Cuy and the final day in Cusco

Today us my last day in Cusco. I got up at 9am and had breakfast. Then after that I headed up to Saqsaywaman which is an inca site just above cusco which I had missed earlier in the week. It was pretty impressive even after seeing Machu Picchu and it was basically a fort overlooking Cusco itself. Though it also had farming terraces and a theatre. After that I headed down the road to the Jesus statue overlooking the city before walking down a different route into the city itself. By that point I was hungry and I went to a restaurant that was the earning wing of a charitable organisation running after school clubs called Aldea Yanapay (that definitely seems like the way to run a charity – the food was also no more expensive that elsewhere and excellent.)

Then in the afternoon I spent several hours uploading photos to Flickr (they haven’t all been sorted through and named yet – I’ll post when that is done.) and then went to the regional museum that would have been good had it had descriptions of the objects – even if they were only in Spanish.

After that I packed my case putting my cold weather clothes at the bottom of my bag so it is now finally sensibly packed (as anyone whose travelled with me knows I usually end up emptying my bag in every place I visit.)

Then I had dinner at Pacha Papa on San Blas square in Cusco. For that I had some Cuy (Guinea Pig). Unlike the Cuy rat I had in Arequipa which tasted like duck this tasted completely different from any meat I had tasted before. I also had some fermented corn beer with the meal which is made by eating the corn and spitting it out again. I wasn’t allowed a full portion as it makes some people sick but I did get a sample to taste. It is well worth trying and it has quite a subtle flavour (though it got stronger in the glass) and especially it doesn’t taste of hops like normal beer.

More in Cusco

So this weekend was the final weekend my friends from Oxford were here in Peru. On Saturday we went to a locals Market in Cusco but didn’t buy much the best bargain was a set of playing cards for 2 soles (US$0.67). After that we went to McDonalds for a late lunch where I had 99% of my FDA fat and salt allowances.

Then on Sunday we went to Pisac so we could visit the fortress. On the way we took the collectivo and unlike before we had to queue up for tickets. Also apparently seats we assigned but at least 50% of the bus was ignoring them so that was fun. I also had a chat with an American family travelling the world which was interesting. After getting to Pisac first we had a wander aroud the Sunday Market, which as well as the mass produced souviners had some more interesting hand made ones as well including a rug I bought. After that we took a taxi up to the fortress above Pisac and then had a wander around the extensive and interesting fortress and terraces before walking back down to the village. From the village we then caught the collectivo back to Cusco which was uneventful.

Then on Monday morning we did some last minute souviner shopping and went to some mediocre museums before having some food. While eating I got my shoes shined. As we were continually accosted by people trying to sell us stuff and the show shiners practically make you tell them to fuck off before they’ll go away so I jokingly suggested the price of 10 centivos (US$0.03). However he did a good job and applied some setting chemical so I was going to pay the original price of 1 sole (US$0.33). However he kept insisting on 15 soles (US$5) which was outrageous and in the end I paid him 2 soles (US$0.67) which he accepted. The sad thing is that I’d have had less trouble giving the original price than by trying to be generous. In fairness however he did do a better job than I could manage myself.

After that fun we got a taxi to the bus station so my friends could get their 20 hour bus to Lima for their flight home. As they don’t enjoy Hollywood blockbusters as much as me I don’t think they’ll enjoy themselves too much on the bus but I hope it’s OK.

Machu Picchu

Firstly a note. This is a double post and the story on the rest of the Sacred Valley was posted at the same time.

After breakfast at the train station we got ok the train. The train didn’t have much legroom (little more than the bus yesterday) but we did get a window positioned next to every seat. At first we got to see the rubbish produced by the citizens of Cusco. I wish they’d add a US$1 surcharge to the US$48 each way ticket price and pay people to clean it up as it’s disgusting. After that we got to see the tight valley the train winds through to reach the Sacred Valley including several switchbacks; especially as we left Cusco. After about 2 hours we again reached Ollyatambo and afterwards headed through the lush farmland of the Sacred Valley. After a while this gave way to the most virgin jungle I had yet seen as we wound our way along the track to Machu Picchu station.

After our journey we arrived into London Paddington Machu Picchu station (if you treat it like London and march straight through you can get the first waiting bus. Keep your guidebook handy for the route through the inevitable Market.) then you are taken to Machu Pichu itself. This meant we got to the top very quickly so we got a lot of time at the top.

It doesn’t exactly have a wow moment like Iguazu does but overall it is incredible and an amazing location to build a city surrounded by mountain peaks and also very challenging to reach. The bus up has to practically hug the cliff on the 30 minute journey to Machu Picchu itself. The highlight for me was the absolutely spectacular views in all directions of the surrounding mountains.

In the city itself we had a wander around and saw the usual half constructed buildings that are present at the other inca sites. The city also is clearly unfinished in places and large boulders take their place among the buildings. Basically the Spanish conquered the incas at the height of their empire so the city wasn’t finished. The centre of the city was a slanted rock which had no shadow on the equinox days which everyone seemed to want to pretend to touch.

After seeing most of the city which includes ledges for growing food for around a 3 hour trip we walked up a path for 30 minutes to get amazing views of Machu Picchu from above. It was as high as the mountain limited to 400 people so the view was pretty amazing, probably as good to be honest. Overall Machu Picchu was definitely well worth seeing and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

PS there are lots of trains from Ollyatambo to Machu Pichu. If you want to spend longer on the mountain but still do it in one day get the bus to Ollyatambo the previous evening and stay in a hotel there and then get the train to Machu Picchu from there and then get the train all the way back to Cusco in the evening. If you don’t stay there you’ll have to get up even earlier as it takes 2 hours to get there from Cusco however you do it. Alternatively you can get a late train from Ollyatambo to the village at the end of the train line which lets you walk up one of the mountains to overlook Machu Picchu whose numbers are limited to 400/day and you have to get entry at 7am.

PPS I’ll be adding photos in the next few days of the site to Flickr and I’ll link them from the story.

The Sacred Valley

So on Tuesday evening we went off to the Pre Columbian art museum in Cusco which had some more pottery of different Peruvian cultures as well as wood and metalwork. I have to admit the pottery was the best however. The museum was run by the same people who ran the pottery museum in Lima and it was also excellent.

Then on Wednesday we went to Pisac at one end of the Sacred Valley and attempted a walk into the mountains along the river. This ended fairly quickly in failure as we only had a 1km=1cm map as that was the best available (even that cost nearly US$20) and the path itself wasn’t clear at all and we kept getting distracted by sheep tracks. Maybe a GPS would have made it more possible. Regardless we did get to see some amazing views of the valley and it was a tough walk so I shouldn’t complain too much. In the evening we went to a small restaurant with excellent food but unfortunately the worlds slowest service.

On Thursday we had some chores to complete in the morning but we also headed off to the Sacred Valley to the other end that is accessable by road to the town of Ollyatambo. This took 2 hours each way by bus and collectivo but still coat less than $2. It was pretty efficient and we didn’t stop much and it was a great way to see the locals. I wish my Spanish was up to conversation too. The only problem with the bus was the lack of legroom but I didn’t have a problem. There are definitely advantages to being short!
At Ollyatambo there was an attractive town which we looked around as well as more terraces and an Inca fort. The inca fort was very interesting and we spent over an hour looking around it. They had also partly reconstructed the fort so you could see what it used to be like. Hopefully they don’t go too far with this though. This end of the valley was also much more tropical than at Pisac which as it was only 30km away was surprising. This was clearly an important valley for the incas. Then we got ready for Machu Picchu the next day for which we had to get up at 5am for the train.