Blake here. For a change of scenery and to get the most out of our tourist tickets we decided to hit the road and explore the sacred valley around Cusco. While you can take a tour to visit the various Inca ruins scattered through the valley, we (as always) decided to go solo. So we found out where the collectivos to Ollantaytambo picked up, grabbed some fresh bread from the panaderia and shouldered our packs. We easily found a collectivo to Ollanta (what the locals call Ollantaytambo) and were on our way. A mere two hours later found us in the delightful town of Ollanta. Situated in a deep valley with the ancient Inca site of Ollantaytambo fortress\citadel overlooking the town on one side and random Inca ruins scattered up the other side of valley.
We quickly found a delightful hostel called Chaska Wasi run by the fabulous Kati (and her three kittens) and dropped off our gear so that we could go explore. We entered the ruins of Ollantaytambo and quickly climbed the stairs and terraces to the top of the site. The ruins there are very impressive: excellent examples of Inca stone-masonry with huge blocks fitting together without any perceptable gaps and over the past few hundred years bright orange lichen has come to cover many of the stones making of an impressive site. Interestingly, Ollantaytambo was witness to one of Manco Inca´s few victories over the Spanish as he and his supporters flooded the valley to prevent the Spanish from using their horses, but his victory was shortlived and he eventually fled to the more remote Villcabamba. We explored for a few hours going up and down the terraces admiring stone work and the still working Inca fountains and water channels. Absolutely amazing.
After the ruins, we walked the town´s cobblestone streets looking for a place to eat a late lunch. The town is built on top of the previous Inca settlement and Inca blocks make up the foundations of many houses. This walk also offered us our first glimpse of rural Peruvian life, by which I mean a house full of Cuy or guinea pigs (seriously, like 20 or 30 running around on the floor). Finally, we settled on a delightful family run restaurant and sat in their garden as mother cooked and 10 year old son played waiter. The food was FANTASTIC. I had lomo saltado, a Peruvian beef stirfry served with both rice and french fries while Anne had delicious fried trout. Thoroughly sated, we begin to climb the opposite side of the valley to explore the anonymous ruins. A steep climb up rewarded us with lovely views of the town and the setting sun over the fortress of Ollantaytambo. We descended in the dying light and made our way to our hostel to relax and play with the aforementioned kittens.
The next day we woke early and caught a series of collectivos to our next destination: Pisac. The ruins of Pisac sit high above a town of the same name and after dropping our packs with the entry guard, we started climbing up Inca stairs and through terraces until we reached the main site - a temple and housing complex high on a ridge about 4 kilometers away (elevation gain about 800-1000 meters). Amazingly, here too were working Inca fountains and Annie and I were confounded to understand where the water was coming from. We descended by 2:30 or 3, retreived our bags and were off to our next site: Tambomachay enroute to Cusco and bed. Tambomachay was just a roadside stop - another example of fine Inca stone work - huge blocks, amazing precision, and a pretty fountain. Another collectivo quickly picked us up and we were back in Cusco by 5. We stayed in the delightful La Boheme Hostel attached to the even more delightful La Boheme Crepery and began shopping and planning for our early morning departure for Salkantay.
Blake here. After our unfortunate bout of food poisoning, we are spending a few days in the marvelous city of Cusco recuperating and exploring what is the longest continuously inhabited city in all the Americas. Legend has it that the first Inca, Manco Capac, emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca and founded the city after driving a Golden staff into `the navel of the world` History here is everywhere, from the colonial churches and plazas scattered through the old town to the massive Inca walls which form the foundations of many buildings and are still visible as you walk the cobblestone streets. We bought our ridiculously overpriced boletos touristicos which give us access to many of the museums in town and the archaeological sites that are scattered throughout the sacred valley surrounding Cusco and have spent the last few days immersed in the fascinating history, both pre-Columbian and colonial, of this wonderful city.
While we weren't feeling up to Quyor Riti due to our illness, it turns out that we don`t need to go to 15,000 feet to see some seriously awesome traditional dancing. Everyday since we have arrived there have been a steady stream of dance troupes from various villages and (interestingly) universities decked out in the most amazing traditional costumes in the main Plaza de Armas in the center of town. The dancers are amazing and the dances are very entertaining - full of symbolic meaning which we don't understand. Sometimes they are very formal, sometimes they are dressed like campesinos, sometimes like crazy, colorful devils. It is everything we hoped to see at Quyor Riti but without another 3,000 feet in elevation gain. Today we are looking forward to a procession of saint statues to welcome Corpus Christi in the main square.
Over the last two days, we have spent the day at two or three museums/cathedrals/tourist sites. We have visited the following sites and enjoyed them all:
It was a long and strange trip on a bus for 25 hours to travel from Lima to Cusco (the CuZco with a Z is something only gringos use). Blake and I splashed out an extra 30 soles ($13) to get the ejecutivo service on Moviltours bus service, which included a few meals and also the fabled "cama total". Cama total is the king of bus seats, essentially a lazy boy recliner with an extra few inches of butt space and deeply reclining seat. Given the length of the trip it was totally worth it.
A few notes on the bus ride:
1) The Peruvian Pacific coast is the most post-apocolyptic landscape I have seen, especially given the winter microclimate which gives an eternal heavy gray sky. It is dark grey sand dunes many hundreds of feet high sloaping sharply down to the sea, which has large whitecap waves crashing continuosly. There is nothing to see that is not grey. Periodically, small concrete or shanty houses, set into very large, vacant, plantless acreges will punctuate the landscape. Very, very rarely these houses will have washlines outside, proving it is not a ghost city.
2) Despite the length of the journey the bathroom is for pee only, no pooping allowed. I am not sure how they enforce this rule, other than very stern and accusing looks by our otherwise stern and accusing stewardess. Additionally, nearly every surface in said bathroom was wet. EWWWWW.
3) Even with the cama total this is a long haul. Temperature control on the bus is not great. Thank you dramamine and Tylanol PM and my iphone for the assistance in making the bus journey one long foggy memory. I am learning quite a bit about Catherine the Great via audiobook.
FOILED AGAIN, in our Ausengate trek
It seems the micro flora and fauna of Peru hates our guts, in a literal way. We checked into the very lovely Hostal Kuntar Wasi, overlooking the city on Tandapata in the San Blas neighborhood. Following some Lonely Planet advice and wanting to watch the World Cup we went to Los Perros, a reccomended backpacker bar where we hoped to be friendly and get advice from fellow travelers. After a burger and a pisco drink we headed back to the hotel.
Los Perros gave us NASTY food poisening. In a very classic case of "oh $/&!" both Blake and I awoke the next day feeling awful. Despite this, we took an interesting but stressful journey to the municiple hostpital where I was able to obtain a replacement international vaccination card without having to get the yellow fever vaccine twice in one month. Going to the hospital was the highlight of the day. By mid-afternoon it become clear we were going to need to hunker down in our hotel and work hard to fight dehydration due to violent illnesss. Having throughouly scoped out the medical situation here in Peru at both the public and private clinics as I worked to replace my forgotten yellow card (indicating I am vaccinated, and neccessary to travel in Bolivia) I did not want to have to return, so we stayed the course and recovered after a very nasty evening. Those poor people in the room next to us...
Given that this is the second round of food/water borne illness I am describing, I feel the need to defend Blake and I against accusations of unsanitary living. The only street food we have eaten is potato chips. The only water we have drunk has been bottled or filtered first and with added Sweetwater antimicrobials added. We even brush our teeth with the bottled water. We wash our hands. We have eaten at popular restaurants reccommended in the guide book and ordered nothing particularly unusual for Peru. Think lots of exotically spiced chicken soup, rotisserie chicken, papas fritas (fries), and the occasional burger. My guess is we have had really bad luck and that the Andes have kept this half of South America far enough away from us Denverites that we have zero immunity to whatever bugs may make it through the defenses.
Our nasty time changed our plans. Our original plans had us spending just a day or so in Cusco before heading out on a very exciting trek to circumnavigate Ausengate, a sacred apu mountain just south of the city. We were going to go to the fantastic festival of Quillor Riti in an alpine valley at 15,000 feet and watch the largest indigenous pilgramage in the Americas. Nuts to that. We re-considered in light of recovering our health and decided to stay in Cusco for roughly a week. It has been a good decision, as we are both feeling better and have had time to re-plan and adjust our expectations.
In my next post, I will tell you about all the fun things we have discovered in this lovely ancient/colonial/modern city. Do not worry about us, as we are fine and still delighted to be in Peru.