Three Weeks in PeruAuthor: Mike6725
Date of Trip: March 2006
The parade continued until midnight!
On to Cusco
The bus trip from Puno to Cusco is about five hours by regular bus line. We elected to take a tourist bus, the Inka Express, which takes eight hours. The extra three hours includes stops at several small towns enroute for visits to a church, a museum, a couple of sets of ruins, and lunch. It was worth the $30 ticket cost.
We arrived at Cusco and were surprised to be met by someone from our hotel, the Hotel and Mirador Los Apus. When we arrived we learned that our reservation through hostel world was messed up so we had to negotiate a rate for our stay. Since we were there off-peak, we were able to agree to $35 a night. Excellent hotel, good location. We arranged our trip to Machu Picchu through the hotel, at what we learned later was an inflated price. I guess it all evens out.
Our plans were to stay two nights in Cusco, then go to Aguas Calientes (at Machu Picchu) for two nights, then to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley for a night, then back to Cusco for three more nights. We were able to do some re-packing to get down to a single suitcase and leave the rest of our gear at the hotel.
We decided to make our first day in Cusco a day to loaf. We spent the day taking care of errands-- turned in some laundry, stopped by Gringo Bill's office in Cusco to confirm our reservations at Aguas Calientes, bought our Cusco Pass (a ticket for multiple entries at the museums and ruins), and visited a museum or two. Cusco was (before the arrival of the Spanish) the Inca capital, and it was quite a large city. The first Spaniards to arrive recorded that there were more than 90,000 residences in the city. There is still a lot of Inca stonework, which is very distinctive because the stones are fitted without mortar. We located an ATM and replenished our cash, as we learned there are no ATMs in Aguas Calientes.
We were still in the Plaza de Armas (the city square) when it began to get dark. The street lights came on and all the second floor restaurants were lit up. It really made the square attractive. This is really a nice town. We decided to stay in the plaza for dinner, at one of the upstairs, balcony restaurants. We decided to splurge, with Alpaca steaks and a bottle of wine. It was well worth the $30 for the meal!
Early Thursday morning we caught the Vistadome train to Aguas Calientes. This is about a four-hour train ride over the mountain to the Sacred Valley. It takes four switchbacks just to get out of Cusco. It is a very comfortable trip, with good service (including a snack) and wonderful views of the mountains and countryside.
We arrived at Aguas Calientes at 11, and were met by a representative from our hotel, Gringo Bill's Hostal. Most of the tourists arriving on the train from Cusco immediately hop on a bus for the 20-minute ride to the ruins. Since we had included two nights at Gringo Bill's, we decided to wait until the next day to visit Machu Picchu. We had a leisurely lunch and wandered around town looking at all the souvenirs for sale. Aguas Calientes is at the end of the rail line, and is full of tourists, so prices were fairly high. We didn't buy anything but food.
Two rivers join in the town, and the larger river (the Urubamba) was pretty exciting to watch. There are so many boulders in the river bed that the rapids are tremendous. The town itself is in a little valley with the railroad in the center of the main street. While we were there, one of the presidential candidates visited, which resulted in most of the locals congregating downtown, to be entertained by a speech and music. Later there was an impromptu parade through the streets.
Friday morning, anticipating the crowds that would arrive from Cusco at eleven, we picked up a bag lunch from our hotel and caught the first bus to Machu Picchu, 6:30 am. There is a footpath up to the ruins that takes about an hour to get there. Much as we like walking, we decided to skip it. We saw hikers on their way up as the path crossed the road-- uphill all the way.
We met our guide at the entrance and walked into the fog! We had heard that the sun doesn't burn through the fog until 10 or so. It didn't detract from the awe of this site in the least.
As we walked around the city the fog appeared and disappeared, so we couldn't see the entire site, only small sections at a time.
After a couple of hours our tour guide departed to pick up another group. We decided to take a walk on the Inca Trail to see the Inca Bridge. We couldn't get close to the bridge as it is closed to the public. We were close enough to get a good view of it. The bridge was made for a section of trail along a vertical cliff.
As we wandered around the ruins our appreciation of the work that went into these structures grew and grew. There were three types of construction. The closely fitted boulders were used for temples and the royal quarters. Lesser structures, storage buildings and middle class residences were made with stone, but not cut and precisely fitted as in the temples. Lastly were the adobe buildings, presumably for the workers' homes. These buildings still exist because the Spanish didn't know the city existed. It was abandoned before they found it.
Gradually the fog lifted and we were able to see the entire city. We were finally able to take the classic photograph-- the picture that is on all the postcards. We felt we were really there.
The next morning we caught the train back towards Cusco, but got off an hour later at Ollantaytambo, in the Sacred Valley.
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