Cusco Day 1
For once I didn’t have to get up too early to make the airport. I had breakfast at the B&B, if anyone goes to Lima I highly recommend it. Plus I befriended the owners dog aptly called Inka. I’d walk into the room and Inka would come running over to me for a pat. Anyway I’ve befriended the dog here in Cusco also! Two things I miss from Cuba is the thermos of good coffee to start the day and the relative lack of traffic and crazy driving. Peruvians can be crazy drivers and the traffic in Lima is pretty bad. I made the airport though in plenty of time.
I landed at Cusco and the altitude is noticeable. Its not given me a La Paz like headache, but shortness of breath is noticeable walking up and down streets and steps. Cusco is also full of people trying to sell me tours, massages, souvenirs and alpaca photo opportunities. It started at the airport, continued with the helpful taxi driver and continues on average every 10-20 metres especially in the main plaza.
I decided to go to tourist info and ask them where they recommended I go to book tours and found a nice place with no touts nearby based on tourist info recommendation. He also helped me book my bus transfer from Cusco to Puno on Sunday. I’ll be flat out busy until then so got it all sorted today while i had the day free.
In the end I have three tours booked with a trip to the sacred valley tomorrow, a trip to some salt mines and another site, plus a city tour of ruins near Cusco on Thursday.
Cusco Day 2
Today I went on a tour of the sacred valley of the Incas. The bus was bigger than I was told it would be and at least 25 people on the tour, most of whom where South American tourists (who generally don’t chat much either in spanish to non spanish speakers or in english). Our first stop was at a lookout just over the pass from Cusco. A nice view with the usual haggle of people trying to sell stuff. We then stopped for a toilet and coffee break….. at a local silversmith jeweller. Nothing like the stopping at a shop for some kickbacks, what tour wouldn’t be a tour without it. That said the silver work was very good and there were some beautiful things. See a smart woman would work out that catching me is a good deal as she’d be showered in gifts from exotic countries. For now my money stays in my pocket.
We then drove onto our first Incan ruins at Pisaq. They are perched high on the hill overlooking the town of Pisaq. Most of the stonework here in Pisaq was not precisely cut stone that features in other sites. This indicates it was mostly a farming community and Pisaq had no special significance in Incan culture. The terraces were pretty spectacular though and visible from the town below. They’ve also found evidence the area was settled even before Inca times as their is a cemetery with corpses dating back over 1500 years. The guide gave us some info but it was hard to understand so I’ve since purchased a book with information about all the sites in the Sacred Valley including Machu Picchu, which sits further along the valley than I travelled today.
It was lunchtime after Pisaq and I had opted out for the expensive buffet lunch the group was going on. Except it got weirder as different people went to different resturants for their buffet lunch! I got a 1/4 chicken and salad plus drink at a nearby restaurant for around a third of the price and was satisfied.
We then continued onto our second Incan site, Ollantaytambo. Which coincidentally is where most of the trains to Machu Picchu leave and many of the inca trail walks start down the road from here. Ollantaytambo is not as big as Pisaq, but had ruins either side of the valley and the town itself was built on the Incan town, many houses have parts of the walls that date back to Incan times. We definately got a workout here climbing the terraces to the top to see the Temple at the top and the stonework that went into it. The guide suggested this temple was never finished as the parts of the ramps to move the stone up the hill still exist and there are discarded pieces of stone along the ramps.
Some of the tour, well at least half got off here to catch the train to Machu Picchu. Now maybe they know something I don’t and maybe this is what I should have done. The half empty bus travelled back to Cusco via Chinchero. I didn’t bring my camera with me off the bus as we were going to a weaving place. So for at least the 10th time in my life I’ve been taken to a weaving place on a tour in a foreign country. I should be an expert at it by now! The lady went through all the natural colours they use and then made a joke about the bone they use to weave is from travellers who do not buy anything. I didn’t buy anything, a lot of it is very nice and worth the price, but I don’t own a mansion to put it all in. If I ever own a mansion I’ll be rich enough to fly wherever to buy stuff for it.
There were some more ruins here as well, mostly just terraces and the church the Spaniard built on top of the Incan ruins, which is just what they did back in the 1500’s. There was a beautiful sunset from here also and wished I had my camera, but it was a good number of stairs down and up again. My fitbit says I did 155 flights of stairs today. It seems a lot but there were more stairs than I wish to count and many were double height. I know there were many more than the 250 odd my father counted one day at the Lantau island Buddha.
Cusco Day 3
Today I had a trip to some more ruins and a salt mine. This was a last minute thought when I saw the tour in the agency and asked about it and saw pictures. Looked to be a nice trip to some lesser visited places. So it was a smaller tour, but I was the only english speaker on the tour, so the guide conducted it in Spanish and I just asked questions of things I didn’t understand, or stopped listening to.
Our first stop was to a ……. weaving place. A different one to last night but in the same town of Chinchero. No visit to the ruins though, but the lady here told the same joke about the bone belonging to a tourist who does not buy anything. Thats the thing when tourism meets capitalism. Someone does something well and makes money and next thing everyone does it. I only have to point out the 50 odd times I’ve been asked if I want a massage. Someone started a massage business in Cusco and it probably did very well, now everyone is a masseuse. Its very common in Asia too.
The first real stop was to Maras Salt mines. These salt mines were built before the Incas and the Incas and through to the present day they are still in use. The salt comes from spring water, which is put into the pans on the side of the hill and evaporated leaving salt behind. Amazingly in a stroke of fortune, there were shops everywhere selling salt for cooking, cleaning and medicinal purposes. I thought we were meant to lay off the salt!
After the Maras salt mines and purchasing some salted chocolate we headed to Moray Incan ruins. These ruins are circle terraces, that were created to have a micro climate in them. The temperature difference can be up to 20C at times of the day between the top and the bottom. They seem to craft things to take advantage of the wind always blowing along the valley and to keep thing hot out of the wind and in the sun. The main rings are in good condition and the guide said its meant to represent the womb and pointed out a wall that from the sky is penis shaped. I wandered around here for a while and we headed back to Cusco.
Tomorrow I get on the train to Aguas Calientes and on my birthday on Saturday I visit Machu Picchu itself. The next few days will be hectic as I then get on a bus to Puno to do a tour of the lake there and the floating reed islands, before eventually getting to Arequipa and 3 nights and a breather I hope!