Things can only get better...

Trip Start Jul 30, 2010
Trip End May 29, 2011

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Friday, January 14, 2011

"...and the drugs don't work, they just make you worse but I know I'll see your face again"
The Verve, Urban Hymns

Actually they do. The foul-tasting antibiotics given to me last week were working so I was hopeful that the second week in Cusco would be better than the first. We also had a change of language tutor which was also a source of optimism.

On the Sunday we took a bus-tour along the Scared Valley. Given the atrocious, pot-holed riddled state of Cusco's roads I was expecting this to be a bone-rattling ride but I was surprised to find that the further away we got from Cusco the better the roads got. The bus driver – and Claire disagrees with me on this – wasn’t as reckless or as mad as expected and didn’t attempt any over-taking on a blind corner manoeuvres that his S.E. Asian cousins would happily go for.

Anyway, the tour.  As we drove up and away from Cusco we were treated to some spectacular views down the valley. Our guide had decided to by-pass the traditional Pisaq market and go, instead, to the Inca (strictly speaking Quechua) ruins just outside Pisaq, hoping to beat the crowds on other tour buses. It was a ploy that worked as we had the site largely to the 28 on the bus. The site is apparently bigger than Machu Picchu, but with only an hour there we were able to explore only a small section of it altho’ we did learn how and why the 'steps’ were made and all about its positioning. We then drove back to a quiet Pisaq market – all the other tour buses were heading in the opposite direction to the ruins- which specialised in silver, alpaca, tat and of course ripping tourists off.  Our guide had warned us that many of the stalls selling alpaca were less than honest, selling a polyester/alpaca mix for the cost of 100% alpaca, brushing the polyester to feel like alpaca. The silver was also subject to similar cunning behaviour with the bronze/silver mix greater than it should be but polished up to look good and charged as such.

From Pisaq we drove up the valley to Ollantaytambo stopping off for lunch in Urubamba. As we drove up the valley it became more and barren. The red-earth, which when mixed with the local straw like plant is used to create adobe bricks used in construction, here became more apparent as even the grass gave up the fight to survive on the valley walls. Eventually we reached the Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo only to find that dozens of other coaches were already there. Somehow our driver squeezed his way into the bus park and we clambered off and up to as high as we could get in the time allowed. From the top of Ollantaytambo we could see far down the valley at the squat, red adobe brick villages that looked ready to crumble into dust. The contrast with the Quechua built ruins, with their huge stone construction, strength and longevity was stark. Whilst getting a WiFi signal thru one of those Quecha walls might be difficult it would be both warmer and more able to stand-up to an earthquake. The landscape was a patchwork of fields for potato, maize and coca.

After Ollantaytambo we started to head back to the dust-bowl (Cusco). We went via a small town called Chinchero, famous in the area for its alpaca clothing market and for the views over the snow-capped peaks of the Vilcanota Mountains. Stunning views, but cold. 

Language school was better in the 2nd week. We had a new tutor who was more enthusiastic and willing to give feedback and the class responded positively and I even think I may have learnt a little Spanish even if my pronunciation is still very English-sounding. Thursday after school was ‘chocolate-lessons’. Now obviously I need little instruction in how to eat chocolate, but making it is a different matter. Rather than detail how to make chocolate here I’ve included them in the pictures, with comments, so you can all make some for me when we return!

What I won’t expect is Alpaca – very nice but difficult to source in the UK. Nor hearts on a skewer (Claire’s chosen dish altho’ we don’t know what animals donated the hearts. Cuy (or Guinea Pig) would also be interesting but I can’t really see us going into a pet-shop in the UK and asking the shop-assistant if he could skin and gut one of his.

At the end of the final day, morning really, at school we were given a certificate of attendance. Note, not of accomplishment but of attendance. Just as well really because I don’t think my Spanish is anywhere near Claire’s. In the evening we took Cesar and Ines out for dinner at an Italian restaurant. It was that or Claire had to cook, which she wasn’t keen on doing. The restaurant was really good and Claire gave over the gifts we’d brought from NZ and Thailand, which went down well.

On our final Saturday we took a cab out to Tipon to visit a reputedly good restaurant where we finally managed to sample some of Peru’s most infamous strange dish: Cuy. There´s not much to Tipon other than restaurant after restaurant selling Cuy. And some ancient Inca ruins which I´ll come to in a minute. Cuy (Guinea Pig) wasnt really that good. For quite a small mammal it had a fair amount of meat on it (inc. claws, head, teeth). Taste? Quite a rich, tangy taste that was nothing like the ‘chicken’ taste we were expecting. Wouldn't recommend it and not sure I’d bother with it again but it was, at least, better than the snake I tried in Vietnam. 

The Inca ruins at Tipon were empty, mainly because the road to them was a narrow, twisty dirt track that our cab barely made it up. No coach would make it.  So we pretty had the site to ourselves for an hour or so.

Leaving the home-stay was to be honest a relief. The family had been very friendly and helpful, but after two weeks we were longing for a room that wasn’t dusty, damp and freezing, a bathroom with hot water, a loo seat and a shower that didn’t give electric shocks. My language skills hadn´t improved that much altho´the 2nd week was much better than the first and it is something I´d like to continue when we get back to the UK. 

Early Sunday morning we made our way to the airport to fly to Ecuador. We left with a couple of dolls dressed in traditional Peruvian dress; gifts from the host-family. We’ll be back in Cusco and Peru in a couple of months time as part of our final tour that ends up in Rio, but for the time being it was definitely time to move on. Unfortunately moving on means flying LAN, an exercise designed to test one’s patience and stamina as you’re sent from pillar to post as you try to navigate your way onto the damn plane. Such is life in South America I guess, nothing is ever simple, nothing is ever fast – except the speed with which Spanish is spoken.
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