A la Poursuite des Incas – Peru

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Late June 2016

We had heard some mixed reviews about Peru from other travellers and our plan for the country was a quick visit to the cultural town of Cusco and explore some of the Inca ruins. While there seemed to be endless amounts of activities and archaeological sights to visit in the country, we decided on a few.
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The night bus crossing from Bolivia into Peru was pretty easy and we even had heating on the bus, the first time on our entire trip. During the dinner break, the entire bus station crammed around the TV screen to watch the final of the Copa America as Argentina beat Chile in a penalty shoot out.
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Arriving into Cusco at 5am, we weren’t sure of our accommodation options, but sometimes not having a plan is a good plan. We teamed up with 4 other travellers and found a hospedaje that had cheap beds ready for us. We had to sleep in a single bed as our beds weren’t yet ready, but we didn’t mind a few hours of cuddling.

We decided to attack the town and headed out with Tone, a Thai traveller we met on the bus. First stop was the market. This local gem was the go to point for all food produce from fresh fruit and veg to fish and even local cuy (guinea pig). It also had stalls selling freshly squeezed juices and other delicious meals. We opted for a ceviche (raw fish cooked in lemon and herbs) and shared a delicious mixed plate of sea and river fish. This was washed down with a soup. We couldn’t say no to a fresh juice and knocked one back before exploring the town.
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Working Flat Out

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Guinea Pig (Cochon d'Inde)

Guinea Pig (Cochon d’Inde)

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A very informative stop at the tourism centre yielded many results and we made a plan over the coming days. We decided to skip the famed Machu Picchu sight and opted for a lesser known ruins called Choquequirao. In order to visit this sight, we would need to be self sufficient, camping along the way. We finally found a good store and booked our equipment for the 5 days 4 nights trek.

Before this though we wanted to explore some of the other sites. The next morning, we left early and headed to the town of Pisaq. It was on the bus ride to the town that we encountered our first “wallet-on-legs” issue in Peru. We found a ticket from the previous day that had a $2.50 charge while we were charged $6 per person. We normally turn a blind eye to a few extra cents added on, but this was over double the normal price!

Waiting for an opportune time, Steve went to the bus boy and had a conversation with him about the difference. His excuse was it was the “tourist” price. After some more words (including the word police) and some finger pointing, he relinquished the difference and we received our money back. This was the only warning we needed and every price was double checked from then on.

Above the town, we explored the fantastic ruins of Pisaq. With a semi circle of terraced steps creating a centre piece, we walked amongst the ruined buildings, enjoying the views of the valley below and listening in to tour guides giving snippets of info.
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We asked one guide about a return walk back to Pisaq town and he was very friendly, explaining the way. The walk followed a steep valley and was enjoyable and not difficult. We saw more of the famous terraced steps and arrived into town to run the gauntlet of souvenir sellers.

Whilst searching for a local restaurant, we bumped into the guide who told us about the path. We asked him for his advice on a local restaurant and he again showed us the way, re-establishing our faith in Peruvians after the previous bus ticket incident.

We enjoyed a large meal of soup and a main course. We chatted with him about Peruvian life and he seemed genuinely interested in our cultures, asking Steve about the Aboriginal Australians and telling Sandra some history of France (e.g. How Mr. Parmentier reintroduced the potato as a fancy veg under Louis XVI).

A local bus followed the winding river to the town of Urubamba where we transferred to a minivan to Ollantaytambo. After we sorted our lodgings for the night, we headed to the ruins of Ollantaytambo. Terraces, high roofed houses and ceremonial rocks again made up this site. And the views of the town and valley below were enjoyable.
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Back in town we rendezvoused with our old French friends Etienne and Nathan, who had joined us on our Uyuni salt flat tour. Heading to the local supermarket where we could buy and consume drinks. Our connection with them was instantly rekindled as we chatted about our travels, experiences and what we were planning in the future. Dinner was at a local joint and was nothing special, but the company was good even if the music on the TV terrible.

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It was after we said our goodbyes to the guys that the tables turned for the worst for both of us. Somewhere along the way (probably in the jungle in Rurre), we had caught a stomach infection and it was playing havoc with us. We swallowed some medicine and vowed to battle through the next day.

As the sun slowly turned its light across the valley floor, we surfaced from our slumber and ascended into the fields of the region. Here many different crops are grown and outside a small town called Maras were two interesting sites.
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The first one, Moray, was used by the Incas as an agronomic research base.The circular rings mimicked different growing conditions (humidity, temperature, soil, altitude etc) and here they could “test” which crop would yield the best results. They would then replicate these results out in the fields. It was an interesting archaeological site and one we had not come across in other places throughout Latin America.
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The presence of a small salty stream is the raison d’être for the second interesting site: Las Salineras. About 400 families have teamed up to siphon the saline liquid into hundreds of pools. The high altitude environment creates ideal conditions for the evaporation of the liquid, leaving the rock salt to be cleaned and sold.
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The fact that the whole process has been built on the side of a steep valley is an achievement in itself. The white pools contrast beautifully against the reds and yellows of the surroundings hills and against the vivid greens, blues and blacks of the valley below and mountains above.

The drive back to Cusco was reminiscent of outback Australia, with the dry faded yellow fields and groups of eucalyptus trees, saved for the leering snow capped mountains and occasional alpacas.
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Back in town, we decided we should seek a professional opinion on our health and an hour later, Sandra was hooked up to a drip in an hospital bed. She was dehydrated and required some good juice to be put back into her system. After a longer than expected stay, we were told to get some dinner (chicken noodle soup…Drs’ orders) and take some antibiotics.
This put a rather large dent into our planned hike, but after a day of resting and recovering, we decided we’d tackle the big but easy one, the mother of all Inca ruins: Machu Picchu.

We opted for the half backpackers route which meant a 4 hour collectivo (with a driver that thought he was Schumacher) to a small town and 2 taxis to the end of the road. Here we followed the railway track for 8km, winding its way along the river. This was meant to be off the beaten path, but on our walk we passed about 50 people!
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Arriving into the town of Machu Picchu Pueblo (locally called Aguas Calientes), we located our lodgings (rather nice for the price) and filled our bellies. The early start the next day had us at the ruins just as the sun rose over the mountain, filling the ruins with gorgeous light and revealing the size and majesty of Machu Picchu.
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For us it’s not so much the ruins that are inspiring, but the location in which they sit. Steep cliffs drop away into the valley below and leering mountains act like sentinels, protecting the ancient city from all sides.
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We strolled the site, enjoying the views and the different aspects of each area. At the condor rock, Sandra made guesses about how the bird was formed and was quickly corrected by a guide. Still she chose to focus more on the rooster rock than the condor ones. To be fair, you need quite a good imagination to see the animals in the rocks each time.
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With our loop completed, we decided to head to the back gate of the ruins called the Inca Bridge. This “back door” is a narrow pathway with vertical drops and a small bridge. The Incas booby trapped the small bridge which could halt an enemy advance quickly.
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With the sun at a higher angle, we took a few more pics of the ruins and environment before descending the long path back to the town. We met with our friends Nathan and Etienne again who came all the way to see us and enjoyed their company over dinner and dessert.
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We meet with them also the next day and strolled the train tracks back to town, doing the journey in reverse. The winding roads and hard driving of the driver caused one of the passengers in our collectivo to vomit. Thanks to the quick thinking of his girlfriend it all stayed in a plastic bag.

Back in Ollantaytambo we decided to stay the night and used the opportunity to enjoy Nathan and Etienne’s company a bit longer. Sandra was regularly in tears with laughter and the expression “oh la vache” was blurted out more than a few times.

The remainder of our time was spent in Cusco. We caught up on communications with family and enjoyed good food at a variety of locations. Some of the food really stood out for us but we were dining at more western orientated locations due to the antibiotics.
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Cusco is a nice town and we enjoyed our time in the city. The red bricked houses, many unfinished, stood on the surrounding hills and the mountains beyond were scarred with donkey trails. The cobblestoned streets led to small plazas where children would play, locals would sit and talk politics and tourists would take photos.

From Cusco it was a quick dash to Ecuador, with 2 flights and an overnight bus. Next stop, the home of the theory of evolution….The Galapagos Islands!

Ramble On.

SandS

4 Comments on “A la Poursuite des Incas – Peru

  1. Oh great ! Mafate has been a good training for this trip. It looks so nice. You seem to be really happy, it’s cool. Enjoy day after day lucky people

  2. Those markets do look good and you can’t beat fresh fruit and vegies and fresh juice. Bloody rip-off merchants taking poor tourists to the cleaners, not on old chap! Not a bad way to make a little extra I suppose. Gee, those Incas were well and truly ahead of their times with agriculture and culture. Those salt pools certainly highlight the different colours and the video you ended the blog with was just a great way to finish off your Peru travels.

  3. Trop choupinou le lamaninet!
    Merci encore et encore pour ce blog et vos photos!
    Bises

  4. Merci encore et encore pour ce blog et vos photos!
    I love your dancing steps as you move the camera around in a circle, and you’re laughing about it! It’s good to see the locals in your photos.. sooo different from Oz. I think you’ve got some cute little hats from Peru (from fx) waiting for you here.. Looking forward to Galapagos post. X mum

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