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Back to Cusco

Waiting for the train to Puno

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On July 31st, a Tuesday, we spent another day in Cusco. We had decided to take the train to Puno, and as they only leave on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, we had to wait a day for it. We went up to the Inca fortress of Saqsaywaman, which sits on a hill above Cusco. The stones there were really huge, but there was not much left to suggest how the fortress once looked. The views of the city were nice though, especially from the neighbouring hill where a statue of Jesus overlooks the city.

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Afterwards, we just chilled out at the hostel. I got yet another debilitating headache - I assume they are caused by the altitude - and so I went to bed early on. Alan cooked a nice Thai/Peruvian curry for the other guys at the hostel, and went out on the town with them.

Posted by monkyhands 13:54 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu

Most famous Inca ruin

sunny 15 °C
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On the 29th, we caught the train to Aguas Calientes.

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We brought only a small bag, leaving the rest of our gear in the hostel in Cusco. It took four hours, and the views were excellent - mountains, rivers etc. On arrival to the town, we bought our bus tickets and entry tickets for Machu Picchu.
By midday, we were ready to enter the site. The first thing you notice is the setting, which is absolutely spectacular. You round a corner, and are faced with astonishing views of surrounding mountains and drops offs on either side to the river below. You can really see why they chose this setting, although once again it is a mystery how they managed to get all the stones up there. The ruins themselves are interesting - again with impeccable stonework - but they are dwarfed by the setting, which to me is what makes this place. I mean, the ruins are houses and small temples, as well as stone terraces - no huge pyramids or anything like that. So the setting is what takes it to a higher level in my opinion, and it is indeed a special experience to see this place.

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I will say though, that it is overcrowded and the whole manner of getting here seems too organised and thought out, so you feel like every possible penny is being squeezed out of you along the way. Anyway, we still enjoyed it.
Because we were staying overnight in Aguas Calientes, we had plenty of time to explore the whole place at our own pace, and to just sit and relax. It was fun to sit near the Intihuana - the “sundial” stone (used as a calendar, not a clock), and just watch as one tour group after another came through. Each guide had their own version of the stone’s importance, and of the place itself - basically, no one knows much about Machu Picchu at all, so it’s mostly guesswork. Most of the guides referred to some ‘magic’ energy emenating from the sun stone - and they would get their tour groups to lean in and hold their hands above the stone to feel this energy - no touching, mind you, the energy is too strong for that ;). This made for quite a comical spectacle.

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At around 4 pm we had had our full of Machu Picchu, and returned to Aguas Calientes on the bus, to find a hotel for the night. There are hundreds of them in town, but they are so overprized! OK, so it’s high season - but $50 for a shitty room in a hostel! Anyway, we shopped around and bargained as best we could, and managed to find a double room with bathroom with hot water, for $20. Still not cheap, but manageable. Despite it being high season, a lot of the hotels were quite empty - maybe there is simply too many of them. We had dinner (also overprized) and went to bed.

On the30th of June, we were originally planning to return to Machu Picchu for a second look, but on further reflection, we decided against it. We didn’t feel that the site was big enough to warrant a second visit - and with the bus plus entry it would cost another $100, which we were unwilling to spend on it. So instead, we spent the day in Aguas Calientes, relaxing, and just soaked up the sun. Due to the lower altitude, it gets warmer here than in Cusco, and we took full advantage of that, getting warmed through. We also visited the hot springs which have given the town its name. Despite being dirty, they were quite nice, and they managed to chase the last cold from our bodies.

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At 4 pm we boarded the Vistadome train to return to Cusco. On this more expensive service, they have sky lights in the train for better views of the mountains, and they serve a little snack. Also, they had onboard entertainment, in the form of some “traditional” Andean dancing (basically a guy running manically up and down the aisle), and a later an Alpaca fashion show, in which the train attendants dressed up in Alpaca gear and then try to sell them to you for $100 or more.
The train was slower than on the way out, and when we made it to Poroy station, from which the train had another 1 ½ hours to go, we saw bussed outside advertising a 15 minute trip to Cusco for five soles - we jumped at the chance. We returned to our cold hostel in Cusco, where we had our bags.

Posted by monkyhands 13:47 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Cusco

Former capital of the Inca empire

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On July 25th, we waited around in Nasca all day, for an evening bus at 8 pm. There was nothing much to do in the ton, and so we were quite bored. We caught the bus, had a meal served and went to sleep.

On July 26th we woke up after a horrible night on the bus. All the hairpin turns on the mountain roads had made me ill and nauseous all night. At around 10 am we arrived in Cusco. The town looked much larger than I expected, coming in on the bus and looking over the valley, at about 3600 meters altitude, in which it is set. Still, you could see that it had many, many old colonial buildings, and even caught sight of some remaining Inca walls. We checked into the Osiris hostel that we had booked online. It is set in a nice, quiet area called San Blas - a bit uphill from the center. The area has lots of hostels and restaurants lining the narrow cobbled streets, and it is quite idyllic. The hostel itself was in a lovely colonial building, with lots of character. Unfortunately, the service there was a bit off, and the showers were not really hot (a problem, since the altitude makes Cusco quite cold).

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After checking in, we went to the train station to buy tickets for the train up to Aguas Calientes, from where Machu Picchu is reached. We knew it was high season and the tickets sell out fast this time of year, so we were prepared to be flexible on or dates of departure and return, but we had decided to at least spend a night in Aguas Calientes, and perhaps visit the ruins twice. We managed to get the cheaper backpacker train up there on Sunday morning, and then the more exensive Vistadome service back on Monday afternoon. Neither of the services are cheap - especially considering we were in Peru - but bar the four day Inca trail, there is no other way up there. (Although, to save a few bucks, we could have gotten a bus to the station of Poroy or even Ollantaytambo, and then caught the train from there - but we didn’t think it was worth the hassle).
After securing the train tickets, we walked around Cusco for a bit, but we were exhausted from the bus ride, and were really feeling the change in altitude, so we went to bed early.

July 27th we spent most of the day watching a never-ending parade taking place in the Plaza de Armas. The 28th is Independence Day here in Peru, but they celebrate a day early in Cusco, in order to avoid coinciding with the events in Lima the following day. The parade was great for people watching, and Alan took lots of photographs of the people there. The parade seemed to include every institution in Cusco - soldiers, school students, kayakers (?) firemen, divers (??), dog patrols, SWAT etc. We were still feeling the altitude, and enjoyed taking it easy and just watching all this pass by.

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July 28th, we took an organised tour - which we normally shun - in order to see some of the other Inca ruins in the area around Cusco, known as the Sacred Valley, before heading up to Machu Picchu. The all day bus-tour took us to three Inca sites: Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Chinchero. The organised setting had its downsides, as they always do - waiting for others, and then being rushed through things you might like to spend more time on - but the sites themselves were amazing. The Inca stonework is so precise and strong, it blows your mind. They way they manage to fit the stones to each other - very cool. And the settings as well were stunning - Pisac for example, is perched on a high mountain ridge. We had to climb a narrow path hugging the mountain side to get up there. How they managed to get the huge stones up there is a mystery to me. I could barely drag myself up there, wheezing in the thin air, let alone carry a stone… Anyway, despite the tour group setting, we had a great day out.

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Posted by monkyhands 13:21 Archived in Peru Comments (2)

Nasca

Ancient lines on the pampa

sunny 20 °C
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On July 22nd we thus boarded the bus heading for Nasca on the south coast. The bus ride was uneventful - the landscape was much the same as that of the previous day. Sand dunes, desert, mountains with no life, except for in a few green river valleys. We made it to Nasca after about seven hours. It’s a smallish, sandy town in the middle of a desolate desert area. We booked into the least overprized hotel we could find - Hospedaje Nasca Sur, across from the hospital. Thay charge 45 soles, whereas Estrella del Sur next door charges 70 for exactly the same kind of room.

July 23rd was a nice, warm and sunny day in Nasca. We slept in - tired from all the travelling over the last few days. Then we went for some food in restaurant Los Angeles. Conveniently, the owner there also books plane tours over the Nasca lines, which is what brought us to the town of Nasca in the first place. We booked a trip through her for the next day, then had a nice breakfast with mate de coca on the side. Then we went to sort out some other practicalities - we booked a bus onto Cusco for the day after tomorrow, put in a reservation for seats on the Machu Picchu train from Cusco for the 31st of July, send some postcards, and booked a hostel for our first night in Cusco. All that sorted, we had a well deserved day of R&R.

On the 24th, we were picked up from the hostel by the lady from the Los Angeles restaurant, and she took us to the little airport and introduced us to the pilot. We waited around for a slot to open up, and around 10 am we boarded the tiny six seater Cessna plane, and took off across the plains of Ingenio around Nasca. The flight lasted 30 minutes, and rolled and rocked like a rollercoaster, making my stomach protest.

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But this was well worth it for a look at these amazing lines and figures! Over an area of 500 sq km, the flat, dry plain is covered in a myriad of lines and figures, criss-crossing each other and forming a huge network over the landscape.

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Straight lines are interspersed with huge triangles and trapezoids, looking like giant arrows on the soil.

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Among these are scattered figures of animals, plants and people - these are smaller than the lines and trapezoids, but are still 90-120 meters long.

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The lines are created by removing darker stones from the surface, to expose the lighter rock underneath. All in all the 500 sq km area contains around 300 figures, and 70 animal and plant drawings - and who knows how many straight lines. The lines and figures are thought to have been created by the Nasca people around 900 BC - 600 AD. Various theories state that they are anything from an astronomical calendar, ritual walkways related to a water cult, giant running tracks, alien landing sites, and representations of drug induced hallucinations. Alan favours this last theory - as he put it: “they must have been fucked up”. Whatever their reason, the lines are an amazing feat, and they must have taken ages to create. They are also beautiful and mysterious to look at, and the few that you get to see on the fly-over were absolutely amazing! We saw a whale, a man (often referred to as an astronaut due to the shape of his head), a dog, a monkey, a bird known as a condor (which it is not really, due to the shape of its beak), a flamingo, a hummingbird, a spider, a parrot, a tree and an odd figure known as the hands.
After the plane ride, we went to a restaurant with an Italian couple who had been on the plane with us. Here, we ran into another Italian couple who were on their honeymoon. The six of us ended up spending nine hours in the restaurant, drinking beer, having some food, and just talking for ages. It was a great day, and in the end we said goodbye to the others who were heading out on a night bus, and went to bed.

See more pictures from Nasca on Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/divingdog5

Posted by monkyhands 21:40 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Lima

Getting to Peru

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On the 20th, we managed to get space on the bus. But the wait had made us restless, and we decided to spring for the 24 hour bus all the way to Lima, Peru, rather than stopping along the North coast. LONG ride, but it went more or less ok. The border crossing was fine, and the bus was a very comfortable double-decker, with movies on board, and three meals a day (but not good meals, unfortunately). The seats reclined enough that you could comfortably sleep for most of the night. In Tumbes, about half an hour after the border crossing, two Peruvian men boarded the bus and went to sleep in their seats. Shortly after this, the bus was pulled over by the police, who came on the bus carrying semi-automatic rifles. They took the two men off the bus, and then thoroughly searched their seats and the toilets, apparently looking for a knife or other weapon (so they said). They never explained further, but we gather that the men must have robbed something in Tumbes, or perhaps stabbed someone. Either way, we never saw them again, and soon the bus was on its way again. We managed to fall asleep early on.

On the 21st, we woke up to find that the bus was behind schedule by several hours - shit! As if 24 hours wasn’t long enough. We were driving very slowly, but they never gave us any info as to why. We rolled on slowly through the drab coastal landscape of Peru - sand and sand dunes as far as the eye can see, and barely any life, apart from semicircular plastic tents housing chicken farms. The landscape seemed the perfect set for a Star Wars movie. Eventually, after almost 30 hours, we made it to Lima. Not a very inviting city we thought. Or perhaps we were just still restless and itching to move. Anyway, we booked a ticket straight away, to continue on to Nasca the next day (Peruvian town, not a racetrack). We spent a restful night in Lima, had some food and drinks in the pleasant Miraflores suburb.

Didn't really have time to take any pictures in Lima - just passing through.

Posted by monkyhands 21:38 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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