Cusco and Inca Ruins

Trip Start Nov 15, 2006
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Trip End Ongoing


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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Our introduction to Cuzco hospitality is through Edmundo, a Cuzceņo travelling on the same overnight bus as us from Arequipa. His Spanish is crystal-clear and gets the prize for the most beautiful accent in all of Latin America! Additionally, he is living proof that my latino alias "Edmundo" is not a gringo fabrication. He gives an invitation to visit his family sometime in the following week which we're only too happy to accept.

At the bus terminal around 5am after a short wait, we're greeted with a giant hug from Tula (from Arequipa), and her friend Ronnie. They've been waiting since 4am for us in a different part of the terminal! We'll be staying at Ronnie and Marta's over the next few days, and he seems very friendly, polite and willing to do anything to make our stay more comfortable.

Our first morning passes wandering round the town with the whole family, including a memorable stop at a 24 hour oven (a business that roasts food for locals in a giant wood-fired oven for a few soles). Apart from large trays of trout and chicken lined-up ready to go, we get our first site of cuy (guinea pig) already brown and crispy. Doesn't look as if there's much meat on them, and we're already psychologically preparing ourselves for the near future when we'll be pushing aside the little paws, ignoring the rodent teeth and chewing some cuy.

Cuzco was the navel of the world for the Inca people, and it is amazing for the Inca walls that form the foundation for some of the grander colonial buildings. When you first see Inca stonework it's breath-taking (well, for an engineer at least!). Each stone is individual, giant, smooth, irregular-shaped, yet fits perfectly without mortar, jigsaw-puzzle-like into adjacent stones. They have small knobs on them that were apparently used to lift them, although how this was achieved solely with manpower is dificult to comprehend.

Tula fullfilled her promise to take us out dancing, and together with Kelly (Ronnie and Marta's daughter) we "hit" a local club, saw some live music and tried to grow latino hips for the salsa numbers.

We also visited Edmundo and his family. His wife Lilia is a very bubbly, earthy person from the eastern part of Peru (jungle area) and she gave us a special parting-gift of "rompa-calcones" (undie-breaker) a rainforest mix of native woods and herbs meant to have a similar effect to viagra when mixed with rum!

A word about the expense of visiting Peruvian archeological sites. A ticket into Machu Pichu is US$40 per person. Peru rail tries to sell you train tickets from Cuzco to Peru for US$170 per person, and forget to mention on their website or when you first front up at the counter that they have a "backpacker" class for around US$50 per person.Tourists are not permitted to buy local tickets (for the same train) which we're sure cost only a few dollars.
And I'm not finished yet. Tourist base-camp for Machu Pichu is Aguas Calientes, a strange town in a beautiful setting existing purely for the Machu Pichu site. I hate to think what tourists pay who prebook accomodation there. We turn up late at night and pay $10 for a room - we're adept at the walk-away form of negociating. A beer costs US$4 which may not sound much to those who haven't been to Peru, but this is 3 times the normal asking price. The bus to Machu Pichu costs US$12 return for a 15 minute ride - whoever owns the company is creaming it in. So, in total a trip to Machu Pichu very conservatively costs over US$100 per person. This has got to be the most expensive archeological site in the world particularly in the context of the local cost of living.

I should add here that we spent a whole day at Machu Pichu and really enjoyed it particularly for the spectacular setting. The highlight for us was the climb up Huayna Pichu where by virtue of being the last people down, had 45 minutes of blissful silent solitude looking down on the waves of tourists entering and leaving the site.

While in the Sacred Valley we also visited several other small villages and archeological sites. The most memorable was Ollantaytambo with Inca ruins perched on the surrounding hills, and the constant sound of running water in the streets from the many aqueducts that crisscross the village.

For anybody visiting Cuzco in Peru, we highly recommend Ronnie and Marta's home as a place to stay. If you need the details just email us!
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