|Thursday 19th June 2014
When we woke up this morning, because the room we were in didn't have a window, only a skylight, it was impossible to determine what the weather was like outside and also it was noisy because it was above the reception area. Before we went out for breakfast, we asked at reception to have our room changed and they agreed and so we moved to a room on the ground floor near the front door. After all that was resolved, we walked down to the square to have breakfast at a place we saw last night. Today was Corpus Christi and there was a parade that started at about 12 noon and went on all afternoon. There were many thousands of people watching and enjoying the beautiful sunny (but cool) day around the beautiful main square of Cusco - it was a bit like New Year’s Eve in Sydney. After we had breakfast it was about 12:30pm so we then walked around all afternoon looking in the shops and occasionally at the parade, finally having an ice cream in a little square surrounded by locals eating the food they had brought with them for the day. Then back to the hotel for a pre-dinner drink before going out to dinner at a local restaurant.
Friday 20th June 2014
Up about 8:00am today, went for breakfast on the square. Breakfast was not so good, will try somewhere else tomorrow. We then went to buy the Cusco Tourist Ticket which gets you into the archeological sites and some museums, and then went shopping, this time to the San Pedro Market and it was interesting but we had to be alert for pickpockets. We eventually came back to the hotel about 2:00pm and had a snack for lunch and then did our blog. We went out for dinner at about 7:30pm but the local place we wanted to go was full so we went down to the main square to have a look at a craft market and bought a couple of things. And then, surprise, surprise, there was a great fireworks display to celebrate the festival that is happening here in Cusco almost all the time we are here. We watched as did about 30,000 other people then went back to the local restaurant, this time managing to snag a table - had our dinner, very tasty and cheap. Then back to the hotel to bed at around 10:00pm. Beautiful day, about 20C but only 0C tonight - very cold.
Saturday 21st June 2014
Today we went down the road for breakfast - very cheap and at least the eggs were hot. We then went to the Museum of Contemporary Art which was not very interesting but was included in our Cusco Tourist Ticket that we bought yesterday. We then went to the Museum of Natural History which was quite interesting and definitely worth the visit. It was then time to go outside to the square and register for the free walking tour (free with a tip to the guide) and this was fascinating, as these walks usually are. Together with about a dozen others, we first walked up to a terrace high above the city centre to see the view. Some effort was required as it involved several steep flights of steps. The walk continued along some back streets and stopped off at a house where a musician ran a music school. He demonstrated several Peruvian instruments including one made from a large seashell and another from a cow's horn. The pan pipes were included of course and several stringed instruments. It was very good and, although we expected it, there was not even a CD for sale... We finished with a little Pisco Sour in a restaurant to end the walk. We then wandered around the shops in the late afternoon, came back to the hotel and had an aperitif and then there was a pre-Inca Trail meeting (we weren't going but had to attend to know what time we had to meet when we go to Machu Picchu on Thursday). After the meeting and watching fireworks from our hotel window, we went out to do a bit more shopping and then David had a hamburger and Lynn had an egg sandwich for dinner (really tasty - both had chips in them). Home to the hotel at about 10:00pm.
Sunday 22nd June 2014
Day trip to the Sacred Valley to visit Pisac and Ollantaytambo, Peru
We were up early today and had breakfast in the hotel. Seven of the group are walking the Inca Trail and three are walking the Lares Track, but today the whole group travelled by minibus for a trip to the Sacred Valley (the valley of the Vilcanota/Urubamba River, near Cusco), which is a beautiful valley surrounded by high mountains where crops have been grown since time immemorial. In the valley there are a number of Inca ruins and old colonial towns. We climbed out of Cusco and then drove to an animal rescue shelter where there were pumas, condors, parrots, a stork and even a guinea fowl from Africa that somehow had found its way to Peru. All these creatures had been either rescued from trappers or farmers or had been brought in injured by concerned people. It was very interesting to see what they are doing here to assist these animals and birds. We then drove to the Inca ruin of Pisac, high in the mountains. There were hundreds if not thousands of tourists there which marred the experience somewhat. The day was fine and sunny (about 20C) and the ruins were beautiful. It is unimaginable how the Incas built all this at the tops of mountains. The history was explained to us by the guide but he took so long - his style is very flowery - that we didn't have much time to see the actual ruins as they are very extensive. After we had finished there, we went back down to the colonial town of Pisac, famous for the size of its markets. We had lunch there in a restaurant (empanadas and beer), then looked around the markets and bought some Peruvian souvenirs. We then headed off to Ollantaytambo, the jump off point for the Inca Trail. This town is much older and some of the places look as though they have been lived in for hundreds of years, but that is usually because of the mud brick construction. The guide told us that the streets in Ollantaytambo were mostly laid out by the Incas and you can see to this day the channels they constructed to bring the water down to irrigate their crops. They still work as well now as when they were first built and there was water running in them today. Amazing stuff! This town has an unbelievable fortress built by the Incas out of stone blocks quarried from some miles away and carted to the site high up on the mountainside. There are also many fantastic terraces on which they used to grow crops. In recent years these have been restored and look as though they will still be there in another thousand years. A very impressive and hauntingly beautiful spot. From the top you can see many kilometres up the valley towards Urubamba, Yucay and Pisac and to the west towards Machu Picchu, there are manicured crop fields and the river and railway line snaking off into the distance. Too soon we had to walk back down and leave - the group who will start to walk the Inca Trail tomorrow left us here as they are staying overnight in a guest house but the rest of us drove back about 2 hours to Cusco from the valley, climbing back over the mountains through Chinchero arriving back to the hotel about 7:00pm. We went out to dinner just down the street and then back and to bed around 10:00pm.
Monday 23rd June 2014
Today we had decided that we would catch the local bus to some of the ruins that are situated near to Cusco, walk from one to the next and then walk back to town. We went to breakfast about 9:00am, very enjoyable today and then walked around the main square to the bus station about a kilometre away. The local festival continued today and lots of people were dressed up for the parade and thousands more were on the side of the streets watching. There were stalls set up selling all manner of goods and food. These people certainly know how to have a good time. Anyway when we arrived at the bus station, a bus for Pisac was pulling out (where we went yesterday) and we were hustled on board telling the conductor where we wanted to go. As the bus was moving we sat down in the first empty seat but soon realised it wasn’t actually attached to the floor and so nearly fell over each time the bus jolted, so we moved further back when we got a chance. We then set off through the busy city streets and up the steep inclines out of the city. On the way, the bus picked up a load of wood and metal and all this was placed on the roof of the bus by the conductor and we set off again. We alighted after about 30 minutes at our first ruin Tambomachay, which was included in our tourist ticket bought previously (Tambomachay is the furthest from Cusco ruin that we planned to visit today. We walked in and there were a number of tourist coaches there with many tourists looking at ruins. We spent a while looking at these ruins then walked out and up the road about 300 metres to the next ruin Pukapukara, said to have been an old hunting lodge for the Inca emperor, set high on the hill with sweeping views of the distant mountains and glaciers. They are all still there and beautiful. Then a longer walk (about 3-4km) to the next ruin Cusilluchayoc that had a temple of the moon and a cave with wall paintings. We looked and couldn't see any paintings but there were black walls and ceilings from ancient fires. This place was essentially a giant rock with some carvings and old buildings that were in ruins. There was a guide at the site telling a group that the track that wound away up the hill opposite from this ruin was part of the Inca Trail that runs from Cusco to Machu Picchu. It was now after 3:00pm and we walked to the next ruin called Q'enqo maybe 750 metres away along a rural track and over a hill. This was a place where there had been many ceremonies carried out and there were a number of carvings in the rock and there were also caverns underneath. One of the ceremonies involved pouring blood into a bowl-like area at the top, said blood then ran down through a channel and the final action was based on whether the blood took the left or right channel – one meant a good result and one a bad one. From there we had to walk about a kilometre and a half to Saqsaywaman, the most amazing fortress of monolithic proportions, second only in importance to Machu Picchu in Inca history. The route instructions we were following in reverse) told us to cross the road and follow a track – which we did, but soon realised we were on private property and so we walked out onto the road at the first opportunity. On our way down the road, there was a little rain and with it came a squally wind that caused small branches and leaves to fall down from the stands of very tall eucalypts that are in this area The temperature also dropped dramatically. By this time, we had met a young lady called Cassandra who was walking with us and she accompanied us on our visit to Saqsaywaman. We walked around admiring the stonework, some of the stones weighing up to 30 tonnes - hard to imagine how these stones were shaped and shifted into position but there they were, still standing after about 600-700 years. The way they fit together in such an immaculate way is quite intriguing as the Incas did not use the wheel and had no beasts of burden to assist as llamas can only carry about 25kg on their backs. After we had seen all we wished to (and the rain had thankfully ceased), we walked across to the Christo Blanco (White Christ) a statue with arms outstretched like Christ the Redeemer in Rio and after some photos we walked back down to the city, down very steep steps to the central plaza – bid farewell to Cassandra - and then back to the hotel - we then went straight out to dinner at about 7:00pm to a local restaurant and then back to the hotel, quite exhausted after our day's outing. The weather today started out fine and sunny but changed in the afternoon to be blustery and cold with a bit of rain.
Tuesday 24th June 2014
Today we were up a bit later and went to breakfast at the place down the street where we went yesterday. Then we walked to the markets and did some more shopping. Today was the final day of the Cusco Festival and many people were in the square watching others perform and march from the Avenue del Sol up to Saqsaywaman, above the city. We then went to the Museum of Art, part of our Cusco Tourist ticket, after which we walked down the Avenue del Sol to the memorial and statue (also in the Tourist ticket) to Pachacutec, the most important and powerful Emperor of the Incas. There were displays on 4 levels as you climbed inside the memorial telling the history of the rise of the Incas, who were based here in Cusco. There were also great views of the city and nearby areas from the top of the building just under the statue. Back up the street for a snack then some final shopping and we then walked back to the hotel for a pre dinner drink. We wrote some emails then went out to a cultural and dance show also as part of our Cusco Tourist ticket, then had dinner and home to the hotel to pack for our trip to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu tomorrow. In bed around 11:00pm. The weather was cool today and a bit cloudy but fine.