16.07-17.07.10 – Quito-Lima-Cusco; around Cusco – Sacred Valley

Caught a flight out of Quito to Cusco with a connection in Lima.

First impression I got was: how come so many people speak English to me? I want to practise Spanish!

Another first impression of Cuzco was how dry and ungreen it was during winter with the mercernary feel in the air; maybe there are just too many shops catered to tourists. Anyhow, I spent the good remaining part of daylight shopping around for the upcoming days’ excursions. There are countless tour agencies in Cusco so you can always reach here and shop around.

While planning for this Andean dream trip, I had purposefully avoided the Inti Raymi on 24 June – the ancient tradition of celebrating the winter solstice – just so I can avoid the hordes of tourists. But Cusco – used to be called Cosco which means “centre” in kwichua – today thrives on tourists. Coming from Quito old town where nothing much happens at night, Cusco may seem like a night owl’s paradise in comparison.

By nightfall, Cusco’s old town looked a lot prettier with lights-shone historic buildings and bustling energy.

The next day, I joined a tour to the Valle Sagrada (Sacred Valley), so called for the Incan’s reverance for astronomy and how the landscape correlates to the milky way. I’m not a fan of tours, but it was really cheap and covered the main sites that I wanted to go, which would have cost me a lot more in terms of transport and traveling time if I went on my own. As the bus winds up the slopes out of Cusco city, I caught a glimpse of the ruins at Sacsahuaman against the densely populated city of Cusco.

And once on the road I started to appreciate the dry stark beauty of the highlands in this part of the world in this season. The three main sites we went to were Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Chincero.

At Pisac, the main attraction that differs from any other sites is the Incan cementery, which are crevices on rocky overhangs that look like pigeon holes in the mountain from afar. Mummified bodies were carried up there to be “buried”, although I can’t seem to see a trail. Apart from that, Pisac is spectacular for its terraces and ruins of what used to be a temple. It is not a difficult climb to the top of the ruins from where you can get a good view, but coming down on a healing ankle was quite a chore, although a good samaritan kindly stayed close to me.

Whilst leaving Pisac, saw a local festival with people wearing their traditional costumes and masks. Could did this be the Fiesta Virgen del Carmen that I read about?

Lunch was at Urubamba, and from there more winding road journey to Ollantaytambo. But don’t nap on the bus because the view on the way is gorgeous.

The Ollantaytambo ruins is interesting and the climb up is worth it for the views. If you have time, spend it too in the village that is the last Incan town to be conquered by the Spaniards, who were oblivious to the existence of Macchu Picchu.

Thereafter, it was an hour’s drive to Chincero, and the view along the way – partly because it was close to sunset – is nothing short of incredible. The tour ended with a stop in the old town Chincero and its church, where you get to see the fusion of catholicism and the local quechuan culture.

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