Apparently there was an earthquakke of 6.4 this morning at ten to six. I slept right thhrough till eight and didnt feel a thing so nothing to report. Maybe Ive been woken by so many strange things it now takes more that an earthquake to getme up.
Wednesday, 18 October 2006
All I intended to do today was buy souveniers but I ended up discovering the grave of Tupac Amaru. Strangely there were no tourists and the church it was indidn't charge entry even though it is right by the qoricancha. Afterwards I walked out for ages, the tourist restaurants were slowly replaced by places doing a 3 course lunch for 2 soles, then even those stopped and the crowd thinned till I came out onto a quiet open place caled Plaza Belen on the top of a hill, it felt a very long way from central Cuzco.
The following are a few random observations I couldn't fit elsewhere.
Recently I was pleased to find that the combination of Spanish tradition and US influence means that there is a mayoral election between jesus and Elvis.
Taxi drivers probably don't vote for Elvis, I was in one taxi which has the following. "Dios es Amor" sign on the windscreen, red carpet fringed in gold tassels on the dashboard, two pictures of saints hanging from the mirror, a large gold crucifix and best of all a plastic statue of the virgin Mary with a halo that flashed in time with the indicators.
They may feel they need the protection as the general rule of the road is to use the horn not the brake but if anything I've been surprised by how good traffic management is here, traffic lights are obeyed and there are traffic police at main intersections. I haven't even seen anyone drive on the wrong side of the road, which is surprising to someone who judges most poor countries by Hanoi.
The trip is very nearly over, there are other things I could write but I need some stories to bore everyone with when I get back. Probably won't blog tommorrow as I'm just flying to Lima and stopping in a hotel till I leave but I may add something on Bogota if I get out of the airport there.
Tuesday, 17 October 2006
The Inca Trail
That was actually easier than I expected, apart from the second day which was sheer hell. I managed to be near the front of the group and didnt feel any pain in my legs until I stepped through the entrance gate at Machu Pichu. Having packed for wild campingI was surprised when there was no need to use my candles, mess tin or iodine tablets. I found it quite amusing to hear people say that this was roughing it while the porters set up their tents and cooked dinner for them.
I have to put in a word about the porters who were amazing. Every day when we left they would saty behind to break camp and pack up all the heavier bits of equipment, then run past us on the trail and have the next camp set up by the time we got there. Our guides Washington and Ephraim spoke excellent English and were very funny, they also told us interesting facts like the fact the 'discoverer' of Machu Pichu 'Meester Hiram Bingham' arrived about fifteen years after the area was opened up by the railway and Inca artefacts began to appear for sale in Cusco.
After three days of glorious sunshine we arrived in rain and mist. I ran to the gate at Intipunku hoping to see something before the clouds closed in but just missed it. After a very wet tour we all went down to Aguas Calientes. It was obviously a tourist town from the fact that prices were in US dollars but it was possible to find hints of local life as well like a restaurant with two entrances one saying 'Tourist Menu and Pizzeria' the other 'Se vende menus economicos y chicha de maiz'.
The main road was actually a railway track, something of a shock to someone used to the idea that train tracks must be seperated from people by high fencing that only the highly trained can go behind rather than something you can casually cross between one shop and the next. In fairness the trains seem to move about walking pace so there is probably less danger. I visited the hot springs which were crowded but otherwise ok hot water felt good after the trail.
Having booked for a second day I returned to the ruins and was pleased to find that even such a popular site has quiet areas so while tor groups queued to climb up to the temple of the sun I wandered around the agricultural terraces and buildings newly cleared from the jungle with only the lizards and birds for company. Finally I rejoined the throng to get the obligatory postcard shot from the watchmans hut before heading back down to the train station.
Thursday, 12 October 2006
I have added photos to this blog so you can get some idea of what it all looks like. For some reason I cant add to entries from last month so those photos are in seperate albums. I've also found out how to turn on comments if you want to say anything about the pictures.
As with everything on here these are the edited highlights.
Tomorrow I leave on the Inca trail so will update in about a week when I get back.
Since I havent taken any photos today here is an earlier picture of a popular local pastime.
Wednesday, 11 October 2006
As a bit of preparation for treking at altitude I walked up to Sacsyhuaman above the city, I was really pleased that it took half an hour instead of the hour the guidebooks suggest, then I realised my hostel is half way up. Part of the way was on road and part on path beside a stream before emerging into the car park at the top of the hill.
Sacsyhuaman consists of two hill with terraces some of them with the giant stone walls typical of Inca sites. Even when you've read about it the skill of carving such massive stones so exactly is still breathtaking. According to guidebooks the site was used as a fortress during the Sapnish conquest but may have been built for something else, no one seems to know what.
The route down was along the only road in Cusco not to have hundreds of taxi's and passed through alotments and the first wood I've seen since leaving the Amazon.
Tuesday, 10 October 2006
Looking to get away from the tourist zone at least for a couple of days I got a local bus to Sicuani, 2 hours south which while not exactly isolated (it's on the main road from lake Titicaca) is deffinitely unvisited. However I was disapointed, the town is largely made of concrete and dominated by a startlingly ugly bridge and council building. Someone has painted these in bright orange and purple to draw attention to them, whereas any decent person would have them buried in the dead of night. Since I was only there for a brief overnight stop I chose a cheap hotel near the bus station. Now I know why it was cheap, the anouncements of buses arriving and departing were clearly audible until about 2am. After that there was a few hours to sleep before the manager put the radio on a 5.30. Not a private radio, but a loudspeaker system designed so everyone could hear it.
I took an early bus to the small town of Raq'chi to see the temple to Virracocha, the only building from Inca times with surviving walls two storeys high. There I was compensated for the bad night by being the only visitor for well over an hour. I also got an excelent guide, Alberto who not only showed me the ruins but took me to visit his family who make pottery for the local markets. He then then got me on the bus back to Cusco as he was on his way to start training as an official guide.
As there are only a few days till I do the trail I've decided to base myself in Cusco and do daytrips, at least that way I'm guaranteed food and sleep. Tommorrow Sacsyhuaman.
Saturday, 7 October 2006
After trturning to Cusco I went today with a group of people from my Hostel to a site called Moray. The journey there was an adventure in itself starting with a local bus ride up through the mountains to the middle of nowhere passing houses made of mud bricks and people ploughing with oxen on tiny patches of farmland. Then a taxi up a dirt track through the cliffs. The site itself is simply breathtaking a deep bowl cut into the landscape hundreds of metres deep and terraced around the sides.
Coming back we were lucky enough to get a taxi all the way which was about five times quicker than the bus and had the same views.
Thursday, 5 October 2006
Well despite all the warnings I still managed to get my sunglhat stolen on the bus here. Though Im tempted to say it was worth it for the stunning views on the high pass between Cusco and Pisac.
PIsac itself is a small town that seems to pretty much shut down in the evenings once the market closes and the coaches of American tourists leave. Maybe because of that and because of the views I really like it here. The only bad thing is that the altitude sickness seems to have recurred and stopped me climbing up to Inca Pisac above the present town.
Wednesday, 4 October 2006
The whole place is like a museum with beautiful Spanish churches and monasteries on every corner and many buildings have Inca stones at the foundation. Yesterday I saw the Cathedral, La Merced monastery and the Qoricancha where a spanish monastery was built over the temple of the sun. The interesting thing is that the Inca walls have survived better than the colonial ones although much of the building has been covered with a modern metal roof which rather spoils the effect.
One of the best things has been just walking round town never knowing whether the next doorway will open into a European style jewlery shop, an open air market in the courtyard or something else. The food is generally good but I have to admit there is no comparisson to Asia where you can pick up delicious stuff on every street corner. Here unfortunately the main local dishes seems to be Pizza and fried chicken though it is possible to get more local dishes if you search.
Today I´m going to get the local bus to either Pisac or Urabamba to spend a few days in the Sacred Valley before I head to anywhere more off the beaten track.
Monday, 2 October 2006
I´ve been in Cusco for nearly 3 days now but thanks to the altitude today is the first day I´ve been able to do anything. Cuzc seems a very pleasant city, if a bit touristy. Most of the buildings are Spanish colonial houses built around courtyards, while many of the churches are built over Inca palaces. Today I went inside La Compañia de Jesus, the largest in the city and saw the entrance to the underground pasages linking several of these sites. The decoration inside the church is incredibly ornate, apparently it was designed in a baroque style but local artists decided that wasn´t complicated enough and added exta carvings and gold.
Tommorrow I hope to see more of the city and maybe make plans to explore the local area.