Cusco:I´ll Have a Slice of Rat with a Side of Spit
Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
47Trip End Jul 29, 2008
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The next day we basically spent cruising around looking for the best tour packages in town. We have been hearing rumours since Canada that we should book our Inca trail early as it is booked up for months in advance, but we were hoping to be able to just slip on in to fill someone`s cancellations...So, just for fun we started asking about the Inca trail (´Classic Inca´) and found out some interesting information. First, the rumour is true - the Inca trail is booked until *August*....uhhhh
Luckily we are not the first disorganized cheap backpackers to come through these parts and, for this reason, other options exist to get us to the infamous MachuPicchu. One option was to take 5 days to cross the Salkantay Mountain pass en route to M.P. - Salkantay is supposed to be quite stunning as it rises to 6262m, but we figured that we have seen and climbed enough mountains. The other option that we decided to do was the Inka Jungle Trail which is 4 days of biking and hiking your way through the Jungle to M.P. The best part is that when we signed up for this route, we were able to get *free* horseback riding to several ruins and a discounted tour of the Sacred Valley (another area with Inca Ruins). And all for the low low price of $177US. Stoked.
We spent the rest of the day visiting a couple of museums and enjoying the absolutely gorgeous Plaza del Armas of Cuzco...wow!
The next morning we were whisked away bright and early to start our horseback ride. We mounted our trusty steeds and were sent up this rocky hill with our guide running - not trotting... - behind us. We galloped our way to our first stop which was a set of caves called the Zone X - absolutely no Inca history here at all... These were mildly exciting and only used to give the horses a break we think...So off to the next set of ruins called Tambomachay (Fountain of Water) which was a ritual site for the Incas where they used the set of fountains to cleanse themselves for rituals and perform religious ceremonies dedicated to water. This water was also routed to several Inca-built terraces where the Incas were conducting agricultural experiments. The good thing about this place was that on our way in, we asked around for a guide. A guy and girl were standing there and as soon as we suggested that we`d like a payed tour, the guy`s eyes just lit up and he started going on and on about how important this ruin was and how he couldn´t possibly do it for under 20 soles (about $7). When we said we wanted only 15 minutes for 10 soles, he protested again so we just started walking away after which the girl ran after us and said she`d do a tour for 10 soles. Sweet. She was great and really sweet and then as she knew we were heading to the next ruin right next door (Pukapukara), she offered us another tour so in the end she ended up with 20 soles, we had two great tours, and the other guy was still standing by the gates.
Pukapukara (Red Fortress) was the Immigration and Border Control site for the Incas as they were able to monitor all tribes and persons coming and going from Cuzco (literally meaning Center of the Universe for the Incas) for markets etc
On our way down to Sexywoman, we paused in the village just outside the ruins to sit on the grass and eat some lunch. During this, a man walking just up the road from us paused to wave hello - a nice gesture - and then he came over to see where we were from and so on. He told us that he is the village Shamen and also a sculptur and would like to have us into his house. We let him know at this point that we had no money to buy anything but would come over for a visit anyways
Again, he sat us down and had us feel his spiritual rocks and see his carvings and other amulets and finally he offered us a song. Now, I`m all for the spiritual side of life, but all of this was starting to get out of hand and this song was just so beyond anything we`d ever heard before and it just went on and on and on and just as we though things couldn`t get any more awkward, the song ended, he took a drink of some magical herb, approached Nik, removed Nik`s hat, bent Nik`s head forward and spit a huge mouthful of this herb right in the middle of Nik`s head
In the time it took me to slip into the bathroom, Nik had already got himself roped into looking at another stone puma with a seasoned-old-saleslady who was trying to figure out what hotel we were staying at so she could come by for her money tonight...Ugh!! After a quick rescue mission, we found ourselves a guide and headed into the beautiful ruins of Sacsayhuaman (Satisfied Falcon). The Incas always carved their cities into shapes of dominant animals in their religions, including snakes, condors, and pumas and the ruins of Sacsayhuaman form the head of a puma while the city of Cusco below forms the body of the puma
That night we set out in search of this restaurant some Danish friends had recommended on a street called ´The Drug Street.´ We had gone over our city maps looking for this Drug street, likely named after some Englishman or something...but we found nothing. We then asked a local who pointed us in the right direction - though the streets actual name was something quite different. Anyways, we were immediately bombarded by mobs of restaurant owners as we tried to find this Danish flag among the menus being held up to our faces. Panicked, we fled further down this street into a pack of sketchy men asking us if we wanted opium, cocaine, weed...and it was then that we understood why this was also called ´The Drug Street.´ Cornered, we ventured back the way we came, me staring at my shoes the whole time until Nik found us a cheap restaurant we assumed was as good as the next. Well, we were the only ones there - maybe we were just early?? Either way, I ordered the cheapest thing and Nik ordered the grossest thing. Apparently, Cusquenos (people from Cusco) are apeshit for Cuy which is the Spanish word for Guinea pig (Hamster)
About half an hour later my food came out which was half decent as just as I was about 1/2 way done, a plate holding a cylindrical piece of shoe leather with 4 tiny legs rounds the corner and is put down in front of Nik. I immediately thought I was going to hurl but managed to get through the rest of my dinner by putting a Newsweek between Nik and I and staring hard at my plate. But, it was to no avail as I could hear Nik ripping these mini-legs from the creature before him and swearing at how little meat there was and how hard it was to get into because it was so leathery and what was that green stuff inside of the guinea pig and on and on and on...Oh my god it was absolutely disgusting. The waiter came up a couple of times to make sure Nik was enjoying it as much as everyone else from Cusco loves cuy, and every time Nik lied through his guinea-pig chewing teeth that he loved it. Gross gross gross. Just when Nik was frustrated with his attempts to get any more meat off this thing and I couldn`t stomach sitting by it anymore, this big, furry, dirty black little rat came scampering across the floor right next to our table and that was it!
Well, at least we were off to see MachuPicchu the next day!! After a quick briefing at our travel agency on what to bring, we hit the hay with dreams of biking and hiking....What`s this?? A knock on our door at 11pm wakes us up and it`s the girl from our travel agency going on about some landslide that has wiped out part of the road and we`ll have to postpone our tour for one more day and so on and so forth, and yet, where is the rain?? Shitty deal, but bright and early the next morning we set out to straighten things out. They stuck to their story, though we had our doubts. I felt this could be a good opportunity for me to get my legs waxed before hitting the trails so I pulled into one of the first agencies marketing `Massages! Waxing! Pedicures!`on the side of the road.
The girls (literally, I think they were 16-ish) were ecstatic to have their first client of the day. There was about 6 of them hustling and bustling about getting the keys to open up the shop and running me in their and putting me on this bed tucked behind some curtain and as I`m looking around, I can tell that something isn`t quite right, but hey, I`m sure it`ll work out fine
We spent the rest of the day learning more about Inca history. The Incas began in 1200 AC and continued to reign until 1532 AC when the Spanish conquistadors arrived and crushed their civilization with their firearms. The development of the Incas was gradual - many pre-Inca tribes contributed to the culture of the Incas, most notable the Tiawanako`s from Bolivia. It is said that the first Inca, Sapa Inca Manco, came from the Tiawanako culture and you can see that at many Inca sites there exists Tiawanako ruins as the Incas often lived at the same sites where the Tiawanako`s lived before. Their construction methods were quite similar as well using a system of concave-convex stones fitted together perfectly, or in other cases, using refined ore cramps to fit two stones together. There were 14 Incas (Inca being the title given to the highest level man, meaning `The Only One`, the common people were called Quechas - they spoke a language of the same name)
The Spanish arrived at an opportune time when the Inca rule was divided between two brothers - both successors of the previous Inca. These brothers were engaged in a Civil War to determine who would lead when the Spanish appeared on the scene. The Spanish met with one of the brothers, Atahualpa, who was immediately imprisoned as he refused to become Catholic (and obviously could not understand the request). As a result, Atahualpa offered the Spanish rooms of gold and silver filled to the same level as his raised arm in exchange for his release - while the Spanish accepted all these riches, they did not release Atahualpa. Instead, they baptized him and then cut his head off (a Catholic death - rather than being burned alive as a non-Catholic). Atahualpa`s brother was then assassinated and the Spanish instilled a new interim Inca ruler until the Spanish put an end to the Inca rule with the final Inca assassination in 1572. While word was getting around that there was some big bad white guys killing Incas and stealing their gold, the elite residents of MachuPicchu collected all their gold (of no monetary value to them but they did not want the Spanish to have it) and retreated into the dense jungle to hide from the Spanish and ensure MachuPicchu was never discovered by them, and it wasn`t
MachuPicchu was declared a World Heritage Site in 1983 and one of the World`s Seven Wonders in 2007 but it is also being considered by the World Monuments Fund as a candidate for one of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world (we found this out only after the fact). The reason is that to be sustainable, the site can only tolerate about 300 visitors a day. Currently, there are 500 per day on the Classic Inca trail alone and over 2000 visitors total. Other follies include: 1) the destruction of a huge monolith when the president of Spain wanted to visit the site via helicopter and landed directly on top of the monolith, destroying it - and 2) During the filming of a Cusqueña beer commercial at MachuPicchu in 2000, a 990 pound crane fell on top of the Intihuantana Stone (sun-dial), breaking it - and 3) Hiram Bingham exported all of Machupicchu`s artifacts to Yale University after his discovery and only as of 2007 have Peru and Yale been able to reach an agreement to have these artifacts as part of a travelling exhibition between the two locations.
So, bright and early the next morning - as their was no landslide this time the night before - our agency picked us up in a taxi and lo and behold there were 3 other people on our tour now thanks to the landslide delay
The next morning, we were up about 5:30am to have breakfast and hit the trails early - I think the intention of this was to beat the heat, but even at 7:30 it was intensely warm on the roads we were walking. It was a relief to hit the start of the trail and get a bit of shade. Before starting the hardest part of our climb, our guide hooked us up with some Inca war-paint that not only looks tough but keeps these annoying little bugs away from your face too. Just before he painted our sweating faces with the seeds of this plant, he mentioned very casually that this plant was actually poisonous and if you ate it you`ll die....We all became a super paranoid group worried that the sweat would carry this poison to our mouths and we would die...Our guide, Angel, later clarified it only makes you kind of sick...which was kind of reassuring. We hit the start of the old Inca Trail (the entire Inca Trail is 82 km, when you hike the Inca Classic Trail you only cover 46 km, so we were on the other part from MP) and after a steep climb for an hour or so, past many entrepreneurial ladies selling water just when you really needed it, we hit this hippie-rasta lodge right in the middle of nowhere, tucked into the jungle. This lady was growing weed among her pineapples and bananas and had pet monkeys and anteaters too. The monkey was cute but the anteater had too good a nose and kept stealing our coca leaves and banana chew for the leaves - friggen brat!! The other interesting thing about this place was that while it was in the middle of the jungle up a really steep narrow trail, she had a full sized freezer up there that was fully in use...bizarre!!
After a wicked break, we continued up the last hard bit until we hit the highest point of the trail at about 2300m where we had amazing vistas of the river valley below and the immensity of the jungle all around us and the shear volume of water in the river
We had another 3 hours or so till the next town and this was a relatively easy hike along the river that included only one really sketchy river crossing using a rickety old suspension bridge missing a bunch of planks...or so we thought...It turned out that we needed to cross *back* across the river and absolutely none of us were prepared for what we were to use as our `bridge`. Below us was this frigid raging river with boulders jutting out and serious rapids and in front of us was a small crate suspended from a cable that crossed the river...We all stood there in contemplation until the Argentine in the other group, in true fashion, shows up and says, `This!? This is nothing!´ haha Now I know that part of this trip is pushing limits etc, but oh my God this was crazy - you basically load two people into this shitty wooden box and then you get a big push across the 30m wide river where you then pull yourself the rest of the way if there is no one on the other side to help
That night we hit the crazy clubs of Santa Theresa - decked out in our finest hiking pants, boots and our 1 clean T-shirt, we went all out. Nik and I, the Irish girls, the Argentine and the two guides got to the club around...ohhhhhhhhhh say 8:30 and once inside, the head count was Nik and I, the Irish girls, the Argentine and the two guides...Oh yah, and the DJ/bartender. But it was awesome!! After YMCA and I Like to Move It warmed up the floor and the Peru Libres (Rum and Cokes) started flowing, it was a pretty good time, though the Argentine was convinced that none of us could dance since we didn`t dance like him hahah We closed the place down around 10pm and hit the sack
We had a late start the next day along with fairly tight breakfast (can we pleaaaaase have some more bread?) and just in case the coffee didn`t wake us up yet, we had another shitty crate-and-cable river crossing to start our day. I rode with Tom this time as neither of us wanted to be part of Angel`s running start and I kept my eyes closed the whole time. But, it was short and sweet. The dogs chasing us down the road on the other side was really more of a concern, but we all just threw a bunch of rocks at them and another lady whacked them with some empty buckets she was carrying and all was good. We passed a huuuuge hydroelectric dam that day that was held back by a natural rock formation, which I`m sure I felt some water spitting through from, so I ran that part...!! We had a quick lunch from where we could see the back side of the MachuPicchu mountain - meaning Old Man - as the site is actually made up of two mountains, one being MachuPicchu and the other is HuaynaPicchu, meaning Young Man. After lunch we had the *most boooooooooring* hike yet - 9km along the railroad tracks!! The only exciting part was when our guide misjudged what time the train was coming and we got caught in a narrow part and had to friggen run like hell and jump in next to the bushes to avoid being smushed by the train. After 3 hours of stepping from railroad tie to railroad tie - we calculated there were about 21,150 of these ties along the way - we *finally* arrived to Aguas Calientes, a quaint little tourist town at the base of MachuPicchu
The town itself strikes you initially as an Asian town as it is built along the railroad line, there are no cars or vehicles, only men pushing wheelbarrows and people selling things in the sloped streets. We went immediately to the hotsprings there - and while they looked much less appealing, they were smaller, more crowded, kind of yellow and - as Nik observed - smelt like a turkey dinner - they were all the same quite refreshing. Seriously though, they did smell like turkey and we all needed some serious showering after those. We went for our first dinner of the night with Angel who then passed us over to our official MachuPicchu guide. This next guide, Michaelangelo, was a bit of a dream crusher - after he asked us if we`d walk or bus up to the ruins, we said we`d walk to which we went on about how hard it is and how we should reconsider etc etc. Anyways, our minds were made up and we were set. After dinner number two, we got together our water and snacks for the next day and hit the hay just as the Argentine was warming up for another night on the town...
The final day of our Inka Jungle tour started at 4:00am in the morning. Both our alarms went off and then there was a knock at the door, it was our guide Angel who only said, ¨Ok, Go¨ and then headed back down the stairs. All of us gathered up what we needed and then the remaining things we could store at a corner store, which doubled as a ticket office for the train back to Ollantaytambo. At the corner store we said our goodbyes to our guide, thanked him for the tour and then headed off for the beginning of the trail to MachuPicchu.
The trail up to Machupicchu was supposed to take roughly 1.5hrs from the town of Aguas Calientes, which is the closest town to the ruins
We reached the top exactly 5 minutes before the gates officially opened. At the top we saw a slew of people already sitting, waiting for the gates to open. The three of us moved under some green umbrellas where we were supposed to meet our guide, changed our clothes and had a bite to eat. During this time we got to see all the micro-buses pulling unloading a fresh batch of tourists that opted to take the bus up the hill, one would drop about 40 people each time about every 5 minutes.
Our guide eventually showed up about 3 minutes before his deadline of 6:15am at the top, most of the groups that decided to hike the hill were stewing for about 20minutes before our guide showed up because he had belittled most of us claiming how HARD the hike was
So our tour started at the great ruins at Machupicchu. Unfortunately, our tour guide was not especially great and a lot of the buildings, alters, and other points of interest are a bit of a blur to me. Therefore, the following explanation of our tour is a hybrid between our experience and what the internet tells us we saw...
At the beginning of the tour we saw all the agricultural terraces that the Incas used for crop cultivation. Each terraces about 3m in height and basically covers all of the ruins where there are not temples, residences or other buildings of significance. The Incas cultivated lots of different types of grain (Quinua, Wheat), Corn and about 400 types of different potatoes.
We then headed up a long set of stairs to the Royal Tomb. This cave-like area of Machu Picchu contains ceremonial niches and an Inca cross carved from one wall and is adjacent to the Temple of the Sun. The cross (Andean Cross) resembles a series of steps, and represents the three levels of existence in the world of the Inca. The first step, symbolized by the snake, represents the underworld or death. The second step represents the present, human life, and is symbolized by the puma
We then crossed a large grassy field called the Central Plaza. This plaza separates the Sacred Plaza and the Intiwantana Stone from the more commonplace areas on the far side.
After crossing the Central Plaza our guide led us to the Temple of the Condor which was a great example of Inca stonemasonry. A natural rock formation began to take shape millions of years ago and the Inka skillfully shaped the rock into the outspread wings of a condor in flight.
On the floor of the temple is a rock carved in the shape of the condor's head and neck feathers, completing the figure of a three-dimensional bird. Historians speculate that the head of the condor was used as a sacrificial altar. Under the temple is a small cave that contained a mummy. A prison complex stands directly behind the temple, and is comprised of human-sized niches and an underground maze of dungeons. According to historical chronicles that documented similar Inca prison sites, an accused citizen would be shackled into the niches for up to 3 days to await the deliberation of his fate
From there we headed to the Intiwatana, which is known as the "hitching post of the sun" is a carved rock pillar whose four corners are oriented toward the four cardinal points. The Inca were accomplished astronomers, and used the angles of the pillar to predict the solstices. The sun exerted a crucial influence on the agriculture, and therefore the well-being of the whole society. It was considered the supreme natural god (a ceramic corn god gives evidence to the spiritual devotion of the natural world that was common to all pre-Inca cultures). At the winter solstice on June 21, the high priest would rope a golden disc to the Intiwatana, to symbolically catch the sun and bring it back toward earth for another year's cycle of seasons.
The Intiwatana is the only one of its kind not lopped off by the Spanish conquerors, who made a point of destroying all implements of Inca religion. Many people today feel that MachuPicchu is one of the Earth's magnetic focal points, and carries an inherent spiritual or metaphysical power. Indeed, it is difficult to sit at the edge of the Sacred Plaza overlooking the Urubamba River below, the stone temples and plazas to the front, and the mountain peaks of MachuPicchu and Huayna Picchu to the left and right, and not feel the magic
Interesting facts Cusqueña beer which is brewed in Cusco shot a beer commercial on top of Machupicchu at the Intiwantana sundial. In the process one of the cameras or the lights struck the sundial and cracked off a good portion of clock. However in the mean time it has been repaired by the caretakers of the Sanctuary. Another great feat of stupidity by both the current Spanish King and the current Peruvian president was that the King of Spain wanted to land his helicopter on the top of MachuPicchu. So the Peruvian government and president made allocations for him, they moved a giant stone monolith or just forgot about it and when his helicopter (yeah lazy f-ing royalty) hit the monolith and knocked it over. So now this monolith, which was severly damaged, has been buried somewhere in the central plaza. How about next time they want to visit this site they take a royal bus up like everyone else, man such arrogance.
Across the Central Plaza and at the far end of MachuPicchu is the Sacred Rock, an object common to most every Inca village. Before a village could be erected, a sacred stone must be dedicated to the site. The Sacred Stone of MachuPicchu sits at the base of Huayna Picchu. From here we decided to climb the mountain to get a bird's eye view of the ruins
The climb might not have been so hard if we hadn't climbed to the top of MP, but, who doesn't enjoy a challenge? Climbing up Huayna Picchu was really really steep and since we started the hike around 9:30 the sun was not in full effect. We climbed the hill with 2 other Irish girls that we met along our jungle tour stopping about every 10 minutes to catch our breath or to enjoy the views. We eventually reached the first ruins of the peak which is mind boggling (who would cart rocks up such a steep hill or carve rocks up here) and gave great views of MachuPicchu. After another 10 minutes of climbing and a skootch through a really tight cave with stairs, we reached the peak. The view from every angle was incredible and we could see (sort of) the condor shape that Machupicchu was built in. We ate a sort of snack at the top and then headed back down to look over the ruins some more.
Seriously, this place was one of the most beautiful sites - natural or not - that we've seen on this trip. It was incredible. So after being fully saturated in the beauty of M.P., we treated ourselves to a bus ride down the switchbacks back to Aguas Calientes
We arrived late to Cusco, about 10:15pm and we were totally bagged. After a quick email exchange with Tom, we were back to our hostel and asleep within minutes. We had a fairly early morning the next day as we had booked our Sacred Valley tour about a week before. Originally, we had planned on having a day to sleep in after M.P., but due to the ´landslide´ which we never saw any remnants of by the way, our start was pushed back a day and hence our day of rest vanished. After a bit of confusion at the travel agency - which we now consider the norm - they found us a bus heading on this tour and we were off. The tour itself was nice but it is hard to compare to the experience we just had - and the British people behind us just kept talking and talking about electronica music...uhgggg...The valley though is famed for it`s fertile lands and was used by the Incas for this reason
We visited the ruins of Pisac which was used for agricultural experimentation, religious purposes, and military defense of the Valleys southern entrance. Here you can also see the sun rise on the June 21st winter solstice directly over this natural pyramid shape in the distant mountain. We also visited their famous market where we bought a ´Magic Inca Jug` where, after you pour water in the bottom, it won`t come back out and you need to use another hole to pour from...yes, magic. We then visited the ruins of Ollantaytambo which are terraced to prevent erosion. They also had a mountain over which the June 21st sun rises, but the shape in the mountain over which the sun rises here is an Incan profile. They showed us these 40 tonne blocks that they Tiawanako/Inca moved 11km to create their sun temple. They used their strongest men to do so - and to prove it was possible, in 2000, people moved a 20 tonne block about 500m...in 2 months....i think that`s a pretty convincing study. Finally, we ended up at Chinchero where the Spanish ripped down the previous Inca temple and built a Church. However, this church today is used for Inca ceremonies and community purposes and therefore lacks any real denomination
While the tour was nice, it was better to be back and by 8pm we were sound asleep again. Our original plan was to take off to Nazca from here to see the famous Nazca lines made by their ancient people, but due to a recent crash that killed 5 French tourists and some independent research that exposed quite a poor safety record of their overflights in general, we have opted to not. Oh yah, and we both just read Alive (The Story of the Andes Survivors) and are now afraid of little shitty planes flying near mountains....
Love, Seo Jin and Kwak Hyang
(Niko y Sarita. xoxo)