Today we’ll be traveling overland to Cuzco; following the path of Mancco Capac (son of the sun) and Mama Occllo (daughter of the moon) through the altiplano. Legend has it this couple emerged from Lake Titicaca to start a new civilisation; spreading culture and enlightenment. Mancco Caca had a golden staff to place into the ground at the place which would be the heart of this new people. The soil of the altiplano was too thin to hold the staff so they headed north. Apparently they walked the 400 kilometres we will drive today, over the altiplano to Cuzco. They put the staff in the ground at the top of the Huanacauri mountain and Cuzco was born. Its name means ‘navel of the earth’. Cuzco became the heart of everything and features in a symbol which still exists today; it’s sort of like a square cross with a hole in the middle. The top represent the condor (or future), the left arm the puma (present) and the bottom the snake (past). I keep meaning to ask what the right arm means! But I digress; of Mancco Capac and Mama Occllo’s 4 children only 1 survived (he killed the others!) to become the first King of Peru.
We left Sophie and Kath at the station as they would be catching the train and meeting us in Cusco. I’m so glad Iain and I decided to save cash and forgo the £115 train journey as our bus follows the tracks all the way, but we have the option to stop at various points and also explore our first Inca ruin! Our first stop was about an hour in at a tiny town called Pukara. The people here survive on the trade of wool and skin of alpaca and sheep. We popped into a tiny shop/cafe to use the facilities and I picked up a pair of alpaca wool gloves for the inca trail. In the middle of the altiplano there’s a tiny village named Ayaviri where we stopped to try a traditional (I feel like I’m using this word in every sentence!) dish of lamb and potatoes called kankncho. Coming from the home of lamb I was quite excited to try this and wow I was not disappointed! It doesn’t taste at all like the meat at home, far richer in flavour and more like veal in texture. Completely delicious! In this village it is tradition (there’s that word again) for the women to work and take care of the men while the men…I’m really not sure! But they’re not allowed to be educated as their jobs are house, home, farming and selling food and crafts etc.
Now it’s around 10:15 and we’re speeding off to our next stop, the highest part of our tour at 4,200 meters; La Raya. We just past the train coming from Cuzco, it’s an old style blue one (though not quite steamer), I hope the others are having a good time!
>4 hours later<
So La Raya was essentially a market (by which I mean 5/6 stalls laid out on rocks) looking up at the mountain. I really didn’t intend to buy anything but couldn’t resist this fabric which I think will make a gorgeous back to the quilt I want to make out of all those t shirts still sat at home (if you’ve read my previous travel blogs then this will make sense) Am definitely going to have to make that now I have pretty much all of it!! From there we stopped for a moment to take pictures of llamas (can you imagine tourists taking photos of sheep and cows back home?) when Chris spotted a condor circling high overhead. We’re extremely lucky to have seen one, and our guide and drivers stayed outside, following it with binoculars long after we’d got back on the bus. It was a short skip to our lunch spot with the most incredible view. At one point I had to remind myself it wasn’t a painting, I think it was the tint on the glass, made it look like a billboard!
So far if I was to sum up Peru I’d say scenery and shopping; perhaps it’s the tour we’re on but it seems like every time we stop anywhere there’s a market or shop to see and there’s always something I haven’t seen before. Our next stop, Raqchi, was no exception. This was to be our first Inca experience as it is home to the ruins of the Temple of Viracocha (one of the only examples of two story Inca architecture left). Apparently it is also one of the largest roofed buildings the Incas ever built, and you could see the remains of columns which held up the thatch. Some 300 houses surround the edge of the temple, each round and some still roofed though many now in ruins. We also set foot on the Inca trail for the first time – I hadn’t realised it had once (or I suppose technically still does) linked most of South America, travelling from Ecuador in the north, through to Argentina in the south. I wonder when someone last walked the entire length of it. As there was another market I stopped to have a look and ended up buying a ceramic Inca calendar which is pretty cool. I’ve since learned that most of these are mass produced in Cuzco and shipped out here, ah well!! I also had my first taste of things to come when I was charged for taking photos of the locals; apparently the closer we get to Cuzco the more common this will be.
Following the Inca trail through villages with names like Combapata, Checacupe and Cusipata we were treated to more amazing scenery. I think everyone was sleepy by this point but it was impossible to close your eyes less you missed something. I must have taken a hundred pictures of the mountains, river and valleys and the people who live in them.
Soon we past what used to be the southern gate to the city and arrived in Cuzco. I could tell the others were not impressed; the outskirts of the town are very like I imagine Rio de Jenerio to be, rows of tinned roofed dwellings and shanty shops with a lot of construction happening everywhere. As we got to the centre the streets narrowed and the buildings became more elaborate and everyone relaxed as Jorge proudly told us of developments and news from his home city. Our hotel is 10 minutes walk from the main plaza on a tiny street so we had to tumble out of the bus quick sticks to stop holding up traffic. Iain and I have the penthouse which is just beautiful – a lovely golden and terracotta room on the 3rd floor with windows covering every wall offering panoramic views of the city. I’m not sure how we got this as there are 3 beds and only 2 of us, but the group of 3 are in 2 separate rooms on the 2nd floor!! There’s a beautiful courtyard too with a well and various bits of pottery, cute!
Jorge showed us to the main square and then left to meet Sophie and Kath at the station. Having stocked up at lunch none of us were hungry and so headed out somewhere for coffee. The main square in Cuzco is all multi story, with most of the terraced cafes and bars on the 2nd floor. You can see them, but not how to get to them. Tricky! In the end we asked a boy who was following us trying to sell his pictures to take us to a coffee shop which he did, but it was awful. Oh dear!! Our first exhibition without our guide and we end up in a place with cold coffee and dodgy sandwiches. Had the others not been there I’m sure Iain and I would have been ok but I get the feeling these ladies are used to the finer things in life. Luckily good old British humour got us through and we escaped unscathed, heading instead to an organic restaurant called Greens and then Paddys – the highest Irish bar on earth where we bumped into the others and heard about their day. They’d had a wonderful time on the train, likening it to the orient express, so that was good!! They had just come out of Paddys and told us (to our amusement) that the floor in the bar moved from side to side like you’re on a boat. Apparently it really added to the sensation of being drunk! Iain and I headed up there to check out this phenomenon for ourselves….hmm, floor seems pretty sturdy to me, how about you Iain? *plants feet* errrm yup, it’s not moving. Turns out the rock of the train and a few too many vinos had left Sophie and Kath feeling a tad rocky. What larks!! At the bar I met Ernesto; a very nice Peruvian man who said he could recognise ‘yes’ in any language….challenge on Ernesto!
“That’s easy! Russian”
“Ok how about ydw?”
*blank face* “ydw? I do not know ydw”
“haha! It’s welsh!!”
“Oh welsh! I only know Llanelli’
…brilliant! Some time later after trying every variation of pisco on the menus (Iain likes the sours, made with egg white and lemon juice, I like it with lemonade!) we headed out and back to the hotel. Having such a great time; each day has been so packed it has felt like 3 so I can’t quite believe we’re only on day 4 of our itinerary! Just 1 day left before we start out for Ollantaytambo and the start of our main reason for being here: the inca trail! Eek!!