Our aim was to get to Ecuador by Christmas time, but we were running out of time. So, having already done Peru a couple of times, we decided to make our way directly to Cuzco. Home and base to the infamous Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, yes it’s touristy, but it never disappoints. We got in nice and early, as ridiculously early. We dumped our stuff in a cheap and cheerful hostel and then made our way to Saksayhuaman (known as Sexy Woman on the gringo tourist trail). A two-kilometre uphill climb from (the already high 3300 metre high) Cuzco, the sprawling Inca site is truly impressive and offers to arrest views over Cuzco, especially at dawn when we arrived. Whilst Cuzco is gorgeous, the government has totally jumped on the tourist bandwagon and charges an arm and a leg for everything! Not if you get there early and evade the opening times though!
Sacsayhuaman was eerily peaceful and tranquil so early in the morning, and although we were tired it seemed to recharge our batteries. I have always maintained that the energy around Cuzco is simply amazing. Despite its monstrous size, today’s visitor still sees only about 20% of the original structure. Our friends, the Spaniards, tore down the walls soon after the conquest and used the blocks to build their own houses in Cuzco. Despite this, the town of Cuzco is simply delightful. It’s aesthetically gorgeous!
We decided to skip all of the paid and touristy stuff on this trip but still delighted in walking around the town and doing a few other things close to town. We found a brilliant vegan restaurant called Green Point, close to where we were staying, where the food was so good and well-priced that we went back several times. Sooooo good that I believe that they opened up their second store in March of this year. Let me repeat, soooo good, that even the carnivores were going back for more!!!! I am not going to lie, after months of mostly below average food in Bolivia … fried food (which I mostly don’t eat), bread and pasta (which I don’t eat), fried chicken (which I don’t eat) … this was like the bomb! The market food, juices and produce were also great here. Ah, to be able to eat well again.
A hub of cultural activity, one night we went to a free concert presented in one of the halls in the central plaza of Cuzco. Put together by the Faculty of Geological Engineering and organised by the Cultural Group of Folkloric Dances the event was called “Dances of my country”. It was a great night!
|Cuzco by night.|
|The salt ponds of Maras.|
Over the years I have been back to Peru, and especially Cuzco, several times. I have been fortunate to have done the Inca Trail twice and Machu Picchu three times. I had never seen Maras and Moray, so in a bid to do something a little different, along with our Brazilian friend Paula, who we had met up with again in Cuzco, we visited them both. About 40 kilometres from Cuzco, the road passes through the infamous and breathtaking Sacred Valley, the heart of the Inca Empire. Maras is known for its salt ponds perched up on a hill. Used since Incan times, they are still being used by locals today. You can also buy the rock salt from them, which leaves most of the packaged stuff you buy today for dead! Moray, on the other hand, is a set of concentric circles, or depressions, which were most probably used as an irrigation system in Inca times. Unfortunately, we only got to see the latter from the side of the road, as we were not allowed to purchase a ticket just for the one site, and the administrators were adamant that we should pay the USD$27.00 to see the site! The ticket was to enter four sites, but I had already seen the other three over the years. Yes, I did strike up an argument! How unusual! Over the years the Peruvian government has become very greedy, and it would be fair to say that prices, especially around Cuzco, have jumped up exorbitantly! Even the locals were telling me that it was a rip off. Ah, the price you pay for tourism!
|The concentric circles of Moray.|
Pisac, about 33 kilometres from Cuzco and in the Sacred Valley, is also a spot that never disappoints. Sunny Pisac is a bit lower than Cuzco at an elevation of 2715 metres. It has traditionally been known for its market (which has become way too touristy for my liking!) but its real pull are the ruins and Inca Fortress perched up on the hill above the town. This Inca citadel lies high above the village on a plateau with a plunging gorge on either side. There’s a steep path running to the top … we know, we did it! But if there was ever a worthwhile sweat it out walk, this had to be it! The views were nothing short of WOW! And so few tourists or travellers actually do it, unlike Machu Picchu, which I have been told is coated with tourists 24/7. We felt like we had the entire place to ourselves.
Around town, we visited the fascinating Coca Museum history. Where else would you find a one-stop-shop on the history, use and influence of the coca leaf? No visit to Cuzco would be complete without walking past the infamous 12-sided stone, probably the finest example of Inca masonry. Having said that, we could do without the dude dressed up as an Inca! He’s there all the time, and I reckon he’s making more money from photos than his Inca counterparts ever were!
Our first few nights were spent in a hostel whose owners really had no idea about, well, how to run a hostel! We got pots with holes in the kitchen, and the rain almost flooded out our room one night! We did have spectacular views of the city from the rooftop though as well as meeting a gorgeous German family travelling with their two kids, whom we really hit it off with. Florence and ……. were about six months into a two year trip around the world with their kids. Travellers from way back they had decided even before they had children that they would ‘invest’ in the travel experience when they would have kids by travelling around with them.
|Alex and Sonia.|
We ended up moving to Casa Sihuar, owned by our lovely friends Sonia and Luis and run by their family. The hostel is up the hill near San Blas, in a gorgeous neighbourhood. It had been years since we had seen Sonia and the gang. It was lovely to hang out with them and reminisce. As always, they treated us like family. We spent a few days there hanging out, cooking, chatting and drinking coffee. It was here that we met Antonio, an Italian who was starting up a pastry business with some of the gang at Sihuar …Ayni Pasticceria Fina is an Italian/ Peruvian fusion. Whilst we were there we tried their panettone (a traditional Italian sweet bread) … it was to die for.
We could have spent another few weeks here, but time was flying, and Christmas approaching. We had originally planned to stop in Lima for a few days (it has never been my favourite city!), but after a night bus over and it taking us a couple of hours just to get from the outskirts of Lima to the central bus station we decided to move on. Lima is usually busy, but with Christmas less than two weeks away it was mad. People, buses, everything everywhere. Where to next? We asked a few questions and buses were filling up fast, with some destinations already virtually impossible to get to. We looked at our map and decided on Chiclayo That would take us close enough to the Ecuadorian border.
|Valley of the Pyramids.|
I had been to Chiclayo before, but it was Alex’s first time. After Cuzco’s cold climate, Chiclayo was sunny and warm and only 13 kilometres away from the beach. It was a nice spot to stay in for a few days. The city centre is colonial in style and lovely to just walk around and absorb the culture. Its real drawcard, though, is the surrounding archaeological sites. We spent a day at Tucume, the Valley of the Pyramids. A short bus ride from Chiclayo, it’s actually the largest pyramid complex in the world. It covers an area of over 540 acres and encompasses 26 major pyramids and mounds. Of course, many of them cannot be clearly seen. The site pre-dates the Incas and was occupied by the Lambayeque/Sican (800-1350AD), Chimu (1350-1450AD) and finally the Inca (1450-1532AD). We spent an entire day walking around ‘some’ of the massive site, and although tiring it was well worth it.
|The Valley of the Pyramids, Tucume.|
We had to go to the beach … or did we? We ended up at Pimental and spent a couple of hours there, walking along the beach. I thought it was a great place to take in the culture and watch the fishermen, but as far as a beach goes … I am a snob! I am Australian!
And so, it was time to go to Ecuador! After a bit of a runaround in Chiclayo as to where we needed to catch a bus from to get to Ecuador, we finally made it, only days before Christmas! Northern Peru is very, very, very arid! The odd thing is that literally as soon as you cross the border the scenery changes dramatically to lush. It was also interesting to note Peru’s very poor north to Ecuador’s rather comfortable south.
Let the Ecuadorian adventure begin!
‘We met for a reason, you’re either a blessing or a lesson.’ – Frank Ocean
|Crossing from Bolivia to Peru.|
|The many colours of Bolivian corn.|
|These little piggies went to market.|
|Porridge with coca leaf powder. No, it’s not cocaine!|
|Cuy … pet or dinner?|
|View from Maras.|
|With Sonia, Casa Sihuar.|
|With the family at Casa Sihuar.|
|New friends in Cuzco.|
|Goodbye Sonia … I will miss you!|
|Finger Lickin’ Good … Peruvian chocolate!|
|Peruvian street art.|
|Fishermen on Pimental Beach.|