Peru | Cusco: July 23rd – 27th, 2008

Cusco

July 23rd, 2008

We managed to catch our bus early this morning, in spite of some initial worries that our pick-up to the bus station wouldn’t arrive. The bus ride was interesting – we had some wicked seats right at the front of the bus so we could stretch our legs fully. Nice, we thought! But then, the bus started making more stops than we had imagined it would make (it was a ‘direct’ bus or so we thought) – this let in all these flies that were hovering around our seats. What was worse, the air conditioning was off so it started to get really uncomfortable and then to add insult to injury, the TV came on full blast in volume playing these movies in Spanish. We had no way of controlling the sound and it just filled the air! Eventually, we tried our best to doze off and ignore these inconveniences and were quite ‘out of it’ and annoyed by the time we arrived in Cusco. So when we got off the bus at the bus station, the swarm of tour operators and taxi drivers chasing us, each trying to get us to talk to them, and not responding to our “no, gracias” was the last straw. We realized we had to shed the politeness and told them to back off with a more stern tone. After that display, they all left us alone.

We got some water, and calmed down, and approached a taxi driver when we were ready. We took a taxi to our hostel (which Karthik was pretty sure was the right one, given our main laptop had crashed and not operational yet, and we had no way of getting the exact name/location). We found out that it wasn’t and so, being all tired and exhausted, went to the another hostel part of the same network in Cusco. We arrived and immediately found the place to be too small, and none too clean! Ya know – the reviews people leave online are not to be depended on. Besides, Karthik was sick, and Penny was getting there, our time in Cusco would have been so horrible if we decided to stay in this place. So now came the work of finding a good hotel in such short notice in the middle of their high tourist season when almost everything was fully booked up. The guy at the hostel we didn’t want to stay at was helpful enough and after making a few calls, we decided upon a hotel that was right in the cultural and tourist centre of Cusco (near the Plaza des Armes). Although a bit expensive, we decided it was time to treat ourselves – this was Cusco after all and was the stop before Machupicchu – a place we’d been wanting to go for so long!! It was important for us to be healthy and happy and feeling good. So, being fairly ‘done’ from the bus travel and hunting for a hotel, we just crashed for the day. We have booked a city tour for tomorrow, and are glad it starts in the afternoon.

July 24th, 2008

Woke up feeling better today, and were glad the breakfast was being served until 10 am. We remembered how much work we have to catch up on, and the first thing is to get our laptop up and running. After breakfast, we decided that it would be better to postpone our city tour to tomorrow and for today to take care of our long pending To-dos! In the afternoon we stepped out to walk around the city a while. We bought some coffee, and headed off to the main square. It was nice to just sit there for a while. Then needing to get back to work, we started walking back and were stopped by a travel agent who was inviting us in to discuss tours and such. We thought it was a good idea to get a feel of what’s happening here and around. Besides, we still needed to book a place in Aguas Calientes for our Machupicchu trip. We went in and were discussing our needs, when we found out that the bus to Nazca (our next stop after Machupicchu) was going to be a 14-16 hour ride. Mind you though, there was a luxury bus that operated that route also, which had spa options, full bed-seats, wireless internet, full bathrooms, and grand meal service on board. Oh so enticing, just for the experience alone. We still asked about prices to fly there instead, and were given three different options. We decided to sleep on it, and so only bought our Sacred Valley tour and asked them to arrange our hotel in Aguas Calientes. He asked us to pay him half the fee to book the hotel (instead of the usual 10%), which we didn’t feel comfortable with. We had already had the experience of not liking the hotel when we actually saw it in person. So even though there were no hotels (affordable) that had availability, it being high tourist season, something still didn’t sit right with handing over all that money to him. So we told him we’ll come back tomorrow with a decision on the flight and with money for the hotel…and he assured us that he would still book the room for us.

On our way back to the hotel we decided to stop by another agency with signs hanging at the door for flights within South America. We asked the lady to provide a quote for flights to Nazca. She shook her head and told us that there are in fact no flights from Cusco to Nazca. We told her that another agency gave us 3 different quotes, with three different airlines. She confirmed, that there are absolutely no carriers that fly to Nazca. Taken aback, we were at least relieved that we didn’t go ahead with bookings with the other agency. She told us that our only option would be to take the bus. We quickly talked about the possibility of taking a flight to Lima, and renting a car from there to drive to Nazca, especially since we had recently found out from these British girls in Puno about a wicked place, Paracas, that was on the way to Nazca from Lima. And yes – there were flights. We still wanted to sleep on it and do some research on our own, so we headed back to the hotel. The rest of the day was packed with work, research, and skype.

July 25th, 2008

We had our day all planned out. We were to wake up early, and head off to make reservations for the hotel in Aguas Calientes at the hotel chain’s head office. It was only a 5 minute walk, and after begging and pleading we got a room. It was not a surprise to find out that the travel agent from last night had not called in to make reservations for us. So we were glad that we decided to do it ourselves. What’s more, we found out that the hotel rates were half the price of what those ‘cheating’ fools at the travel agency quoted us! Now, off to pay for our train tickets to Aguas Calientes, which were already ‘booked’ online, but needed to be paid for. So after a $1 taxi ride to the Peru Rail ticketing office, we waited in a long line-up patiently. We were hoping to change the train timings to suit a possible flight to Lima. It happened, we were happy! The only thing was that the train we booked would only drop us off at Ollantaytambo, a town about 1.5 hours away by bus because of all the stops it would make along the way (cutting it kinda close for the possible flight). We took a taxi, back to the main square, now to book our flight. The taxi driver was a good guy, and had a nice spacious car (hard to find that here, with the narrow streets and such). We arranged to have him come pick us up in Ollantaytambo and drive us to the Cusco airport. Decent price, and a clean, new car!

Finally, we booked the flight, which had already increased in price within a day, and were happy to finally get back to the hotel to get ready for an afternoon of the city tour. We had imagined the city tour to be the tour of the city, and only realized after the tour bus was leaving the city, and the tour guide hadn’t mentioned anything about the sites around, that their “city tour” was actually tour of the ruins around the city. A little disappointed, we carried on. First stop, Sacsaywaman (jokingly also known as “Sexywoman”). This was a Sun temple, shaped like the head of a puma (when seen from the sky). The shape of the Cusco city created the rest of the body of the Puma. Interesting. We were rushed through the tour by the guide, who seemed not too interested in doing his job. We were pissed now. So as we were walking around on our own, we listened in on other tour groups’ guides to get some more information. Being turned off by our bad luck with the tour operator, we decided to talk to the guide and share our disappointment with him, and mention how the other guides are being more animated and sharing more information. He assured us that at our next stop he won’t leave our side and will provide more information. It turned out – he kept his word. At the bus parking lot, it was insane to see the crowd of buses, tourists, and locals selling knick-knacks. There was no room to move!

Can’t remember the names of the next 3 destinations – but they were Incan ruins that served various purposes – a cave where they performed surgeries and mummified the dead; a watch-tower that was the gateway to Cusco; and a ceremonial temple where the emperor went to purify himself under the natural springs (apparently if you wash your face with that water, you achieve eternal youth! We didn’t – coz it wasn’t allowed!!). On our way back we bought some corn from the street as we were starved. These insane looking corn were half the size of the corn we get in Toronto, had humungous kernels, and were quite good. Final stop of the tour was at a souvenir factory (useless), and finally we got back to the city. We were tired, but had to make sure that we changed our tour registration for the tour on Sunday. We headed over to the agency with which we had booked our Sacred Valley tour – the same company that had scammed us and lied to us about the flight to Nazca and booking a hotel room in Aguas Calientes.

We walked in and told them to cancel our tour registration as we no longer wanted to go on a tour with them. The owner/manager was there and didn’t understand what was going on. We explained to him that the people there had cheated us on three accounts (which we only found out about later). He agreed that they were wrong, but said that they couldn’t reimburse us for the tour that we wanted to cancel as it wasn’t their policy. This obviously didn’t make sense to us – he admitted that they were at wrong, and realized that this was the reason we didn’t want to go on a tour with them, but refused to give us our money back! We argued, and felt strong enough to not be afraid to stand up for ourselves even though this was not North America, and these people looked like thugs. We argued, we got angry, we screamed, and finally got part of our money back. At one point the manager changed his tune, and said that even though he understands that the employees there tried to cheat us, but they have to make money – this is business, so that’s okay. Idiots! or perhaps that’s what they thought we were!! As we were leaving he started calling us names and we simply ignored it. We passed by a police officer and told him about the situation – he advised us to file a complaint with the Tourism Police which was located only a couple of blocks away. We thought about it and decided to skip it. Now exhausted, and shaking from the argument we breathed and realized what a bold step this was for us – to battle it out with these thugs in a strange city!! We grabbed some pasta to go and got on to doing our work till quite late.

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July 26th, 2008

Woke up knowing today will be a full day of work. So we got right to it (after a filling breakfast, of course). We took a break, grabbed a coffee, walked over to the Plaza De Armas (the main square), and sat by a couple of guys playing their guitars and creating new tunes. They were looking out for the cops who had come by earlier and told them that they couldn’t play their guitars there. We told them we’d look out for the cops for them, so that they can continue with their musical creativity – which sounded oh so good! While there, the three British girls we had met in Puno spotted us and came by to say hello. That was cool! We felt a rain drop or two, and when looked closer at what had fallen on our sleeves, we discovered it was a slushy rain. Not freezing rain, but slushy rain. Excited to see this different precipitation, and having spent time with the guitarists, and the girls, and generally hangin’ out at the pretty and busy square, we were feeling great! We walked over to the buildings surrounding the square to get some cover from the rain, and decided to just walk around. And then… to top off our day… we saw a sign “Indian Cuisine” with a picture of Ganesh. Not believing our eyes, we walked closer and yes, it was “Maikhana – Indian Cuisine” restaurant. We quickly walked up the steps of this building to find the restaurant which was open. Even though we weren’t hungry, we just had to check it out and have some food.

So we sat at a table (there was only one woman there, finishing up her lunch), and waited for someone to come by. An Indian woman, wearing God awful, mismatched, Indian clothes walked over with menus. Noticing that she was pregnant justified her attire. She couldn’t care less…and neither could we – we just wanted Indian food! We told her how excited we were to have found this place, and that even though we weren’t hungry, we were going to eat. She had moved to Cusco three years ago after getting married to her husband (also Indian, from UP), who had been living in Peru for 9 years. They couldn’t make ‘Malai Kofta’ at that time, so we ordered ‘Palak Paneer’ and ‘Dal Makhani’. She assured us that the Dal was going to be fresh (something Mom had reminded us to watch out for), which is why it would take a bit longer to prepare it. Our mouths were watering. Our spirits were so high (from the entire day’s events). And the food finally arrived. We took off the lids from the serving bowls and well, even though the food didn’t look like it usually does, we chalked it up to difference in the actual produce in Cusco. We tried it. We almost convinced ourselves that it was good. But the truth was, we were just happy to have been eating Indian food, that we didn’t want to even let our taste buds say anything negative. We told the lady that we will be back the next night for dinner again. On a side note – her husband was a real ass – he was screaming at her at one point, and appeared to have that typical Indian mentality – where he was the boss, and couldn’t bother with talking to the help or the customers. Anyway, we went back to the hotel to continue our work through the evening and night. Work was going fine, and then started the problem with some nasty burps! Not thinking too much about it, we wrapped up work, and went to sleep in preparation of our early morning tour to the Sacred Valley.

July 27th, 2008

Early morning start, and we were mentally excited to do this tour. Physically, it was another story. We hadn’t slept much, but also, the Indian food from yesterday was not sitting too well. The burps were becoming a little funky for Penny, and something just wasn’t sitting right. We stopped first at the Pisac market – actually near the market even though we were to stop at the market itself (which was the only reason we had booked the tour for Sunday to see the market). The tour guides change their minds on a whim about the places they take us! Annoying!! There we tried some local empanadas, and got to meet “Machupicchu”, a local Llama that was huge. We then headed to he Pisac ruins – Temple of the Sun and the Moon atop a mountain with agricultural terraces carved on the sides. To get to these ruins we had to climb up and down a narrow path and steps.

It was a tough climb, but we took our time. The way back wasn’t too easy either – as the path that we had climbed down to get to the temple now had to be climbed up! Next destination was lunch at Ollantaytambo. This “buffet” lunch was such a fraud – we had 45 minutes to have lunch and then the bus was leaving (with or without us). The line up to get the food was so long, it took us about 15 minutes to get our plates. Then another 10 to get the food. By the time we sat to eat, we were so rushed to even finish the first round that there wasn’t even enough time to imagine what else we would like a second stab at! Then we went to the Ollantaytambo ruins.

The bus stopped off at a small little market which led to the entrance of the site. This overcrowded (by tourists) place was an Incan Citadel carved into the mountain. Given its remote location and geography, it is one of the most well preserved Incan sites. Opposite the Citadel was another mountain which had further Incan architecture part of which was a face carved in the mountain, as well store houses for grains and other items. Penny decided to skip climbing up – her stomach was feeling really bad by now and taking the chance of being so far away from the bathrooms was definitely a risky bet! Karthik got a great view of the valley and the snow covered peaks from the top. Also the architecture there was impressive with six large 8 tonne stones, interlocked to form a wall. Other than that, Karthik got bored and came down. After the tour, some people left to catch the train to Aguas Calientes, and the rest of us got on the bus to continue our tour.

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Important note – we felt terrible for the people sitting in the seats in front and back of us. Penny’s burps were now just extra potent! Even keeping the window open wasn’t good enough. Damn that Indian Food!!! Our next destination on the tour – Chinchero. This was a small town on the way back to Cusco, where we were going to visit the weaving factory and see how the locals use natural resources to dye the Alpaca wool and weave it into the beautiful items sold all over Peru. Not really that interested, we still went in. We found out they use blood of some bugs to get the reds, a root for brown, some leaves for green, particular flowers for purples, another root (which we think was turmeric) for yellow. Quite fascinating. Then they started to show they weaving techniques. After the demonstration, we had free time to look around and buy stuff. Not interested, we went outside to wait for the rest to come out. It was a clear night, and we were quite high in altitude. We decided to check out the Southern Hemisphere night sky, and while we were, the most amazing thing happened.

REALLY! THE MOST AMAZING THING HAPPENED!!!!

We noticed a star move. It was moving, but not shooting. So it wasn’t a shooting star. And it was moving quite fast to be a plane. And it was moving but not in a straight line – it was kind of swerving, and also moving away from the earth. Our eyes were glued to this star, and our jaws were touching the hilly street, while we were walking blindly to make sure our view wasn’t obstructed. “This is not a shooting star – it’s moving too slow”; “This is not a plane, it’s moving too fast for it”; “It can’t be a satellite, satellites don’t move like this”; “It’s moving away from Earth”; “It’s moving along a jagged path, as if to avoid debris in space”. Yes – this Unidentified Flying Object totally took our breath away. We were so damn excited. It was the most amazing thing we had ever seen. We pointed it out to our tour guide. He saw it. Then we heard him say “These Canadians just saw a UFO! They just spotted a Space Ship!”. We felt so alive! We felt out of this world! It was unbelievable!! Back on the bus, back to Cusco. We were entertained by some artist playing the Andean flute and drums (simultaneously). We didn’t buy his CD. It wasn’t our style of music. But we kept thinking about that UFO! We got back to the hotel, back to work, and ready to head out early in the morning to catch our train to Aguas Calientes.

Some clips from our Cusco leg

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