Tuesday, December 22, 2009


So I was more than a bit wary of this infamous city of the andes. It seemed the peak of all things touristy/gringo but fortunately, I didn`t find it so bad. It was bigger than I thought and so there was enough room for some authenticity as well. However, after a few days of being hassled in English by tour operators, taxis, masseuses, artisans, restaurants, etc., it was time to get out of there. The main plaza is gorgeous but oh my you can`t walk 2 steps without being offered a massage: Massaju mees! massaju mees! "No, gracias." Massaju? "NO gracias!" Manicure? Pedicure? Waxeeeeng??
Oh my, how awful, we were mocking them and didn`t realise we were walking right by one lady until she burst out giggling at us, at least its nice to know they find the situation ridiculous too.
The first day we just ran errands: laundry, money, tour arranging (let`s just do this ourselves!), internet, food of course. Oh and I got myself an ISIC card after much running around in the rain, half-price student again!
Up early the next day and off on the bus to Pisac to see the ruins there. Very impressive. We weren`t sure Machu Picchu could beat them (but it did...) Up high on a mountian there was a collection of ruins, temple of the sun. That we hiked up and through and got lost and got unlost by scrambling down a steep bank. Views over the valley, the town of Pisac and all the ancient terraced agriculture plus tombs in the the hill behind. Hiked around for about an hour and a half, at one point along a very narrow trail on the side of the mountain and through a short tunnel, watch your step!
Wandered through the artisanal market in Pisac but soon got fed up with people trying to sell us stuff (yes we can see you have lots of different colours, that yes it is alpaca and that toque is obviously reversible!) and off on a another bus to Urubamba and a micro to Ollantaytambo, more ruins and where the train leaves from to Aguas Calientes (for machu picchu).
Very impressive ruins there too: hundreds of steps up through the terraces to the forteresse on the top and views up and down the valley. Words can´t describe it, and I´m not even the pictures I will eventually put up can do it all justice.
We ended up with too much time in Ollantaytambo, just a village. Expensive food, ruins, tourist shops, more expensive food, delaying in the restaurant playing Yahtzee.... grab some food from the market for the next day... ok can we finally go to the train station now? Basic train to aguas calientes, we were so tired and there was the most annoying german guy that we kept running into after (almost had to look over my shoulder and make sure he`s not here! We keep running into the same people everywhere, it`s crazy)
Aguas calientes in the pouring rain, 5 hours total in our hostel and up at 4:20 to be down at the bus stop before 5, not the greatest start to what would at least turn out to be an incredible day. You see they only allow 400 people a day to climb Wayna Picchu (young mountain) the mountain across from Machu Picchu (which mean `old mountain`and actually refers to the large mountain behind the ruins) so first-come-first-serve leaves to some crazy early morning rushing although had we known, it`s really no problem to get in during low season, its high season that has people hiking up at 4am and racing for the entrance. But anyway, we successfully obtained passes and bus tickets to be on the 5:30 bus and the 272nd person through the entrance right at 6am. So our tour didn`t start until later and we got wander around at dawn taking pictures with the llamas with very few tourists around. Surreal, such ruins amongst such impressive scenery! Crazy Incas to build a city at the top of very inaccessible mountains. It really did live to our expectations, and I must say those were pretty high! This was the one thing I really wanted to see. Got the guided tour in Spanish (much better, ugh can´t handle anymore ok my friends with that terrible accent) and the guide was pretty good, what an advanced civilisation.
Hurried off to climb Wayna Picchu, looked impossible but we conquered! Almost an hour of vertical rock steps in the heat. Straight up, thank goodness for the guide cables in the way down as there were parts more like rock climbing than hiking clinging to the mountain side. Plus a squishy tunnel to struggle through at the top. So glad I`m not claustrophic and can handle heights! The views from the top were more than worth it, perched on huge rocks on the top of the world. Ruins even up top, can see 360, valley, river, machu picchu, birds and butterflies and a picnic in the sun. Then down (nearly as hard as up), to see the sun temple and then down to the village, over an hour and we were totally knackered by that point with no sleep and hiking all day. Don`t think I`m for the Inca trail.
So tired and dirty. Really enjoyed relaxing in the dirty waters of the hot springs that gives aguas calientes it`s name. Then grabbed delicious `fast food` (a menu that the ladies cooked super fast for us!) before running off to the train in the rain again (first class this time since the backpacker was full, they even gave us more food) and grabbed a collectivo (taxi van) from ollataytambo back to cuzco with 2 guys from Toronto.
Slept in. Got bakery brunch. Really did nothing all the next day. Oh, in the evening we met up with 3 girls Corinna knew from her time in Arequipa, went for dinner and then out dancing but the music was mostly just what you get at home.
Sunday, up and off on a tour of the salt pools and another ruin with the guy who works at the hostel. (close call getting on the bus, someone managed to unzip the front of my bag but there`s just kleenex in there. someone almost got simone too, cuzco is the first place we`ve had to watch out) Snacking on yummy cake on the bus for breakfast (peruvians finally know how to make decent cake!) After 3 hours, got a taxi to the ruins of Moray, really different. Huge circles of terraced agriculture in a valley believed to have been used as an experimental farm. Every level has a different temperature, humidity and soil. Amazing a few metres can make such a difference! The Incas would plant different things and then find out which level they grew best at and tell the area with similar conditions to grow those plants.
Then a stop for a lunch before just missing the real rain and walking across the countryside for an hour to the salt pools. Again, amazing scenery with farmers working corn and potatoes, fields bordered by huge aloe-like plants, red dirt, green valleys, framed by huge snow-capped mountains with storm clouds. So peaceful.
Salt pools, very interesting. The guide works there sometimes in the summer high season so could tell us a lot. One tiny volcanic stream feeds hundreds of little pools nesteled in a valley where the water dries and leaves salt, then the workers rake it up and rinse it several times depending on the quality desired and then they package it up and send it off to every but north america it seems. In high season over 1000kg of salt a day and to think it all comes from one small stream. The workers work barefoot and hand and the salt cracks their skin plus the sun reflecting off the white salt pools often leaves them blind.
Then it was another long bus ride back, grab our stuff and onto the night bus to Arequipa.

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