The Sacred Valley

Trip Start Jun 09, 2005
Trip End Jun 08, 2006

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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Its good to be back in Cusco. It is familiar to me now, and I love the way the ancient Inca walls seem to fuse with all aspects of modern life. We stop off for one night in the comfortable Hotel Ninos again. This time we upgrade our room to "Laura", a double room with en-suite. The room has three beds, hot powerful showers and a rustic wooden beamed roof (34USD).

We start the day with fruits from the local market. We tuck into the tastiest fruit salad of pineapple (1.5 sol, 25p), mango (1.3 sol, 20p), and banana (0.2 sol, 11p) covered with the sweet flesh of grenadine (0.2sol, 11p).

The rest of the day we spend wandering around the free museums in Cusco which are included in our 70 sols, 30 day "boleto" ticket. We stop in three museums: the Historical, Popular Arts and Corincana Musuems. The museums are all pretty awful with dusty displays, limited information and smelly toilets that overpower the buildings. We end up spending less and less time in each of them and end up enjoying ourselves more in a cafe playing a game of scrabble.

In the evening I drag John to the free folk dance show which is included again in our "Boleto". There is a live band which fortunately (for John) doesnt include any panpipes and we watch some graceful country dancing which are performed in local costume. The show is a little underfunded and the band tends to overpower the dancers singing but it is definately better than the museums.

The next day we continue with our "Boleto" and visit Pisac in the Sacred Valley where there are some more ancient Inca ruins. The city of Cusco is unusually quiet on this Sunday morning and when we arrive at a small bus station which has buses to Pisac, it seems that everyone in Cusco is going there. I think that most tourists must join a tour as we are the only gringos, but we join a long queue for the bus.

A lady in the queue uses her initiative to join together a group of 5 people and take a taxi. Its a little bit of squeeze with four people in the back seat and everyone gets restless after our taxi driver steers around the corner and then stops his car and demands that he would like more than 5 sols per person. Its funny to see that its not only tourists that suffer from the price inflations that taxi drivers suddendly inflict, although I do wonder whether the driver wanted more money because of us gringos. The driver switches off the engine, leaves the car and stands watching us, scowling with his hands crossed like a stubborn boy. The group pleads with the man, but after a while we all realise that we are trying to get blood out of a stone. As we leave the taxi, the driver suddenly changes his mind and jumps back into the car, but its too late as it doesn´t take us long to find another taxi for the same price. We all resume our seats in the new car. For a moment we begin to wonder whether we are going to have a repeat episode as we drive for a few minutes before our new driver stops the car and jumps out. We breathe a sigh of relief as he soon returns with a bottle of local juice to quench his thirst and we head out at an alarming speed into countryside.

There is a great atmosphere inside the taxi. One of the ladies points out lots of archeological sites as we pass huge Inca ruins. One of the passengers taps his briefcase and hisses loudly to the Peruvian CD which the driver is playing. Everyone starts chatting to one another like long lost friends. Its one of those moments when I wish that my Spanish was better so that I could join in the conversation.

After 32km, we wind down into the green valley in which Pisac lies. There are cobbled stone walkways and Inca water irrigation channels down the streets. The famous Sunday market is crammed into the square infront of the church. There are lots of stalls squeezed in together which reminds me a little of the Chatuchak market in Bangkok. There are hand woven rugs, T-shirts, clay pots and plenty of rich looking tourists. Every once in a while we spot the odd man that runs through the market carrying a heavy cross laiden with fresh flowers that drop onto the street as he hurries by. The tourists ignore him and there are too many crowds to work out where he is rushing to.

Another friendly taxi driver takes us to the Inca ruins which sit 600m above the town for 8 sols (1.30 GBP). Here we explore an Inca citadel. There are some amazing irrigation channels and bathing areas surrounded by steep agricultural terraces that are still being used today. We walk into a collection of Inca stonehouses which climb up to a viewpoint and soon get lost wandering around the different alleys and steps. A track follows the hillside and we follow it to reach more Inca ruins. The stonework at the ceremonial site is as always the most impressive with perfect fitting stones and retangular or rounded buildings.

We follow the track and descend down into the terraces which hug around the hill. Its a long way down and we watch an elderly man run down infront of us, heavily laiden with firewood on his back. He tells us that he gets 3 USD for his load and asks for 1 sol (0.3 USD) for his photo.

Back in Pisac we find a small cafe in the central plaza where we have a basic menu de dias lunch for only 5 soles (90p) each. From the balcony we watch the bartering in the market whilst we tuck into Quinoa soup, a delicious soup which contains as many proteins as milk. This is followed by a small serving of fried fish and with some persuasion to the waiter, and a gentle reminder of what was written on the menu, a sweet serving of lemon mereinge pie.

Its time to head back to Cusco. We jump on a local bus which takes us back to the Inca capital. At Hotel Ninos we collect our bags, stock up with snacks and jump in a taxi which takes us to the bus terminal. Here we find our overnight bus to Nazca with Flores (cama seat for 70 soles, 13GBP). Its a little sad leaving the area of Cusco as it is full of interesting reminders from the ancient Inca kingdom. The tourist Boleto ticket of Cusco has provided us with an insight to Inca ruins which one cannot fail to be impressed with. The tightly fitting stonework and hillside terracing leave memories of a mighty and well-organised kingdom. Sadly the museums included in the boleto are poor and not worthwhile, but perhaps this is just part of the experience of Cusco.
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