To Pisac and Goodbye to a new friend

Trip Start Jun 04, 2006
1
12
14
Trip End Jun 16, 2006


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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Day 12 Yure met us in the lobby at 6:30am, and introduced us to his "driver" A tourism student.

A quick ten-minute drive to Sacayhuaman (pronounced sexy woman). We have our Cusco Tourist Tickets, but do not need them since we are there before the official visiting hours.

Some joggers are using the grounds. On the hilltop are a group of men in eye catching red coats. Yure says these are the officials of Inti Raymi, which is held here on winter solstice, then points to the huge temporary stadium seating being constructed for the event.

This Inca complex was took over one hundred years and over 20,00 men to build. It was thought to be a fortress, but modern day excavation shows that it was probably used as a temple or religious center with high impenetrable stonewalls.

The stonework here is also impressive with the largest perfectly cut and aligned stone weighing in at 360 tons and 28 feet high! Three tiered walls "zigzag" for almost 1200 feet, resembling the teeth of a puma.

It still amazes me that these buildings stand today with out any mortar and have withstood numerous earthquakes.

The Spaniards "quarried" many of the stones for their buildings in Cusco. Amazing how these newer buildings built by a more advance civilization were reduced to rubble in earthquakes, but the Inca's buildings have withstood centuries of earthquakes without damage.

We stopped for a few minutes at an archeological dig. Yure explains that many buildings are still underground. The government is slowly excavating these.

This is a popular place to watch the sunset. A bottle of Peruvian wine would top off the experience. Yep, next time back that's on my list. Yure says it's about a $2 taxi ride up. Or if you're up for a challenge, you can walk the thousands of stairs from the Plaza in Cusco that takes about 45 minutes. Not advisable for those not acclimated yet!

We stopped at a smaller Inca site, Qenco, very close to Sacayhuama. This is the type of "secret place" every child dreams about.

We entered thru a side opening, then we were walking thru narrow tunnels in route to a large, chest high, carved alter. Still in use today, as there were some small sacrificial items left on the alter. Although it's dim inside, we could still see the perfectly square niche carved into the wall beside the alter, due to a small opening in the rocks above us.

If you are doing a non-guided tour, a Cusco Tourist Ticket is mandatory! Only $10 US per person for 10 days of admission to Cusco Cathedral, Museo de Arte Religioso, Iglesia San Blas, Museo Historico Regional, Museo de Arte y Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Museo Palacio Municipal, Museo de Sittio Qoricancha Sacsayhuaman, Q'enqo, Puca Pucara, Tambo Machay, Pikillacta Tipon, Ollantaytambo ruins, Pisac Ruins and Chinchero ruins. Purchase the ticket at: Casa Garcilaso, corner of Garcilaso and Heladeros, Tel. 084-226-919. 7:45am-6pm Mon-Fri, 8am-4pm Sat, 8am-noon Sun

Yure took us past houses with "hanging dolls" These large decorated male and female dolls, dressed in native clothing hang from trees and are used for good luck. Stopped at Puca Pucara for a view of the ruins. Then back in the car headed for our final destination, Pisac.

Not being shoppers, I decided against this area. Until Yure told me this would be a hike I would never forget.

We started down into the valley. The views were of thousands of farming terraces. It was still too early for the traditionally dressed craft sellers (and their photographic llamas and alpacas). We passed the new Royal Inca Hotel that has a pool, tennis court and spa. What a way to rough it! The road got steeper as we drove up the mountain. It was hard not to look out the windows at the scenery. Yure pointed out the eucalyptus trees growing on the hillsides. They are not native to Peru, and have taken over much of the landscape.

We're now far up the mountain at a check-in. we're the first tourists of the day. The bathrooms are pointed out. I am too interested taking photos. This is the best part of having a driver with us. We will walk a short distance up the road to start our hike down. Most hikers start at the bottom of the mountain and hike up.

Pisac is thought to be a military compound built to defend Cusco against their enemies, the Anti Indians. At the top of the mountains, is P'isaca, a large ruin thought to house the priests and the elite members of society, I'd love to climb the hillside to explore, but not enough time today.

Yure points out the 5 sacred fountains and we take a look. It still amazes me that the Incas have built all these beautiful aqueducts and the water still flows almost 600 years later.

We start off on our hike down the mountainside. The path is built tight against rocks and steep cliffs. The views are of the patchwork valley and below, and the still-farmed terraces across the valley at eye level. These are the best-designed and preserved Pre-Columbian terraces in Peru.

The scenery is prettier here than in Machu Picchu. Yure points down to the workers restoring the Inca terraces. A slow and tedious job. The yellow flowers of the Cactus add color to the winter landscape.

The path narrows at many points. A perfectly cut stone trapezoid doorway, its lintel in place, frames the valley in front of us. We're told this was probably a priest temple.

We discover that going down also means going up in the process. Up lots of steps that the Incas cut into the stone hillside. Some steps narrow enough for just one person to walk.

We are now entering the Military area, Q'Allaqasa. We climb a steep section of uneven steps, the valley 2,000 feet down from the side of my shoes. Talk about an adrenaline rush!

Ahead Yure points to a small slit in the rock. We keep hiking the cliff-side path to the "slit" which is a narrow tunnel carved thru the rocks by the Incas. The Incas did not use metal. Amazing that they carved this tunnel using stone against stone. The tunnel is probably about 30-40 feet long. Wonder how long that took them?

Once you turn a quick bend, you see that there really is light at the end of the tunnel. We have just come thru the "door of the serpent," Amarupunku. And you are back out in a to-die-for Kodak moment. A valley photo from the thousand plus feet heights of the Inca terraces to the ground level crystal blue of the Urubamba River.

Yure tells of Tankanmarka, the large area of Inca tombs across the valley. Looted for their gold and worldly possessions by the Spaniards, all that remain of the ten thousands tombs are holes in the hillside that we can see.

We're listening to see if anyone is coming around the other side (not too much room for passage here). I'm thinking Peru should never implement the safety rules that the USA has, since all of these hiking areas would become instantly non accessible to tourists.

After a few quick snapshots, we continue the path narrowing around the mountainside. Wow is not enough! We are looking down at the ruins of Pisac's Intihuatana. The walled site is built in the shape of a condor, its wings extended for flight. Inside the walls are the temples of the sun, moon, rain, stars and rainbows. The Sun Temple is very similar to that of Machu Picchu.

The stonework in this area is more refined than Machu Picchu. The sheer cliff drop-offs, which overlook the valley, have you trying to take in all the scenery without falling a few thousand feet in the process.

I expected MP to be the highlight of my trip, but Pisac is more dramatic, historic and eye popping. After viewing the viaduct, we started back the trail to the lower parking lot. Yure stops to show us a red blooming bush, it's the national flower of Peru, the Kantuta "the Inca Magic flower." Worth a photo stop.

We come to a very narrow section of the trail and slow down for the bend. The sound of Peruvian pipes and some type of chimes floats up from the parking lot, still a long way off. It's one of those times in life that you just want to plunk your butt down and take it all in. The scenery, the smell of pure air, and the sounds that will always remind me of this wonderful country. Unfortunately, we on a time schedule.

It's St. Cristabol's Day and Yure has plans to celebrate in Cusco this afternoon.

We have to keep walking. Closer to the parking lot we're approached by an old man selling those wind chimes I heard. Yeah, a memory maker, so I purchase one. Other vendors are out selling, but the only thing I am buying is water.

We drive down the mountain to the small town of Pisac, famous for it's Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday Markets. Purpose is to grab some Peruvian souvenirs for the girls at the office.

First, Yure says we should do lunch. How in the heck are we going to meet his schedule if we stop for lunch? He just smiles and walks in front of us thru the blue tarped market.

We pass vendors selling everything from woven items (women are sitting on the ground weaving) oh, another of those photo stops. I already have 2 soles in my hand for the photos. We're passing carvings, pottery, Peruvian pipes, ceramics.... Oh I so want to just look for a couple minutes.

Nope, turn here Yure says. We're in a 10x10 room and in front of us is a man pulling out what looks like large squares of thick bread from a wood fire oven. Yure says 1 soles for each sandwich. I make a mistake and order one. Yure and Gary get 2. They are the best "fast-food" I have ever eaten. Melt in your mouth thick bread stuffed with cheese, onions and peppers. We're chewing and walking thru the market.

Yure has pointed us in the direction he says that will take me thru the produce area, which I want to photograph, then to the large ceramic area for the girl's gifts. Ten minutes later, I've got the photos, some really decorative ceramic boxes, and Gary who walked off has a Peruvian Pipe (with instructions on how to play it) in his hand. What a nice surprise!

We get a little lost trying to find the entrance, but once we see those weavers, we know we are almost out.

On the drive back, families selling products and crafts to tourist are on the sides of the roads, or in fields. You have to stop at least a couple times, since they are in authentic clothing, and the kids are so cute with their alpacas and lamas in tow, the terraced mountains and patchwork valleys behind them.

Yure asks if we need any alpaca clothing. Oh well, it's been a few days since I bought any, so what would he suggest.

Factory outlets. In PERU? Yep, right outside of town near the ruins we stopped at earlier is a "strip mall" of alpaca stores. And don't they just make you want to come in when you see the lamas and alpacas standing, or laying near the entrance.

The store was huge. All sweaters (hundreds of patterns and styles) were displayed on the walls. Blankets, pillows, gloves, scarves, ponchos, coats. I was in heaven. But not too long. We had to get back into Cusco.

In less than a half hour, I tried on over 40 sweaters, a few ponchos, and coats. Picked out sweaters for my daughter and her fiancÚ. My husband grabbed one or two, and I ended up with enough to keep me warm this winter. Cash or charge is all they ask at the register. Those darn lamas are grinning at me when I got in the car with the bags. They must know what feeds them.

Yure says he will drop us off in downtown Cusco and take our bags back to the hotel. This way we will get to see more of the San Cristabol Festival.

First we stop at the Cusco orphanage, just off the main Plaza. We had brought bags of school supplies, Spanish and English books, jumping ropes, and toys for the kids.

The sister lets us into the orphanage. She apologizes that we cannot stay long because of the Festival. We pass thru a courtyard where Yure says the orphanage feeds over 450 poverty children each day.

Then we enter a second courtyard with a swing set. The children from the orphanage are playing here before lunch. They are all gazing at us.

One by one they come over to touch my skin. Even after almost two weeks in Peru, my skin is so much lighter than theirs. And softer, Yure translates.

The orphanage is full of babies (they just received three newborns in the last week) and children up to the age of ten. After they reach ten, they are moved to another orphanage. Not many of these truly beautiful children are adopted.

Gary and Yure have younger kids in their arms. Others children are grabbing my hands and want to play "jump".

My neck and back are saying you will be so sorry for doing this, but how can you say no to these beautiful urchins? We "play" for a couple minutes and I grab some packages of Disney stickers out of my camera case. The kids are immediately interested, but don't have a clue what the colorful pictures are for, and neither do the nuns.

But, with Yures' help, he translates to the nun that they are for the kids, and can be temporarily stuck on their hands or on some object they have. Now the kids are very excited.

The head nun is still looking a little puzzled. Then she notices the bags that we have brought. One of the other nuns opens one bag and gets very excited. In her hand she has a Spanish version of Dr. Seusses Bonefish, Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish. I thought she was going to cry.

The kids are now trying to get into the bags, but the boss Nun has them backed off with just a look. After a few hugs and a few tears on our part I handed the boss Nun what ever money was left in my pockets and said it was to help feed the other children.

Then, we left. Hopefully anyone visiting Peru will consider donating supplies to the impoverished schools or orphanages. It might just make a difference in a young persons life.

Yure pointed us to the direction of the Festival and said he would meet us at our hotel tonight. We had asked him and his girlfriend to be our guests at dinner and to pick the restaurant. He seemed surprised at the offer, but accepted.

We walked down a few crowded streets. Found ourselves in a small plaza where women and men were cooking everything from vegetables to chicken on a stick to those little guinea pigs over open fires. We somehow made it to a street above the Plaza. The whole area including the balconies and side streets were packed with Peruvians.

Yure had told us that during the one day Festival, the surrounding towns shut down and everyone comes into Cusco to see the saints released. Jostling to get viewing position, which is now easy for me, since the Peruvian (lack of height) height factor is now in my favor, we find a small space just off the plaza where we have a pretty good view of the whole Plaza.

We are told that this festival was started by the Incas. During winter solstice the Incas would carry thirteen royal mummies around the plaza.

The Spaniards conquered, burned the mummies, and turned the Inca festival into a Catholic festival with images of fourteen saints and virgins. Fourteen local churches bring their patron saint or virgin statue to the Cathedral in the plaza.

These statues, which are at least two hundred to three hundred years old, are HUGE. I'm guessing ten to twelve feet tall, and clothed in elaborately embroidered colorful robes. The man beside us says each of halos are pure Peruvian mined silver or gold.

One saint is standing on a huge pedestal of intricately carved wood. Teams of at least twenty men carry these saints on their shoulders. Each man bearing at least two hundred pounds on their shoulders. Not an easy move, as the plaza is packed with locals and tourists and other saints.

Also accompanying each saint is a full blown marching band! Teams of new "carriers" come to replace the exhausted men. It's a slow procession around the packed plaza, then the statue and it's carriers exit to a side street off the plaza.

The Peruvian man tells us that the statues will continue to be carried back to their church by the teams of men. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

And hungry. We slowly make our way thru the crowd, trying to get to the other side of the courtyard. The restaurants surrounding the plaza are packed.

We decide to go to the next plaza over, hoping that most of the mass of humanity is in the main plaza. Two blocks over makes a huge difference. And those menu people are in force. I'd like a pizza.

Five restaurants sit above the small green plaza. We take the first table in the first restaurant (can't remember the name of the restaurant, but if you are walking from the Main Plaza it's the first restaurant you come to when you pass the green.

Wonderful choice, quick service. Of course some kids and adults are selling their wares. A tip if you order too much food - which in Peru is easy to do. Look for one of the street sellers that really could use a good meal, or have children with them that look hungry. If it's pizza or something that can be wrapped in paper, give your extras to them.

We strolled some side streets then found a photo store to download the memory card to a CD. Another $5 and we felt confident if something happened to the memory card, we'd still have the CD and our photos. Hit some of the markets and stores looking for a MP t-shirt for Gary to replace the one he left somewhere in Agua Callenties. Couldn't find the exact one so we headed back to the hotel to pack up and email our daughter.

Yure and Brenda took a taxi to our hotel. With the price of gas, it's cheaper for him to pay for a taxi than driving his car. We grabbed another taxi and headed over to the Plaza for dinner.
We told Yure to pick a nice restaurant. The plaza area would be nice. We've done some of the restaurants there, and knew the prices were higher so we were prepared.

Well, he takes us to the Plaza, but to Los Torres, a small restaurant on the corner side street off the Plaza. I'm thinking why HERE? It's nice with a traditional Peruvian ambience; everyone is smiling so that's a good sign.

I look at the prices; they are half of what we'd pay in one of the other places. Yure says the food is very good here. He was SO right. We order 3 huge appetizers, dinner, and a bottle of fantastic Peruvian wine, beers for 3, (multiples for my husband and Yure) an Inca Cola for me. The total was about $60 US.

We were so stuffed we couldn't do desert. It would have cost us twice that much at the so-called nicer restaurants on the Plaza.

Brenda is a housewife and also is helping Yure with his tour company. Everyday she makes lunch (which takes two hours to prepare) and dinner (three to four hours). Everything is made from scratch. She says they do not have a dishwasher, microwave, a washer, dryer or a central heating system.

They just add layers of clothes to keep warm, or when it is very cold, they build a small fire. If you passed them on a sidewalk, you would mistake them for a modern American couple.

It's reassuring to know that they are keeping many of the old Peruvian traditions alive, and will hopefully pass them on to future generations. Yure asks if there is anything I need before they leave. Yep, where can I buy a bottle of that fantastic wine we had at dinner? He says it's cheaper in the store. So, a shopping we will go. Got the wine. Where can I get mint tea? Yep, he can get that also, along with that corn snack that was cooked in a skillet. He's carrying my load to the cash register. Gary is shaking his head.

It's hard saying goodbye to someone who is responsible for some of the best memories of your life. Hugs all around. We plan to keep in touch, and when we come back Yure will be there to guide us again. Next trip he will take us to the rainforest and the canyon and back to Pisac.

We've got everything packed up and ready for our early departure tomorrow morning. A few glances out the hotel window and we call it a night.
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