Let’s get ruined!

Trip Start Feb 06, 2011
Trip End Jul 24, 2011

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

So – picture the scene. We have just completed 5 days of arduous trekking. The only thing that has got us through the particularly miserable muddy moments is the celebration at the end. We arrive back in Cusco on a Friday – a perfect opportunity to experience the best nightlife Cusco has to offer. James has even heard rumours of an electro house night at the bizarrely named Mama Afrika's.

One small problem: La Ley Seca AKA the Dry Law. The day we arrive back is exactly three days before Election Day and the Peruvian Government in their wisdom has introduced a law that no alcohol AT ALL can be sold in the three days preceding an election. It kind of worries me that they cannot trust their entire populace not to get off their faces before something as sobering as voting in a new president (particularly when you see some of the candidates: "yes, my father is in prison for embezzlement and organising death squads, but I do want to continue his good work…") Incidentally the candidate who made that statement, Keiko Fujimori, came second and so will be in the run-offs. Seems even no booze does not make for the most sober judgement.

Luckily we had a little forewarning and had managed to procure a large bottle of rum, which warmed our cockles before we set out. The bars / restaurants have also found innovative ways to get round the law. We went to one great little restaurant called Fallen Angel, which served us the most delicious steak (or in Amanda’s case, a veggie alternative) on top of a table made out of a bathtub and full of fish. They also had the most impressive cocktail list (complete with espresso martini!) served out of coffee mugs in case the police came a-knocking! Another (more salubrious) joint said they could serve us shots – but only if we drank them at the bar. Needless to say, Mama Afrika’s was not open that weekend so James’ quest to find decent house music continues.

Of course I have just spent three paragraphs waffling about booze when we were in one of the most culturally rich areas of all Perú! Onto more sensible matters. Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire and thus has some of the most impressive ruins on the continent. Saksaywamán (known by the gringos as its mnemonic 'sexy woman’) is a fortress that overlooks the city of Cusco and is made up of gigantic stones which must have required unfathomable manpower and strength to move even a short distance. Saksaywamán was also the stronghold of the main Inca rebellion against Spanish colonial rule led by an Inca guy called Manco Capac. Despite some valiant efforts, they lost and the Spanish subsequently used the site as a quarry to build their own houses – which takes somewhat away from the majesty of the place.

After exploring a bit more of Cusco, we decided to spend a few days in the Sacred Valley. We headed first to a little town called Pisac, which is known particularly for its artisan market. We picked up a few mementos, including a rather cool wooden Inca warrior who we have christened Manco Capac (see what we did there?!) The Pisac residents also have a bizarre tradition of building gigantic mansion houses. Not for themselves though, but for their guinea pigs! Try not to get too sentimental – it’s merely a holding pen before the roast them up and serve them for dinner! Pisac is also the sight of some lesser-seen ruins which look somewhat a mini Machu Picchu. By now of course we were becoming quite the Inca experts and noted the sun temple, Andean cross and trapezoidal arches (ooh!) without the help of a guide. Which was lucky – as we were the only tourists there! The countryside of the Sacred Valley is also a sight in itself – lush-looking green valleys and waterfalls. No wonder the Incas placed it at the heart of their empire.

The next stop on our trip was Ollantayambo and there was no quiet perusing of the ruins to be had here; it is a major stop on the gringo trail and as such we were surrounded constantly by tour groups complete with badges and flags. Nonetheless it’s an impressive site. Unlike many of the other sites we have seen, Ollantayambo ruins are based very much in the town itself. Many terraces are built into the mountainside, with a part-built Sun Temple at the top. The guides we could overhear claimed that the walls of the Sun Temple were originally covered in gold – but even the polished stone looked impressive. In particular the Incans had the set the huge stones in a way that would prove resistant to earthquakes, showing incredible engineering knowledge and foresight.

Finally we visited the mysterious ruins of Moray. We made it despite a slightly nutty taxi driver who – insisting we took the scenic route – proceeded to drive alongside some train lines through huge lakes of water and on winding cliff roads. Luckily it was worth the risk: these ruins are unlike any others we have seen on our travels. They consist of two huge basins containing layer upon layer of concentric terraces. The scale of the construction is what makes it impressive – but the fact is that archaeologists are still puzzling over its purpose. The most prominent theory is that each terrace represents a very different ecosystem so the Incas used it to determine the optimum growing conditions for plants and crops. A pretty expensive nursery, if you ask me…

We really loved Cusco – it’s an incredible city to explore with winding cobbled streets and a bizarre, constant juxtaposition of colonial cathedrals and Inca fortresses. To make the point – there are even some ruins in the centre of town that consist of Inca foundations and walls with a Catholic church built on top! Cusco has a great feel to it, but we were also glad to spend some time in the Sacred Valley which (once the tour groups have departed) has a much more tranquil air to it. It almost feels like you’ve gone back in time. Leaving Cusco was a pretty sad occasion, particularly because it signalled the end of Amanda’s stay with us. We were to have one final day and night in Lima before she headed back home. There booze was definitely on sale – with disastrous results…
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