2 Months in Peru, May 11-14, 2015; Days 43-46
11.05.2015 - 14.05.2015
Monday May 11, Days 43
A leisurely morning with HOT showers and a breakfast which was buffet style in a lovely dining area with ornate colonial wooden chairs - tablecloths but the usual "one small square" napkins. The hot dishes were cold but there was plenty of fruit and bread and ham and cheese. And strong hot coffee. Heaven. Then the morning was spent organizing the wire transfer to Pantiacolla.
After lunch we decided to head to the hilltop fortress of Sacsaywamán (pronounced similar to sexy woman), a steep climb 2 km up from the central plaza. We opted for an 8 sole taxi and didn't hire a guide, just toured the place ourselves. We had purchased a 130 sole ticket at the tourist information office ( where they, incidentally, didn't speak any English) which gave us entrance to 16 different sites within a 10 day period which was the most economical option. True to our luck, the clouds began to gather as we began our walkabout. The long Quechua name means "Satisfied Falcon" (according to Lonely planet) and unfortunately we only see 20% of the original structure, as the Spaniards tore it down after they conquered the Incas and used the stones to build their houses. In earlier times the shape of Cusco resembled the body of a Puma, and Sacsaywamán was its head with its 22 zigzag walls being the teeth. These walls were really impressive with many large stones weighing tons. This place housed about 5000 soldiers at one time - but from what we understood from our pathetic Spanish translation is this place was also used for worship and no doubt the obligatory sacrificial rites as well. At this point we were starting to contend with a water issue of our own. Rick had to get some llama/alpaca pictures and it was starting to rain with some thunder and lightning. We decided to head back to town with some directions from an English speaking Peruvian - go there, turn right, you can't miss the road back to town.....
We visited the large white Christ statue on the next hill over that we could see at night from the plaza (think Rio de Janeiro Christ statue - they are everywhere in Peru) and then plied the cobblestone streets and steps back to the plaza. It was a good outing but walking anywhere at this altitude takes a toll on ones energy.
The plaza is beautiful at night - it's fountain all lit up and the two Spanish colonial churches flanking two sides, central gardens, cobblestone sidewalks, and as clean a city as we have seen in South America. Of course, if you leave the historic/tourist area, that all changes. Still, it is lovely, albeit full of more gringos than we had seen in quite a while- mostly European and some Aussies. Tomorrow- off to the sacred valley!
Tuesday, May 12, Day 44 Sacred Valley
Up early to catch our bus for the tour. Our lovely guide was Regina - Regi - who spoke fair English. Waiting to board we met Katie from Hillsboro, Oregon. It's a small tourist world here in Cusco.
Our first main stop was Pisac, an Incan citadel high above the actual village. We certainly got a bit of a workout climbing these steps to the main citadel area. It's temple was built in the shape of a condor, and it had remarkable terracing all around where the Incas experimented with different crops at altitude (the site is at 3550 meters).
Then it was down to the town to learn about jewelry making with plenty of work available to purchase!
Next stop, lunch at Urubamba, then on to the fortress of Ollantaytambo, which was incredible!
Massive, it sits at around 2800 meters and seen from afar it resembles a llama. You climb numerous steps up many terraced levels to the top where the wonderful Temple of the Sun sits, awaiting the winter solstice sunshine which illuminates its rock edifices perfectly. The Incas brought these rocks from a stone quarry 6 km across the Urubamba River. If you gaze across the valley there are several natural stone formations that look like Inca faces, the prominent nose being a prevalent facial feature in their race!
We wandered about for awhile then it was off to our last stop - Chinchera, a town renowned for its textiles. There we climbed up another set of terraces to view a very ancient Incan temple and place of sacrifice, at 3850 meters. Up at the top we crawled through narrow passageways to the sacrificial sites and later wandered in the twilight on the large grassy square where a church had been built in later times. Soon it was dark and we headed back into the village to watch a demonstration of the processes involved in preparing and dying the wool from the animals to be spun for clothes and for weaving textiles. It was fascinating.
We were all pretty tired on the bus back to Cusco. Rick and I headed for dinner at Paddy's Pub and had a good pint of beer brewed here in Cuzco which cost the same amount as our dinner entrees. But it was worth it to finally have a good beer. It was a full and educational day!
Wednesday, May 13, Day 45
We spent the morning playing catch up, organizing for the jungle and Puno, doing laundry, etc. Pamela and Ega were back from Machu Picchu and related their adventures at breakfast. We met up with them later and toured around the city at random. First we had lunch at an excellent restaurant where Ega and Karen had alpaca in a sauce with quinoa risotto which Karen will try to recreate at home. We stopped in a lovely cathedral - Pam and Ega bought us entrance tickets. It was quite amazing - many baroque era paintings done by Peruvians for the Spaniards (the paintings depicting biblical scenes often had the Roman soldiers in Spanish helmets - ha!) and gold foil on so many of the fixtures. The place had been damaged severely by an earthquake in the sixties but had been lovingly restored.
Then it was off to explore the San Blas area with its cathedral and fountains and plaza, and many shops for gringos and tourists. We wound our way back down to the Avenida el Sol where we found the Spanish church built on the ruins of the main Inca temple in Cuzco, called Santo Domingo/Qorikancha - take your pick, the Spanish or Incan Quechua name! Cuzco is spelled with a "z" or an "s", and means center of the empire, but literally translates as belly button of the empire or world. It is getting hard to navigate the streets as the maps have Spanish street names but the actual street signs are often in Quechua - a process of changing them to the true native language which is ongoing so the maps are not keeping up. The Peruvians take great pride in their heritage and especially in historic Cuzco they want to celebrate this by preserving the sites and the ancient culture. The Qorikancha site was beautiful at night - well lit and with many benches to sit and enjoy the area.
We ended our night at Paddy's pub where Pam and Ega treated us to good beers - we had IPA (!) and we, as a way of introducing them to Irish food, all shared a shepherd' s pie!
Thursday, May 14, Day 46 - preparing for the jungle!
We spent a lot of today organizing for the jungle but we took some time out to go to the museum at the Qorikancha site that was also included on our tourist ticket. This was a small museum housed beneath the grounds of the temple site (they call these "in situ museos" here in Peru). Perhaps the most fascinating part of this small place was the intact mummies displayed complete with skin and hair and teeth. As well they had many skull displays showing the trepanning techniques the Incas practiced - this involved removing pieces of skull or drilling holes in the skull to ostensibly relieve pressure - they did use some sort of anesthetic and some of the people survived. There were also skulls displayed that were abnormally shaped - formed by a process the Incas started on noble children from birth to alter their head shape to display their higher status. They bound the babies skulls in such a way as to cause the skull to elongate. One wonders why they thought this shape was so special - it eerily resembles our modern day depiction of alien heads. Coincidence? Ha!
Back in the street near the tour office for our jungle trip we ran into some Aussies we had met on Monday while searching for the South American explorers club. As I have said before, it is a small tourist world in Cuzco. We hit it off and all went to try Peruvian Chinese food together. It was actually quite good and we had a lovely time with Mimie and Rod. We hope to meet up with them in Oz someday, or even in Vancouver BC as they are planning on visiting Canada next year.
Tomorrow -off to the jungle!