Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Highlights: Tour of Sacred Valley sites,
Pictures taken: 289
Travel: Flew from Lima to Cusco
Technically, my second day in Peru began with me being relegated to an unused part of the Lima airport. I was checking in for a flight more than 5 hours away. The spot they put me was good though – no airport announcements, a clean bathroom, electricity, and benches long enough to lie down and sleep on. I washed my socks and shirt from the day in the sink and set them out to dry. I wrote about day one after uploading my photos. I then slept for two or three hours.
My flight to Cusco ended up departing an hour late. My conversation with the two Australian girls in my row and the view from the plane as we landed made me regret not planning further ahead and taking on the Inca Trail. You can hike to Machu Picchu taking a long or a short trek (a week being long and 4 days being short). It really is beautiful in the mountains.
I had planned on making a connection with a family friend that i figured could give me some good pointers on a place to stay in Cusco. I asked a taxi driver to take me to the address that i had for her and he looked confused. Turns out that he can’t take me to her postal box.
So i told him i wanted a private bath with a hot shower and a moderate priced room. I ended up at Casa Grande for $25 a night. I checked my guidebook and i’m paying twice the price i should – probably a kickback to the driver. In the future i’ll be sure to have a place picked out before the cabbies swarm me… although i did have a plan!
On the way to the hotel we stopped at the train station where my printout of my confirmation was changed into real tickets for my ride to Machu Picchu. It was quick and painless and the cab driver even carried my bag so it wasn’t left in his cab on the street for the 10 minutes it took us. He then asked my plans for the next two days. I said i planned on touring the Sacred Valley and then staying in Ollantaytambo for my second night in the area. He suggested i do the tour of the Sacred Valley immediately.
I checked into my room, changed some of the stuff in my day bag, went to the bathroom and he hustled me to meet the bus at 9:00 that would give me the tour. It was 60 soles (about $20) for the tour – including lunch. I had to buy a “boleto turistico” for an additional 70 soles ($23) to gain admission to a few of the places we stopped. We had to do this in Cambodia to visit the ruins also. The money hopefully goes towards restoration and preservation so it seemed a reasonable expense.
I fell asleep on the bus almost immediately. It was a decent bus – the windows opened and the seats reclined and were comfortable. But it was cold to most of the people on the bus so my window stayed closed. And nobody reclined. Between the heat and the lack of sleep i konked out easily.
The first stop was Pisac. Massive agricultural terraces flank mountain trails that lead through stone doorways and even a tunnel through the rock. There is an ancient astrological observatory that pays special attention to the Southern Cross (a constellation that falls on the south pole.
We boarded the bus for a 45 minute ride to someplace where we had lunch. I’m sure it was said but i was definitely sleeping. It was a buffet and included white rice, spaghetti with a red sauce and one meatball, some potatoes, a small strip of chicken and a basic salad. I sat at a table with a girl that was sitting next to me on the bus, her friend, an older couple and a gal from Germany that was coming through on her own. The couple were from Buenos Aires and the two girls were from Brazil. This is where i promised to become a bit more fluent in a few languages. All of them could communicate reasonably in English. I could follow the Portugese but their Spanish was great and their English was at least as good as my Spanish. The German gal had been in Paraguay for 4 months as an economic contact for the Chamber of Commerce. I could tell her to get out and say “salt and pepper.”
Back on the bus and off to Ollantaytambo (Ollanta to most). This was an hour ride if i remem- yeah right. I slept until we neared the town. The streets were fantastic. Old, narrow, winding… I got out of the bus at the base of the ruins and quickly glanced at the had crafts. I am dead set on sticking to one bag so i have to be very careful about my purchases. I didn’t buy anything but the colors on some things are just amazing.
These ruins overlook the town that shares the same name. These terraces are narrower and thus steeper than the agricultural ones of Pisac. That helped the Inca defeat the Spanish conquistadors in a battle – until they returned with greater numbers. The rocks that were used for the temple construction at the top of the fortress were mined from mountains across a large valley. Mined from high in the mountains and across a river too! The Inca may have been the best masons in the world.
Finally we loaded up and went to our last stop; Chinchero. Sitting at over 12,300 feet in elevation i admit i was moving slowly. First we went to a demonstration of Alpaca wool spinning, dying, and weaving while we sipped on coco leaf tea and then we were allowed to explore the area.
There was another 45 minute ride back to Cusco but i slept through it and awakened with people getting off of the bus. I had a hard time finding my way back to the hotel because they dropped us a few blocks from where we were picked up. I was close – just around the corner when one of those guys that tries to sell paintings that are all of different styles and techniques but claims to have made them all asked me if i needed help. I did. He got me to my hotel and i found a picture that he assured me was his that i bought (and explained that some of his others belonged to friends of his). I haggled a bit on the price and ended up giving him much more than i normally might have but i needed to get to the room and do laundry, go to the bathroom, and decide on my plan for the evening. It was about 7:30. He asked if i’d like him to show me a dance club that’s full of locals instead of tourists. I told him that at 10 i’d meet him and buy him a beer in tanks for his help.
I washed clothes and hung them to dry. Maybe i should have brought my synthetic underwear. The 50:50 blends seem to dry pretty well in 18 hours. I took a shower. The hot water wasn’t quite hot.
By 9:30 i decided i was hungry. I found an ATM and stoked up on some cash. I met Alejandro at 10 and i had a flattened fried chicken, potatoes and a salad that seemed to be based on onions instead of lettuce. I skipped the salad. I paid for a soup and a Inka Kola for my new amigo.
We went to “Las Vegas” where admission and one giant bottle of beer was 10 soles ($3.50). After a big beer i danced and hung out with some of Alejandro’s buddies – one of them was his classmate from art school. (Could he really be an artist?) We club hopped and went to two of the tourist bars. His friends faded – and eventually Alejandro asked me for money for his cab ride home. If he had paintings on him i would have been willing to make a trade. But he was asking in exchange for his services as a guide of the dance clubs of Cusco. I have big ears and could have heard any one of them. That pissed me off and i ignored him until he left.
I wandered back to my hotel after a while and bought chicle from every kid selling it. Dang that gum is cheap and it tastes like every sole it is worth. It’s two in the morning kid – don’t you have something better to do than sell gum to tourists?