Cusco and Machu Picchu

Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Cusco, a City That Tourists Can Call Their Own

Cusco, the once capital of the mighty Inca Empire, was conquered by the Spanish and is now one of the most famous colonial cities in the Americas. It's become a huge tourist centre and also a major place for Overseas students to learn Spanish. A day in Cusco and the only Spanish we'd manage to practice was "No Gracias!" about 10,000 times to the endless touts that jump on you every few metres, down every central street. They cover every commercial angle imaginable, from Tours and Restaurants through to Souveniers and massages, and will literally try and drag you into their establishment.

Although we've seen what seems like a hundred Colonial Cities/Towns/Villages since we started our Latin American adventure, touts aside, Cusco really is something quite special. The city has been so well preserved, with beautiful public squares, narrow cobbled streets and attractive buildings full of so much character. Much of the city has been built on the original Inca foundations and the original Inca walls are still visible in many parts of the city. The walls were built out of huge stones specially carved with up to 12 sides, in order to fit together without mortar.

After spending a while walking around Cusco sightseeing, Patty mentioned to Marc that there must be a lot of gay bars here, as she's seen the rainbow flag flying outside many places. Patricia, excited at the prospect of seeing good looking men for the first time in months, was soon to be disappointed, when Marc broke the news to her that the rainbow striped flag was also the Inca flag and that they weren't actually gay bars.

So, lots of gay bars there might not be, but being a major Gringo centre means there are lots of quality tourist bars and restaurants. When you're on a long trip, this is something you really appreciate from time to time. We found an English pub just next to the main square which had one of Marc's favourite beers, Old Speckled Hen, on tap. Just the thing you need to find every now and again to help alleviate homesickness. Patricia wasn't left out in the cold though, as thanks to a friend's recommendation, we also found a Catalan owned restaurant selling delightful Pa amb Tomaquet and Tortilla de Patatas.

Show us the Way to Machu Picchu

After a good 5 days chilling out in Cusco, we teamed up with another Spanish-Celtic couple who we first met in Colombia, Vanina and Billy, to visit what is probably the most famous tourist site in South America, Machu Picchu.

We almost died of shock when we went to the train station to inquire about prices to get there. Really, if you want a flexible train ticket and want to leave at a decent time, you need to folk out a good 100 dollars and that will be on the most basic of trains and won't include food. From that price up, there were various trains and prices, peaking at about 400 dollars for the most luxurious service. All this for a four hour train ride in a country where transport costs normally average out at about 1-2 dollars an hour. Apart from trekking, there is no other way to get there, hence the monopoly inflicted high prices. The most famous way to get to Machu Picchu, The Inca Trail, is completely unfriendly to the long term traveller, who is wandering around the world with no fixed plan. Numbers are limited and the whole thing gets booked up way in advance, mainly by package tourists who are only in Peru for a couple of weeks holiday and are able to determine their dates, and book a long time before us.

So we bite the bullet, taking the cheapest available train, the backpacker train, which are some coaches dumped on the back of the local train at a really unsociable hour, (8pm going) and (5:45am) coming back. For this pleasure we have to take a bus for the first two hours of the trip and connect with the train halfway in Ollantaytambo and pay 44 dollars, where as the locals pay 5 dollars to travel on this same train.

We arrive in the small town of Aguas Calientes, which is the base for exploring Machu Picchu, just after 10pm that night, and agree with Vanina and Billy that we'll get up at 5am to get the first bus at 5:30am up to the ruins. It was certainly worth the early start as we managed to occupy the 5-8th places in the queue that morning and get up to the main view point for a great view and to take some pictures, moments before the place started to fill up with tourists.

The sensation we got when we set eyes on Machu Picchu for the first time was the same that we got when we first saw the Taj Mahal, The Great Wall of China, Moscow's Red Square or any other similar world famous sites which we have seen. It's something you've seen a thousand times before in photos, and now you can't believe you're actually seeing it for real.

The ruins themselves are quite impressive, but what is more impressive is the location, high on a mountain ridge, surrounded on all sides by a lush green and deep ravine. We spent several hours walking around the ruins, and by the time we left, the place was so overflowing with tourists that we are really glad we got up early and got in as soon as they opened.

Next we stop at the Indigenous Market of Pisaq before heading back to our temporary home of Cusco.
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rochelle1 on

Machu Picchu....
its just looks unreal... I am definitely needing to plan to get there ASAP! xxxx

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