October 22, 2005
My overnight bus got to Cusco at 5:00 AM today. I paid more money for a good bus company this time, but I'm still not sure it was worth it. The private waiting room, included dinner, and televisions on the bus that actually worked were nice. Still, even though there was more leg room, it wasn't enough for me. My knees still took a hard beating for most of the night. And, while having a bathroom on the bus for a nine-hour ride was nice, the constant annoyance of people walking back and forth to use it made it seem not worthwhile. Needless to say, I was exhausted when I got to Cusco.
The hostel I'm staying in (the one recommended to me by someone in Arequipa) is a really good place. It was bought and renovated by some Australians who didn't want to go back home. It has a great view of the city, a bar, a kitchen, free Internet, free breakfast, and a good atmosphere to meet people. In fact, Tom and Henry, the Brits I met on the first day of my trip in Lima, and Nico, a Dutch guy I met in Nazca, are also staying here. The world of the South American traveler is a small one indeed. I keep seeing the same people in every city I go to.
After catching a quick early morning nap, I decided to do some sight seeing. I quickly learned that Cusco gouges tourists even more than the rest of Peru. To see most of the ruins, churches, and museums around the city, you have to by an all-inclusive ticket for about $22. This price is double what it was a few years ago, and you can't buy individual tickets to the attractions you want to see. Obviously tourism is by far the biggest industry in this city.
After buying my ticket, I wanted to see the ruins. There are four major Inca ruin sites along the same road leading out of town. I heard that most people who don't do a group tour take a bus to the last and highest site and walk the 8 KM downhill back into town, visiting the rest of the sites on the way. I asked a couple of people if it was possible to walk the entire way up, and they said that it would be no problem, and it would take two hours.
As I began hiking up a steep hill, I suddenly realized that it was very hot and sunny, I was wearing my jacket, and I didn't have a hat or sunscreen. I tried to find some shade, but there wasn't any. It was high noon and shadows were nowhere to be found. I thought about going back, but when some clouds rolled in, I thought I would be OK. After all, I was only in the sun for half an hour. Later in the day, I would realize how wrong I was when I looked at my sunburned face.
The first site I visited was Sacsayhuaman, which most of the tourists call "Sexy Woman." It was a big site, but the most interesting part of it was the giant zigzagging rock wall, which the Incas created to represent the teeth of a puma (the rest of Sacsayhuaman is supposed to look like the head of the puma, and the rest of Cusco is its body). The wall also provided a good fortification to keep out intruders. At the top one of the hills of Sacsayhuaman is a giant statue of Jesus looking over the city. This seems to be a recurring theme in South America.
After thirty minutes of walking, I reached Q'enqo, the second set of ruins. It was used for sacrifices, and it had several tunnels to walk through. The site also had a nice view of the outskirts of Cusco.
The walk to the last two sites was a long one. After walking for over an hour uphill, I was getting hungry. I decided to have a bite to eat in a small village along the way. The "restaurant" was really just a woman's house with a few tables set up, but that's pretty standard in Peru. What's not standard is having a dirt floor with guinea pigs and chickens running around freely. I had a soup and some rice, but I could barely eat the fried potatoes and egg because the place was so filthy. I'm normally pretty adventurous when it comes to food, but this place was even too much for me. I didn't have to reset the vomit counter, but I came close.
Just a few hundred meters past the restaurant were Puca Pucara and Tambo Machay, the last two ruins sites. The former was used as a hunting post and a stopping point for travelers, and the latter has a bath that channels water from the mountains. The ruins themselves were interesting, but what fascinated me the most was the large amount of Peruvians visiting them. The local people here have very strong ties with their cultural heritage.
After I finished with the ruins, I was going to walk all the way back to Cusco, but an empty bus that could take me there pulled up just as I set foot on the main road. I figured I had done enough walking that day and got on.
That night, I learned how festive my hostel is. I hung out with a lot of people in the bar and had a good time. Later on, Nico, Tom, Henry, Katie from the US, and Lisa from Australia went out for a night on the town. Fun was had by all, and it was a good change from the cheap-but-boring places I had been staying at.
The photo album for this entry is here.