Cusco and the Sacred valley
16.12.2008 - 21.12.2008 22 °C
After a somewhat stressful journey on a bus we finally arrived to the heart of the Inca civilazation, Cusco. With a recommended hostel in mind we were wisked off to the old part of the city. Our first impression was of the old coblestone roads, the width of a single car leaving only a 20cm gap for a pedestrian to cling to the the witewashed walls of the collonial buildings.
We spend a day crawling around the city discovering the amazing syndication of two archictechural styles, the great Inca stones and the Spanish tradition of plazas, courtyards and intricate little balconies. The Conquistadors desecrated the Inca sites by using the stone temples and fortresses as a quary to build their own cathedrals and homes. Most building in the old neighbourhoods retain the original Inka stone foundation, washed clean for display, these foundations hold up the various collonial establishments. Walking these streets brings the rich history of this place to life. On every block there is a grand chathedral dating back to 17th century but unfortunatly we weren´t able to enter most of them as they were either closed or have exuberant entry fees.
The only negative aspect about Cusco is that it heavily relies on tourists. It is low season at the moment, and everyone in hospitality is despirate to attract cliental. Even the street vendors are a constand barrage of harassement, buy this or that, try it on. This gets very hard, to the point where you dont want to approach their stalls but have to find different paths to avoid the harrassment. The prices for tourist attractions keep rising, the tourist is exploited here and made to turn there pocket inside out, entry to Machu Picchu is $US40.
But this this is Perus archiological capital, full of history and vibrant culture, all preserved and sold to the eager tourists. Inka teraces, fortresses and temples. We got hooked and took a tour of the Sacred valley, a journey that took us through the countryside and to three Inka heritage sites: Pisac, Ollytaytambo and Chinchero. The fist two villages are a great exmple of Inka citadells. We learned a bit about the Inca culture and got to appreciate their achitechture, and feel the a bit of sympothy for the distruction that comes with colonisation. The Sacred Valley is well fiting name for the surrounding countryside, which ranges from lush agricultural valleys to high andean mountains still glistening with snow. Its a beauty!!!
For the lack of time and organisation we weren,t able to get on a Inca trail. Although we had done our share of tramping around Machu Picchu nonetheless. For us it was also a challange to keep our expandidure below $US150 each, which is what most tour companies offer for a 2day excurtion to the tourist mecca. To get to the mounain we first caught a train to a small town at the foot of the mountain. Agua Caliente (Hot Water) is transient township for tourists with numerous hospitality outlets. After a good soak in the themal pools, which were some what dissapointing compared to what we are used to in NZ, we prepared for an early rise the following morning.
Awoken by neighbouring roosters and dogs, at 5am we were off to enter the postcard landscape of Machu Picchu. We arrived at the gates of the park early about 6.30 when the soft light of the sunrise was starting to illuminate the site. As we climed the initial terraces we were greeted by a couple of stern llamas doing their bit a keeping the place nice and tidy. Although it may not have been the same feeling of ellation as one would get after three days treck, we were certanly thrilled to finally be here. We were also pleased to share the site with only a handfull of other early birds. We spent our time walking around, admiring and observing some of the native fauna: vascuchas, lizards and numerous birds and butterflies.
Before 8am we started our treck up an adjasant mountain peek Wayna Picchu. This walk is a test of everyones endurance at altitude, its a steep climb up 200 meters of Inca steps. These steps are of various sizes both width and hight, at times next to a slipery cliff drops. Huffing and puffing we made to the top with in 45 min, to enjoy the spectacular view of Machu Picchu and the surrounding country side. Sitting on top of the rocks, we felt on top of the world, closer to the sky and to the Inca dieties.