01.06.2010 - 25.06.2010
An exploding volcano on the West coast of Ecuador delayed our journey to Guayaquil in Ecuador after the Galapagos Islands. Our flight was re-routed to Quito, then Mansa and from there a bus dropped us off into Ecuador´s biggest city late at night.
We checked into La Casa Romana which was essentially just someone´s apartment and ended up staying 3 days, during which we did little more than sort out photos from the Galapagos, try to arrange various tours in Peru, relaxed and ventured out to the church 444 steps up overlooking the city.
On the afternoon of the 31st we boarded a bus bound for Lima and the following afternoon we arrived. The time actually went reasonably quickly - a few films, a book, some sleep and some truly stunning scenery. The road followed the coast down much of Peru. Endless dunes to our left sweeping down to the deserted Pacific ocean. At one point the road builders in their wisdom had decided to construct the road a few hundred metres up these mammoth dunes. As we looked out of the window we came perilously close at times to the edge of the road and the sloping sand dune. Having been on dunes before I´m not convinced it was particularly safe and sturdy. Anyhow, we made it to Lima and checked into the Flying Dog Hostel.
Once a flight had been organised for very early the next day there was little time to do much exploring. The Miraflores area of Lima where we were staying was very pleasant. Our understanding was that the rest of Lima was not quite so nice - hence our speedy trip out. We ate at a lovely little Italian place (time enough for Peruvian cuisine later on we reckoned) and then turned in early.
Alarm call at 3am. At the airport by 4am. 'You must be there 2 hours early', we were told. And so at 4.05am after checking in, we had a long wait until 6am.
The flight took us over the Andes. Snowy mountain peaks seemed to provide a natural air route to Cusco for us. The landscape a little below the wings was fantastic.
Cusco is the most touristy destination in South America. Even before picking up our bags at the airport we were inundated with hotels and tour agencies offering their services. Pictures of Machu Picchu proudly adorned every available wall space reminding us as to why people came here. Getting a taxi in Peru is no easy business - or at least getting a fair(ish) price for one is difficult anyway. $20 US was met with laughter. $10 US was politely declined and eventually we got one for somewhere near $4 US - a little more than the going rate.
We checked into Pirwa Del Corregedor on the Plaza Del Armas - the main square in Cusco. It was early but still the shops were open for business - as were the touts on the streets offering us extraordinary deals to Machu Picchu. The main aim of the day was to organise a trip to Machu Picchu as well as a tour out to the Amazon Rainforest. This was made easy to an extent by the sheer volume of places offering tours - but, the enticing cozy little cafes and the events taking place in the square meant that our attention was often drawn elsewhere.
We had arrived at the beginning of the 2 day religious holiday celebrating Corpus Christi. The square was awash with dancing, music and parades for 2 days. The first day was mostly dancing. Well, dancing of a sort. One dance originating somewhere from the highlands involved nothing more than a couple of men whipping each other as hard as possible round the legs with knotted rope...! It was painful just to watch.
Other dances and bands had people dressed up coloufully waving cloths and rattling about with each other, twisting, turning and singing in time to the music. Everyone was enjoying themselves and seemingly oblivious to the onlookers many of whom were tourists.
The second day of festivities went long, long into the night. In the morning a mass was held outside of the main cathedral. Hoardes of people filled the large plaza and the place was excitedly charged - even throughout the mass. Balloons, ice-cream sellers, bands, dancers, locals, tourists, dressed up children, the endless flashing and whirring of cameras all filled the air under the blazing sun.
After the mass about 12 large floats with religious figures atop were carried around the square. Each one took about 3 or 4 hours to get around. They looked heavy and it took up to 50 men to carry them. At times the pain was etched on their faces as they struggled to keep these floats aloft. We managed to score ourselves a balcony view of the proceedings for much of the time.
Each float belonged to a particular village or group of people and was followed by a brass band, several flag and banner waving townspeople and preceded by a bunch of suited up and medal decorated dignitaries. The noise and the energy and the excitement of the day was incredible - and utterly absorbing.
The 2nd of June was our 6th wedding anniversary. It was a lovely place to spend it. Although, Cusco is well over 3000 metres high and once we´d awoken in the morning our heads felt the result of the wine and altitude mix. We tried to eat in the Inka cafe but it was full and so ate next door at an Italian place.. Very nice though. The following evening we ate at Paddy´s Bar - for no good reason other than the shepherd´s pie and bread and butter pudding etc... We kept telling ourselves that we must eat local....
And so, in a nearby square we found a food market. Now, I used to enjoy trying out all sorts of different foods - over the years I´ve had: ostrich, crocodile, emu, kangaroo, wart hog, reindeer, bugs, dolphin!, buffalo etc... etc... , but, like in China when snake, locust, seahorse and various animal anatomy was on offer, I find myself these days preferring what I know. And so at lunch time we walked by the endless stands of baked Guinea Pig and ended up having a salad somewhere.
The square was relatively quiet. The excitement of the previous 2 days was over. A perfect opportunity to catch up with Marsha´s writing, all the photos and videos from the Galapagos etc.... Besides, the previous 2 days had been frenetic, and, some fairly energising days lay ahead...
We hired a taxi for the day and headed out to see some of the sights in the neighbouring regions of Cusco. Only a few minutes up the road smoke started bellowing out of the bonnet and we pulled in to the nearest garage. Despite the driver assuring us amidst the smoke that his car was just fine, we ended up with another taxi.
We visited Incan ruins, ancient terracing, salt pans and further incan ruins set high in the hills with beautiful mountains as a backdrop. The Spanish on their arrival many years ago destroyed many buildings and also built new ones upon the foundations of the Incan efforts. The result is a chaotic assortment of buildings encompassing many different eras and styles.
The terracing was built in concentric circles and we walked down and around them. The Andean mountains peaked over the hills behind. It was a stunning setting. As we drove from place to place we kept stopping the car to take photos of the scenery as we passed. Fields of golden wheat with snowy mountains behind. Crystal clear lakes set amid hills. Incan ruins built into hillsides. The salt flats were probably as impressive as anything we saw in the day. They filled a valley - these small rectangular white basins in which salt collects. We walked along the edges and around them for ages.
We were eventually dropped in the town of Pisaq just as it got dark and we checked into the Hotel Pisaq. Early the next morning, by the time we got up, the huge Saturday market was in full swing. Local people from miles around, all dressed in their traditional clothes, descend to Pisaq market every Sunday. It was colourul, noisy and chaotic. The smell of Barbequed meat wafted over the stalls. By about 10am hoards of tourists arrived - many of them Americans with huge cameras pointing them in the faces of the market sellers. It has been the French and the Americans that have for us been the worst. Pointing cameras in faces without so much as a ´do you mind´or an offer of payment. It´s as though the Peruvian peole were just their photographic subjects and nothing more - no respect at all. There, got that off my chest.
Anyhow, once these tourists arrived we set off on the long walk up to the Pisaq ruins 600 metres above the town. It was an exhausting walk - steepness and altitude adding to the difficulty. But as we climbed higher, we passed more and more Incan ruins and the scenery became ever more spectacular. Steep terracing filled the sides of the hills, and mountains appeared over the hills towering above us.
After eventually making it to the top and wandering the main ruins for a couple of hours we caught a taxi back down and then headed back to Cusco. We had a meeting to attend - for we were off to the Amazon in the morning...