Cuzco, The Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu

Trip Start Jan 19, 2008
Trip End May 01, 2008

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Where I stayed
Hotel Los Ninos

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Our trip from Copacabana to Cuzco didnt run as smoothly as advertised by the lady we booked tickets from. To start with we were herded into a van ī(along with a young girl who was our "guide" - why we needed one was about to become clear...) and driven 20 minutes to the border. Getting across the border was easy peasy - almost disturbingly so. Itīd have been nice if the border guards had shown some interest. As it was our guide didnīt even bother with the checkpoints and just strolled across into Peru. Once there the guide went to a payphone and had a conversation with whom we assumed to be our transport. After a while it became clear that our transport wasn't here and so our guide paid for another van to drive us away from the border. Despite the van being full of the 8 of us plus bags we still stopped to pick up some random Peruvian along the way. Only after another 20 minutes of bumping along with a big Peruvian bum in Matt's face did we realise that we'd actually picked up the driver that was supposed to have met us at the border, and that in fact we were driving us and him to his own van. Once there we unloaded and reloaded into our 3rd minivan if the morning and chugged along for another 20 minutes until the driver stopped at a junction in an otherwise deserted and uninteresting part of the highway. We, our bags and out guide all disembarked. Our guide explained we now had to wait at the side of the road until the bus from Le Paz to Cusco came past - at which point she would flag it down and we could get onboard the *real* bus.

This pretty bizarre transport system worked itself out ok in the end though and after a further 10 hours on the bus we rocked up into Cuzco. By this time it was dark and so we just checked ourselves into our hotel (Hotel Los Ninos) which donates all it's profits to helping homeless children (it was looking after more than 500 at the last count) and got an early night.

Despite being the former capital of the Incan world, there arent any Incan buildings as such in central Cuzco. However, many of the significant buildings have been built on Incan foundations and this is evident from the huge polished rocks (they're too big to call bricks) fitting snugly together without mortar and which form the base of many buildings.

We spent four days in Cuzco (including our day trip to Maccu Picchu). The first day was spent just wandering through the old town. It feels like an old and grand city (in a similar way to Potosi in Bolivia) although unfortunately its pretty much 100% devoted to tourism (not that our visit will have in any way helped to turn the stats around...) but it has some lovely ornate squares and we found on our first day a great little cafe up in San Blas that served genuinely tasty breakfasts (warm freshly baked bread- yumm!) and even put in a good show at serving up an English breakfast for Matt when we returned their on the second morning. Kat unfortunately is still feeling pretty rotten so we treated ourselves to hotel delivered pizza on the first evening.

The second day we were clearly feeling that the end of our holiday was in view as we spent a couple of hours in the morning on the web looking at jobs for Matt, cars for Kathryn, and both rental and purchasable properties! Weīve also spotted some nice styles of paintings that we hope will also be for sale in Lima as we didnt have time to pick them up here. In the afternoon Matt took off on his own to visit some of the Incan ruins within walking distance of Cusco. This mini adventure required him to successfully navigate his way through the murky world of local buses to get to the furthest and highest of the ruins, and then he enjoyed a pleasant afternoon of wandering back down to Cuzco visiting the 4 major ruins on the way. Only the last one, Saqsaywaman was particularly impressive, but it was a nice taster for what was to come when we visited MP the following day.

It turned out to be really tricky to organise our trip to MP. You have to take the train but the cheap trains book out days in advance. So in the end we had to take a cheap train from Cuzco to MP and then return in the evening on a more expensive train (food and drink supposedly included - although they didnt mention the provided "entertainment") which only returned half way and then finally share a taxi all the way back into Cuzco. Maccu Picchu was definitely worth seeing and it does feel a bit otherworldly but itīs very expensive to boot. It cost us around 150GBP for the two of us to take a day trip there from Cuzco... The "entertainment" mentioned above involved a surreal peformance by a ballaclava'd man fondling a stuffed toy llama and dancing around for a few minutes. This was followed up by a fashion parade involving two of the train steward and stewardesses who had to don and parade in all manner of clothes (The common factor being the "grandad" level of styling - Michael, bet you cant wait to see your present...). All in all we felt a bit annoyed that we were paying extra for this!

Finally in the shared taxi back to Cuzco we shared with a chap who worked for Microsoft out in Reading - so Matt was able to get his much needed fix of teccy chat - but did manage to stop short of handing out his business card.

Our final day in Cuzco wasnt - in the sense that we took an organised tour of the Sacred Valley. The valley in question is the one that the Rio Urubamba flows through on itīs way from Pisaq (an hour north of Cuzco) all the way to Maccu Picchu (and presumably beyond) about 50km west of Pisaq. Itīs called Sacred just because it was particularly fertile and so it contains several Incan towns and lots of their farming terraces. The first stop was at ruins in Pisaq to visit the ruins of a town on a steep hill and from their we headed onto Ollantaytambo to visit the ruins of another town (altogether more impressive). Apparently the Incas liked to build their towns and villages in the shapes of their favourite animals. According to various tour guides / books, Maccu Picchu is in the shape of a Condor (and also a Puma according to another guide) and Ollantaytambo in the shape of a Llama. We think that years of drinking Coca tea is finally having itīs affect on these poor malillusioned guides as you need an extremely fertile imagination to see what they see. Finally we stopped off at Chichamba where the fascinating science of alpaca weaving (do you notice the heavy layer of sarcasm??) was demonstrated to us - although we did pick up a nice Alpaca blanket for our future bed back home...

That final evening we headed for Arequipa on a night bus, where we intend to spend a couple of lazy days before heading onto Nazca and then finally to Lima.
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