We took a whirl wind tour from Puno to Cusco called the Ruta del Sol (Route of the Sun). Our $40US bus trip of 10 hours started at 7:30 a.m. on Inka Express with our first stop at Pukara an archaeological site in a pre-Hispanic city. It is known for its statues and monuments. Then off to La Raya the highest point along the way at 4335 m to view the snowy Andes reaching for the heavens, and to have the opportunity to buy more ‘precious stuff’, yup for a “good price” too. Of course one always needs food along the way so we visited the town of Sicuani and had a Buffet lunch where we got to try all kinds of traditional dishes. After filling our stomachs and looking at more “precious stuff” we got back in the bus to go to the Temple of the supreme God of the Inka at Radchi, here we only had 7 minutes to wonder around after the site had been explained to us, and this was definitely a place you could spend an hour or so….oh well next time?? Last on the list was the church de Andahuaylillas (the “Sistine Chapel” of the Americas). They are restoring the church but you can still see the amazing paintings and of course the glitz of all the gold.
Finally we arrived in Cusco at 5:30 p.m., where we were picked up by our hostel representative (Pirwa) and as we made our turn towards the main square, the Plaza de Armas all we could say was WOW, the building and setting is just WOW… the buildings and the setting is amazing.
Our first hostel was on the Plaza de Armas, it was okay but noisy. We met up with our trek operator (Qente Adventure Trips) the next day and made arrangement for our briefing with our guide. We wondered around town for the first couple of days, scouting out warm clothes and places to visit. After two nights we moved around the corner to our new hostel another Pirwa and settled in. The new hostel is clean and confortable but there is disco 2 doors away which starts at 10 p.m. and go until 5 am every night, so ear plugs are in order.
The main square (Plaza de Armas) is bustling with activity day and night and is completely surrounded by beautiful churches, cathedrals and old style buildings. As you wonder around the city you will be approached about every 5 minutes by someone who is trying to get you to go for a massage or to their restaurant. If you want a retreat from having someone bothering you, the municipal police patrol the main square and do not allow anyone to solicit for anything. One thing we notice as we walked around is that if someone is physical challenged or begging, the locals, even if they don’t look like they can afford to give anything, will give something.
Cheryl was down for the count as a cold and altitude caught up to her so much so that the Karen called a doctor. A doctor came to the hostel and 2 days later Cheryl was somewhat up and around and went to the clinic for a follow-up visit, the total cost was $40 US. Cheryl had a week to recover enough to hike the Lares Valley.
While Cheryl was laid up Karen, Deb and Mark toured Cusco. We went on a walking tour one day, it was supposed to be 90 minutes, but turned out it was 4.5 hours and fantastic. While we did go to the main square we also went to several other areas, San Pedro and San Blas being the two most important. San Blas is a rich, touristy area, on the hill, with great old buildings and amazing views. San Blas houses a great French style bakery, which makes amazing sandwiches; we had lunch there while on the tour and went back several times. We also tried fermented Chicha, a corn beer, which I would seriously NOT recommend! San Pedro on the other hand is not touristy. It houses the local market and many, many street vendors. In the market they had about 4 rows of ladies making real fruit slushies and another 4 rows of men and ladies serving a variety of soups. The locals just pull up a stool and enjoy. The Spanish tore down many Inka structures and used the stones to build their own buildings. The Peruvians call the Spanish the destroyers, not just the conquerors.
If you are in Cusco you really must visit the remains of the Sun gods temple. The Spaniards raped the site, but you can still get an idea of its glory. A gentleman approached wanting to guide us, as it turned out he had come to Cusco to study the Inka and as Mark asked him more and more questions he got more and more excited. We had a great tour! We now know how to find the black Llama in the sky, the secret is that the Inka look for the dark (black), were as we look for the stars . The Inka had been great builders; they knew the secrets to earthquake proof their buildings, something that was lost for centuries.
We tried to meet up with our friends Mark and Sam (who we met in Chile) who had just finished the trek but we missed them by a couple of hours. Through e-mail we got some little tidbits on what it was like t and what not to take. Then we met up with our friends Harry and Karen (The Kiwis) who had just got off the Trek that day and had dinner and picked their brains for some more survival tips. Armed with our new found information and questions, the next day we had our trek briefing, our guide was still on a trek so another guide gave us the low down. His enthusiasm added to our excitement. So off we went to buy our last bits of whatever and to pack our 6 lbs worth of “got to have stuff” and the rest of our gear we stored at the hostel.
To continue our training we took a tour to the Scared Valley to see Moray and Maras. Moray looks like a coliseum of walls or spiraling terraces but it was in actual fact a Inka biosphere, where the Inka’s built circular terraces to determine the best crops to grow at various altitudes and temperatures. As the terraces spiral down the temperature difference from the top to the bottom is 15 degrees C. Then we were off to see the salt terraces in Maras, a working salt field where salt creeks feed the terrace ponds and the workers, by hand, skim off the salt that the sun has dried. We were late leaving Maras, so the driver and guide decided to try a short cut. That was working quite well until we arrived at the spot that the road was washed out! The guide got out to walk the route we would take with the bus, he was smart! It was not an easy cross country trek in a 45 passenger bus, but we made it!
On the Sunday it was an early night as our van was going to pick us at 4 a.m. the next day. Legs and lungs look-out !