Trip Start Apr 02, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Peru  ,
Saturday, June 14, 2008

Cusco was considered as the center of the world during the Inca Period.  The biggest city and capital of the Inca Empire "Tahuantisuyo" (that reached parts of Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Chile). It was then taken by the Spanish conquerors.
Loki is our center in Cusco. We are staying in the Hostel run by a bunch of Irish and Kiwis and itīs impressive.
The 24 of June of every year is the celebration of the winter solstice, in other words the beginning of the New Year of the Sun - the Inti Raymi. Itīs the second biggest festival in South America and tourists flock to the town to celebrate. We had booked accommodation well in advance.
Took it very easy in the run up to the Inca Trail. īPureī living we will call it!

***After the Inca Trail***

On Thursday the 26th, we did decided to tour the Sacred Valley. As soon as we got into the bus we were greeted by a lovely couple from Lima. Alfredo and Fanny were on one week's holiday.Really nice couple. First stop, a local market, where stall owners were intent on selling something "Alpaca" to us..Michael however had been warned they weren't real, so spent the day raising eyebrows when they would suggest it was pure Alpaca.
Back on the bus Alfredo showed us his purchases. He had stocked up.. with a chessboard among the local handmade items. That's if they really were local and homemade, right Grechy?! He bought us pens, that didn't work.
Second stop was at the local craft market of Pisac. Yet again Alfredo went made and finished by buying us choclo - corn on the cob with cheese. We then headed up to the Pisac ruins, which after a good hike
were well worth it. Walk in the park after Inca.
Next, a buffet lunch. Alfredo at this stage was driving us insane by trying to buy us lunch. NO ALFREDO! So he resorted to buying drinks. After lunch, Ollantaytambo which is approx 97kms from Cusco. The Incas built it as a fort that included a temple, agricultural terraces and an urban area. The town of Ollantaytambo is
called a living Inca town since the inhabitants maintain very old practices and customs.  The locals distinguish themselves by wearing red clothing that identifies them as members of a unique family.
The local children were practicing a dance on the farming terraces to the beat of a drum, they were getting ready for an upcoming fiesta. 
The final stop was the local village of Chinchero. We got a demonstration in the creation of Alpaca (eyebrows raised) and llama hair into bags, hats, belts and jumpers. We haggled with a ten year old to push down her price for a bracelet. We have no shame.

***Mountain biking***

On Friday we went mountain biking. We were joined by Gap year students, Johnny and Andy from Manchester and Scott the mountain bike expert from Canada and their Gap year guide.
Our guide Aurelio told us at the departure point not to tell the GAP year kids we paid less than them for the bike ride. Index finger to nostril, wink, wink.
The first stop was the Archaeological site of Moray where there were four agricultural terraces. Many believe it was an important agricultural center for the Incas. We had lunch and cycled through the local town of Moras. From there it was all downhill. Eh, by downhill, that means - down a rocky mountain, dodging more rocks at ridiculous speeds - easy left, easy right - a Sega rally experience. We all made it to the Maras Salt Mines without any injuries. The only moans were from the Canadian cyclist who wasn't happy with the 'crappy bikes'. We thought they were grand!
At the salt mines, locals channel the salt water that bubbles to the surface from a local spring towards man-made wells. Now the Science bit: exposure to sun results in evaporation of the water. The salt that remains on the surface is later transported to the market where it is sold or bartered for corn and potatoes.
We got a bus home not far from there, very tired.
The last days in Cusco involved hanging out with the other travellers we'd met in South America (we'd all converged on Cusco for the 24th). Our South American travels were nearly at an end, a sad moment of realisation.  
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