and Macchu Picchu...
21.06.2007 - 28.06.2007
Monday 21st May
Yaaaawn - another painful early start, but looking forward to breakfast and getting on the coach for the day trip to Cuzco.
The taxi is waiting for us again and we get to the bus terminal with plenty of time to spare.
Not as luxurious as we had expected, crap legroom and we sit in a spot where the panoramic view windows have join. Not the best start, and a bunch of folks get on the bus 5 minutes after we should have left. Calm......
First stop on the altiplano (high plains) was Pukara, a little village with a museum and pre-Inca site behind it, though we didn't get to visit this, and only 15 minutes or so at the museum. We're really not becoming big fans of tourist trips like this.
Saw some 'decapitator' statues (we think from the Paracas culture) which predated the Incas by at least 1000 years.
Next stop at 'La Raya', an Andean mountain pass at 4335 metres. Here is the departmental line between Puno and Cuzco. Nice view of the snow capped mountains and a glacier, but again not much time here.
We stop next for lunch in Sicuani - nice buffet lunch, included in trip, before moving on to the village of San Pedro and the ruins of Raqchi.
Lovely little church and square, which is full of little old ladies selling the same souvenirs.
The site was built in the 15th century and it is considered by historians to be one of the most important Inca constructions. The Wiracocha Temple, 100 metres long and 20 metres wide, does now look like an aqueduct, but it was once the holiest shrines in the Inca empire.
The temple was made of adobe walls built on top of volcanic stone foundations, and 22 columns supported the roof.
We walked around the residential area made for the Inca nobles and the dozens of circular storage 'facilities'.
Next stop on the trip was at the beautiful village of Andahuaylillas (at 3039 metres above sea level). Pretty little square wit a stunning (inside decor) Jesuit church, known as the Sistene Chapel of the Americas. Built in 1580 with a Baroque interior, guilded altars, paintings and beautifully painted walls. Very pretty, even Paul was impressed, though he wasn't impressed with the a couple of folk on our trip who thought it would be okay to talk and laugh during the talk by the guide about the church. A 'look' soon shut them up.
We have 20 minutes fee time to have a look around the square before getting back on the bus for the last 60kms to Cuzco.
At the tour company shop the bus drops us off and we're joined in the taxi to the hostel by, what turns out to be, a lady who works/runs a Macchu Picchu tour company - we didn't realise this until after we had checked in, dropped off our stuff and were about to head out for dinner - she was waiting downstairs to speak to us about a MP trip. Weren't hounded as such, though we ended up going to her office by the main plaza to discuss the trip options.
Back to the accommodation, El Arcano is a nice little place a few minutes walk 'up' (we were breathless every time we walked back there!)from the square and run by friendly folks. Thought we'd be paying a fair bit to sleep in Cuzco, but pleased to pay 50Soles a night, with private facilities, cable TV, breakfast.
The main square, Plaza de Armas, looked very impressive at night, perhaps the biggest square we've encountered. Quite a busy place, and of course, oodles of tourists. Isn't long before a seemingly continuous stream of postcard sellers, souvenir sellers, drug sellers, shoeshiners are on our backs . Harmless, but irritating.
We sit with the tour lady for a bit, before leaving to find some dinner. Lots of restaurants doing bargain set meals here - we find a quiet place that's doing a reasonable selection of courses, with drink and dessert included. No complaints about the food, and is less than 3 quid.
Walked around town for a while before heading back to our room - it's a little chilly, and there's no hot water (should be) for a shower.
Despite the lack of hot water this evening, we like our cute little room at the top of the building.
Tuesday 22nd May
Slept very well, though grumbling in the morning about the 'warm' water shower - never pleasant when you're living at altitude.
Breakfast is served to us in the small lobby downstairs, though luckily we're the only ones at this time, not sure what they'd do if half a dozen folks turned up in the morning - there's only 3 seats around a small coffee table. A little chilly in the lobby, and the small wood burner would be a treat if it was blazing away.
A little info about Cuzco - it was the capital if the Inca empire (the name of the emperor was Tahuantinsuyo). It was a sacred city to the Incas, thought to be the center of the world, which is now Birmingham, Midlands.
According to legends and stories, there were 13 Incas ruling over the Huatancay River Valley, around 1200AD, controlling it from Cuzco. From here, they fortified the empire in less than a century.
After the conquest, the Spanish founded their own city (in 1534) - Inca temples and palaces were transformed into colonial mansions and churches.
Spent most of the day getting to grips with the place, and mulling over our options for visiting Macchu Picchu. Of course, we hadn't prebooked to do the Inca Trail, and there's be nothing available for months ahead. Not sure if we would have done it anyway - it's expensive, and maybe we'd prefer to do another great walk elsewhere, where there's not hundreds of other tourists around.
Had a cheap pizza set lunch for just over a pound and relaxed for a couple of hours in one of the 'video bars' watching Casino Royale and sipping happy hour cocktails.
More food and drink followed at Jack's Cafe - great shakes and tasty chips.
Then, an early night for these party poopers.
Wednesday 23rd May
We've decided against doing one of the other treks to Macchu Picchu, and opt for a simple visit to the site, which will be a couple of nights away from Cuzco. We've organised this through the administrator at the hostel, Marianella, a friendly, English speaking local.
The deal is $140 each, and this includes entrance into the MP site, 2 nights accommodation, bus transfers up to the MP site, MP guide, and the return train journey from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.
It's necessary that we go to the train station to buy the tickets in our name, but that doesn't take too long, and we save some time by taking a taxi straight on to Tambomachay Archaelogical complex - aka, the 'Bath of the Inca' - it might have fulfilled an important religious function linked to water and the regeneration of the land.
What we're doing today is visiting several Inca sites, and combining it wit some walking exercise - the taxi takes us about 8kms out of town, and we walk bath, taking in the sites/sights along the way back to Cuzco. Weather is nice and bright today, should be a good'un.
So, Tambomachay, possibly built around 1500AD, it's a ceremonial stone bath channeling spring water through 3 fountains - it's an interesting site, though other than the main structure, there's no other buildings/ruins here.
Over the road and up a few hundred yards is the more structured site of Pukapukara - this complex though to be used as a rest and lodging area, consisting of several rooms, inner plazas and roads. Very nice views of the surrounding hills, and Cuzco valley.
Paul got into a little bit of trouble by taking a picture of a Llama in a field, to be then chased by an old woman seeking payment. Not sure what the Spanish words are for 'don't panic lady, I've deleted the picture of your scabby beast'...
Then walked on to Q'enqor (meaning labyrinth) - sacred Inca shrine. Ceremonies to the Sun, Moon and Stars took place here, perhaps in the semicircular amphitheatre.
We first visited a large limestone rock (big as a bus, but a slightly different 'boulder' shape), which is riddled with channels, neatly carved square holes and steps. The channels were likely to have been used for the ritual sacrifice of chicha or, possibly, blood.
Here, there's a funny looking, smooth, wave rock - not sure what it was used for, or even whether it's a natural formation, but it does make a good slide.
One area of the site contains some 'secret' cave-like places - it's a strange complex, different to anything else we have seen relating to the Incas.
The final site along the walk back is a short trot down to the impressive and huge Sacsaywaman site. Huge stones (varying between 90 and 120 tons - one said to be 300 tons) forming the main battlements. This is possibly a religious and military construction.
Impressive, 3-tiered, zig-zag fortifications - apparently one Inca King envisioned Cuzco in the shape of a puma, with Sacsaywaman as the head, and the zig-zag walls as the teeth of the puma. Would be interesting to have a view from above.
A quicker visit that Chris had hoped, but Paul was getting 'ruined-out', and we were both getting peckish.
Admired the views over Cuzco as we made our way back - saw some kids of homemade skateboards try to kill themselves on a steep bend nearer the town.
It's matchday today, Champions League, and we're in time to catch the second half of the Liverpool/AC Milan final, conveniently there's a big screen at the Indian restaurant we wanted to go to.
Nice to watch a game, though not the best football, and Liverpool fail to score enough goals to win. Regardless, a nice spicy curry is the winner on the day.
Wandered around town into the early evening and thoroughly chuffed to bump into a couple of Aussie guys who'd been on our Death Road bike trip and had helped Paul with his crash. Had been thinking about them recently, and had been sorry not to have thanked them for the first aid.
Made arrangements to meet up in an hour while they sort out some travel plans, end up having some pizza/nachos, and a good chat. Turns out that Kim and Tony are brothers from NSW, and a Blue Mountains Park Ranger and Lawyer respectively. Oh, that's another street hassle, the numerous restaurants desperate to drag you in off the street. Yep, easy to just walk on by, but still a pain.
Unfortunately they are heading off on a trek at 4am the next day, so it's quite an early night, but we are really pleased to see them and catch up.
We learn that the bike company we went with in La Paz had another accident a few days after our trip - sounds like a pile up and some broken bones.
Back to the chilly room, though it's fine once you're under the covers.
Thursday 24th May
Lazy morning, minimal warm water for a shower, and some internet.
Lunch at Paddy's Irish bar, good food, Chris had a yummy vegetarian Cottage Pie, then onto Jack's for milkshakes and cake.
Chris then visited the Inca museum - not particularly impressed with the lack of info, especially info in English. Interesting though to see the layout of the various civilisations and the differences in the ceramics. Overheard a guide point out some false teeth and fillings - cool! Also saw a few mummies here, and other ceramics and weavings.
Met back up with Paul, and went along to the cultural (performance) evening at a local theatre - this is included in the 'tourist ticket' that gets you into a bunch of attractions in and around Cuzco.
Of course, the show is somewhat touristy, but interesting to watch and hear the history of the various dances - there's a band accompanying the performers on stage.
Paul did a little blog updating later in the evening, and enjoyed listening to some XFM online - even managed to get a 'shout', live on radio!
Back in the room and we packed our small packs for the couple of days at Macchu Picchu.
Friday 25th May
Up at 7am and get away nice and early for our taxi ride over to Ollantaytambo, which is where we'll take the train on to Aguas Calientes/Macchu Picchu.
We've arranged, through the hostel, to have a taxi for most of the day - as well as simply transporting us to where we're going, we get to stop at some sites along the way. Cost 100Soles to have a taxi for about 6 hours.
First stop, the village of Chinchero, known to the Incas as the birth place of the rainbow. We explored the Inca ruins, simple but beautiful views, and the first sight of what was to come at MP - terracing and rocks carved into seats and staircases. Then in to the pretty colonial church, impressive painted walls, though there's some remodelling going on at the moment, so quite a few covers scattered around the place. The church is built on Inca foundations.
Nice to have the place pretty much to ourselves, and to be away fro other tourists for a change.
We then drove on through Maras village (very basic, small dirt streets) and arrived at Moray, with it's amphitheatre-like terracing. Many think that it was an important agricultural experimentation center for the Incas.The largest structure is 45 metres deep and each terrace is said to have its own microclimate, though we can't feel this.
Unexpectedly we stopped at the Maras Saltmines, aka, Salinas de Maras - these salt mines used by the Incas, and still in use today. Was an amazing sight to come across as we drove around the cliffside road above - a huge areas of white pools sitting in the valley below, contrasting against the orange soil. There's approximately 3000 salt 'wells' here.
Finally arrived in Ollantaytambo early afternoon, and stopped for lunch at a pricey but friendly pizza place.
Well fed, we're ready to visit the mountain side ruins. The site was built as a fort that included a temple, agricultural terraces, and an urban area, though we don't think that means it was occupied by gangsta rappers.
Huge stone blocks at the top, possibly the ceremonial center. The stone was quarried from the mountainside 6kms away - of course, painful, if not deadly, work for the indigenous workers.
Great views of the valley from the top and a cool fortress on the mountainside opposite.
Enjoyed visiting this site, a very cool spot, and glad we're here, though it's of course a tourist magnet.
Had some coffee and cake in a cool cafe on the main square (eek, forgot the name - it's in the top left corner as you're walking from the ruins to the square), and hung around reading some out of date mags until it was time to head to the train station.
Our train to Aguas Calientes heads off on time at 8.45pm - shame we don't get to see the views on the way, but this train ticket is quite a bit cheaper than the 'daytime' trains. Train seems to be full tonight.
Met, as arranged, by both our guide for tomorrow and the folks from our accommodation. Bit of a walk to the far end of the main street to our hostel (we thought it was supposed to be a hotel), though it's as nice as promised, and the roar of the river behind us is actually quite soothing.
Beds are comfy, though it'll still be tough getting up at sooo early for breakfast, though can't believe we'll be seeing Macchu Picchu tomorrow!!!!
Saturday 26th May
Weren't expecting it, but breakfast in included, and is a good start to the day, despite it being something called '4.45am'
In the dark, we walk down by the main square where we catch of bus transfer up to the ruins. You can walk it in a couple of hours, but the 30 minute bus sounds better, especially at this time of the morning. Tons of people around this morning!
As it gets a little lighter, we can see quite a lot of cloud in the sky - we're obviously desperate for the classic sunrise experience at the top. Arrived at the entrance and made our way through the gate - no sign of our guide, so we head in. Hang around for a while before Chris tries to track him down - he's the other side of the entrance with the 20+ other people on our tour. Two folks head off and do their own thing - this really is too big a group.
Thankfully, the Spanish never came across Macchu Picchu, so it's in good shape, and better than most other ruins we've seen.
Hiram Bingham, an American historian, stumbled across this place in 1911 (though was actually brought to it by locals) in his search for the famed Inca treasure. Nobody knows what it's function really was, or it's proper name - it was possibly a royal hacienda, as mentioned in the Inca museum.
Our guide stated that, based on the number of buildings and water availability, there were approximately 500 inhabitants living there at the time of the Spanish invasion. Likely that the inhabitants sought refuge in the jungle and took their treasures with them.
Over 50 burial sites and 100 skeletal remains have been discovered here.
Whatever its purpose, from the high quality of the stonework, it must have been an important ceremonial center.
Unfortunately, sunrise was spoiled by the clouds, but as they gradually lifted they revealed stunning views all around. Whilst the photos say it all, it really is a special setting, atop these hills - shame it's such a busy place.
We learn that the buildings would have been painted yellow and red, except the Temple of the Sun, which would have been gold. The temple is MP's only round building.
We were taken to the Sacred Plaza, saw the Temple of the Three Windows, Principal Temple and the Sacristy. Up the stairs we came t the Intihuatana, the major shrine in MP. Here is a carved rock, which was used for astronomical purposes. Incredibly it points north, south, east and west perfectly, but also magnetic north.
We then went to the residential and industrial sectors, and the Prison Group where we come across the Temple of the Condor, which contains a carving of a head of a condor - a sacred bird for the Inca.
After the tour, we walked up Wayna Picchu, though had to wait in line about 30 minutes to get on the trail. Only 400 people are allowed up daily, and the last entry is at 1pm- you need to be back by 4pm.
The walk is very steep and you need to watch where you put your feet - it's supposed to take about an hour, though we get up a a little quicker, and in one piece.
Very busy at the top, and not a huge amount of room to find a spot to enjoy the views, which were amazing, especially looking down on MP itself.
Coming down again was easier, though still quite tricky to navigate, very glad we did it though.
Take a break at the small/expensive snack bar by the main entrance. Got served a nasty 'fountain' Coke, which the girl was proud to say it always tastes like that. Managed, in the end, to change it for a slightly better Sprite. Tip - take your own food and drink for the day, you can take a small pack in with you with no problems.
Met a friendly American couple, who have moved to Uruguay and have been working by commentating on football matches via mobile phones to betting companies in the Far East!, and chatted for a while. Chris went for a walk up to Intipunku (Sun Gate) while Paul stayed and chatted.
Nice views of MP from another side, and Chris is pleased to say that she's actually done a bit of the Inca Trail! On the way back down she came across a couple looking at a huge wasp dragging a dead Tarantula - strange sight!
Meantime, Paul made his way back into the main site and found a small, quiet, terrace to plonk down and admire the views across the valley, bathed in warm sun.
Conveniently bumped into Chris as he made his way down for a wander. Pleased that we could walk around with much less tourists around - well worth waiting until later in the day to revisit the site.
Sad to leave at the end of the day, getting on of the last buses back down to Aguas Calientes.
Had a nice hot shower back at the hostel, before stepping out for some nice food in the main street - another set meal bargain, including a Pisco Sour. Not as good as a Caiprinha, but tasty anyway...
Shattered, we get to bed early, we'll be up again tomorrow morning at this curious thing called '4.45am' for the train back to Ollantaytambo.
Sunday 27th May
This time of the day could feel so much worse, must have been good to get to bed early last night.
Nice breakfast again before hurrying back down to get the train. A little panic as the train isn't where we thought it would be, though luckily a local chap points us in the right direction. Seems like the train dropped us by the main street, but returns from the actual station. Whatever, we get on board with a few minutes to spare.
The train journey is easy and most people are asleep, though Chris is eager to see the sights as we make our way back. Nice blue sky as the sun continues to rise.
Arrive nice and early in Ollantaytambo, and choose a taxi to take us to Pisac rather than the bus. Of course, costs us quite a bit more (we agree 50Soles with the driver), but we get going straightaway and direct to our next stop and in plenty of time to visit the popular Sunday market.
After some, more, breakfast, we walk around the market for a bit - it's interesting, though, like some many other places, folk seem to be selling pretty much the same stuff.
Chris went into a church for 11am mass. 10 men to the right side of the church with colourful ponchos, 6 had wooden staffs with silver, 4 only had bamboo staffs. On the other side of the church sat 10 boys in their colourful ponchos and all had shells that they used as horns. After the breaking of the bread, the boys blew into their shells, a haunting sound. At the end a man went around to each man and they kissed a silver cross with Jesus on it.
Two little old ladies sat next to Chris with their traditional bowler hats, and it was very sweet at the 'peace be with you' moment, when the locals around her gave her a big hug. A very moving service, conducted in Quechua.
Met back up with Paul, and took another taxi to the Pisac ruins. Again, these ruins placed amid fantastic views - lots of impressive terracing, though without a guide we found out little about the place. Decide that the Lonely Planet guides for South America have been pretty poor on historical information, as well as out of date information on accommodation and food. Footprint seems a lot better.....
Took the same taxi back to Cusco, driver trying to maintain the same speed on the corners as well as the straights, agreed on a price of 40Soles.
Didn't do much else back in town, after a couple of busy days and early starts.
Monday 28th May
Had hoped our reminder that our 'hot shower wasn't that hot' would have been sorted, but no and we grin and bear it through a barely warm one. Well, Chris grin's and bears it, Paul moans about it, and swears a bit.
Walk around Cusco, taking a few snaps. Chris went into a few unimpressive museums, which were included in the tourist ticket we bought. Stopped for a drink in the Norton Rats Tavern, enjoying the views out over the main plaza. Stayed longer than planned to avoid the afternoon shower.
For dinner we went back to Jack's, though Chris not over the moon with her Thai Curry. By the way, the 'Gordo' breakfast is excellent here, and served all day.
Kill a little time before heading back to the hostel to pick up our bags - off on another overnight bus to Arequipa tonight at 9pm, though pleased that Marianella has also arranged some accommodation for us there, and we'll be met at the bus station.
Set off on time, and we make our way towards the coast (though we don't go all the way there), and down a little from the altitude.
to be continued on next thread....