Pisac - The Sacred Valley

Trip Start Oct 13, 2008
Trip End Oct 24, 2008

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Thursday 16 October - Cusco To Pisac
After a quick trip to the train station to purchase our tickets to Macchu Picchu for next week, we walk up to the local bus/collectivo stop to hop a ride to Pisac. A bus is a little smaller than what we would consider a bus, while a collectivo is a small mini-bus (think Volkswagen bus) that makes numerous stops throughout the city, where the person in charge yells out the destinations through the open door and picks up those who wish to board. Some of them look like they have twenty people or more packed in, while others look relatively comfortable.
That being said though, Matt was not aware that a collectivo was the mode of transportation I had expected we would take, and when a taxi driver offered to take us for 20 sole (about $6.50), we said yes. We were a little wary of this particular taxi for two reasons:1) an official taxi driver at the train station had told us the price was 50 sole (making us wonder why this guy was so cheap; and 2) this taxi was not an official one.
(In Peru they have official taxis marked by yellow and black checkers on the side of the car, the others are licensed but not official. At the time we didn't know exactly what it meant, only that "official" sounded a little safer.)
However, the taxi did have another type of white and red checker marking on the side that we had seen on other "unofficial" taxis in town, along with a license number on the side of the car, which we duely wrote down.
On the way out of town the taxi driver stops at a series of bus stops to see if he can pick up anyone else and make some more money on the trip (common practice here if in an unofficial cab), which is where a police officer pulls him over. We were on the main street out of town where a large police station is located, and there are some half a dozen of them on the road pulling cars over.
This is where it gets a little hairy. The policeman is looking at the driver's license and his taxi papers, looking at me and Matt, and they're talking a lot. We can't understand much, but we can interpret the tone, and it's not good. The cop takes the papers and shows them to his fellow officers, then comes back to the car, hops in the front passenger seat and we take off.
We drive up the hill, with Matt and I now wondering what the hell is going on, and wonder if we should make a leap from the moving vehicle. After all, either one of them might be shifty. Once we stop, the policeman turns around and starts talking very fast until he sees our blank faces and asks if we speak English. We nod. He then goes on to tell us in that our driver is not authorised to drive outside of town, which means no security. He asks us where we are from, where we are going and which hostel we are staying at in Pisac.
He then gets out, as does the driver and they have a "chat" at the back of the vehicle (which is where I believe some money changed hands), and they both get back in and the cop tells us that we are going to the police station and then we go on to Pisac. We took that to mean we needed to make a statement or something, and then get a bus or another taxi onward, but it was not so! We pull up at the station, the policeman says "adios" and the driver throws a u-turn, and we're on our way to Pisac.
The talk I had with myself in my head went something like this.
  "The cop wouldn't have let us go with him if he thought we were in danger."
  "But not all cops are good," I replied.
  "Well the policeman asked us where we we're staying in Pisac," I said, "and where we were from...surely to let the driver know that he'll come for him if we don't show up, thus ensuring that we arrive safely?"
  "If you say so."
A few miles into the drive, my inner scaredy-cat finally let up and realised that it would probably be okay. Nevertheless, my inner survivalist had the map out, watched every landmark and eyed every parked car along the road to make sure it stayed there. Matt meanwhile, had his pocketknife at the ready.
But of course, we arrived safely without a hitch. The drive was something else too- dramatic mountain scenery, and each turn a hairpin that the driver took at full speed, usually making use of the opposite lane to do so.
Pisac Inn is probably the most upscale of our accommodations in Peru. It's a gorgeous building with a balcony and picturesque courtyard, located right on the corner of the town square, Plaza Constitucion.
There isn't a lot to do in Pisac besides wander the quaint streets of this tiny town, hike to the ruins in the giant mountain above, or subject yourself to the bustling market that has taken over the main square. As we are planning on doing the hike tomorrow, we had some lunch at Ulrike's Cafe (clearly German owned but not run), wandered around town and the market, and generally enjoyed a relaxing day in preparation for the big day ahead.
Friday 17 October - The Pisac Ruins
The day started out with great optimism, with an ommlette breakfast and thorough preperations. We felt quietly confident, and headed off through the square to the trail leading STRAIGHT up the mountain.
The trail consisted initially of uneven stone stairs at two steps each at a time, followed by rocky switchbacks that traversed huge agricultural terraces. We were stopping quite often (our legs were fine, but breathing hard), and at the top of the terraces we sat with an older Californian lady for a breather and a chat.
We climbed steadily for an hour, which brought us to the top of the mountain...or so we thought. Another huge peak loomed above, invisible from the valley below (or even from the mountainside below). Looking up (see photo for the view) was daunting to say the least, with what looked like hundreds of tiny stairs ascended sheer rock walls to ruins that clung precariously to the mountain peak.
At this juncture we also noticed a path across the terraces, and I asked the local guide who was   following behind us with a local woman which route was better. The answer was as I expected- one was longer but less steep, the other shorter, but harder.
We went with shorter.
The last section was quite arduous. I found it quite difficult to be honest, resorting to playing a game with myself; for every thirty steps taken, I was allowed a thirty second break
But finally we made it to the top, and in the amount of time the guidebook said it would - 90 minutes.
The views, as you will see in the photos, were phenomenal. The ruins were stunning also, and it was easy to see why this particular fortress was never taken by the Spaniards. First you would have to approach from a particular direction to even see the ruins, and secondly, any ascent to the top would leave the would be attackers breathless and unprepared to fight, not to mention completely open to rocks slung from above.
We wandered around the site until we heard a huge clap of thunder and noticed the ominously dark thunderclouds over the next peak, and Matt asked, "Ready to go then?"
Halfway down the sun was back out in full force, and the rain clouds no longer threatened, so we sat for a while on one of the terraces that once grew corn and enjoyed the sunshine. The entire walk back down minus the stop only took thirty minutes, and we celebrated our return with beers in the hotel courtyard. A good day all round!
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