Our guide was fantastic; she stopped at pretty much every exhibit and told us about it. We were told the tour would be between one hour, and one and a half hours but she spent two hours with us. After visiting a few museums now, and some of the sites, the history is starting to stick in my brain and I can remember the important names, not just of the Incas but also some of the pre-Incan cultures. No doubt I’ll forget it all soon enough though. After a spot of souvenir shopping at the museum, we had lunch
and then I headed off on my own for a spot of photography. I didn’t do much though, because my stomach problems returned.
The next morning, Tuesday, I was feeling a little bit better but not a lot. Fortunately we didn’t have much on because all we were doing was driving back to Ollantaytambo, where we caught the train to Machu Picchu town (or Aguas Calientes). The train trip was really nice, although the train was full. But the track actually follows the river and with mountains either side it was quite spectacular. Cristina told us that the railway line actually follows the original Inca Trail for a while. Apparently the first day of the trek isn’t on the original trail. The train pulled into the town and it was funny to see that the hotels and many shops and restaurants are right on the platform. Thankfully, our hotel was one of them so we had a very short distance to walk. I actually had a nap before we headed out to dinner and that made me feel much better.
Wednesday morning and it was time for the highlight of the holiday – Machu
Picchu! We had to be up fairly early because even though we weren’t going for the clichéd sunrise (which is very early at this time of year) we had to meet up with our Inca Trail friends at 8:00am. We boarded a bus from the town at 7:30 and had a beautiful drive up the mountain. Once we were up there, we caught up with the trekkers and after a round of congratulatory hugs (for them, not us) we headed into Machu Picchu itself. The trekking guide, Elias, took us all around the lower part of the site during a two hour tour. He gave us a lot of information that is no doubt available in hundreds of books. What was most interesting was that he had a theory of what Machu Picchu was created for that I had not heard before. He said that he believes it was a university. The idea makes a lot of sense because the city had everything – temples, agriculture, urban areas. Also, it would be a good idea to keep the students isolated so they can concentrate on their studies! I, like everybody else, have no idea what the truth is, but I
really liked that theory.
At the end of the tour we had about two and a half hours of free time to wander around the site ourselves. Unsurprisingly, the trekkers opted to head straight back into town for a bit of a rest. Carol, Barry and I decided we would climb up to the guard house which is where you take the iconic photographs of Machu Picchu. It was a bit of a climb, so we didn’t rush it. But it was definitely worth the effort because the view was amazing. The photos from up there might be a bit cliché, but they are iconic for a reason! We soon headed back down and caught a bus back into town. This left us a couple of hours for lunch and generally sitting around talking with the trekkers about their journey. It sounds like they had a difficult, but rewarding time. Elias told us they were a very good group, quite fit and overtook a lot of other groups. Just before 4:00 we headed to the train station for the train and then bus back to Cusco.
On Thursday morning, we said farewell to the
trekkers and the original tour members had a free day. I was still feeling pretty lazy so I spent the morning hanging around in my hotel, processing some photos but really just relaxing. I headed out in the afternoon to do my souvenir shopping at the artisan’s markets. Nothing really exciting, I considered it my day off!
Tomorrow we catch a bus to Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
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