City life and Inka ruins

I got quite settled in the town of Cusco after a well needed one week break from my bike. The Hostal Estrellita and the many cyclists staying there made for a nice base camp. I enjoyed the city life, the great variety of food, the culture fix of the Inka ruins and a bit of  shopping therapy. Cusco (3310m) is a beautiful town with a pleasant climate.  Almost every central street has remains of Inca walls, arches and doorways. The perfect Inka stonework now serves as the foundation for more modern dwellings. I love getting lost in the streets and finding nice places….enjoying Cusco’s special kind of energy. Hundreds of thousands of visitors pass through every year and it’s a busy place, but one can still find some quiet spots.

I first thought I would like to do some trekking in the surrounding mountains and intensely studied the map. I than thought it might be nicer to explore the sacred valley by bike, but after some more studying the map I decided to go for the easy lazy option of exploring it by bus. Mainly because of the climb between Cusco and the sacred valley, as well as the logistic problems of being high season and traffic issue. I still really would love to do some trekking in the area and will have to come back some other time. I also have a special interest in weaving and textiles and this area is known for this beautiful art. There is several weaving and textile cooperatives in town and some good displays to be enjoyed…and shopping to be done:)

I bought myself a ‘Boleto Turistico de Cusco’ for 130 Soles (about $55) which allowed me to visit several Inka ruins in the vicinity of Cusco and in the Sacred Valley, as well as some Museums in town. I was most impressed by Saqsaywaman, also called ‘Sexy woman’, an impressive fortress construction of huge blocs of stone. On sunday I made a trip to Pisaq (36km from Cusco), which is well known for it’s sunday market and its Inka fortress. It’s a stiff 1,5h walk up from the village via old agricultural stone terraces and along the ridge past several small sites of ruins before one encounters the main ruins. It’s a beautiful setting with great views and I very much enjoyed the walk…so much I walked all the way back down too. I than carried all the way on down the valley by bus to Ollantaytambo (78km from Cusco) to visit more Inka ruins and the gigantic stones there. There were a lot of tourists around and the going was slow but the site impressive. It took about 2h to get back to town with the local bus. The next day I was off to Machu Picchu by bus, a 6h ride past  Ollantaytambo and via the beautiful Abra Malaga (4313m), a stunning drive, followed by a 2h walk along a river on train tracks rounding the base of the Machu Picchu mountain. The next morning we were up for a 4am start in the rain and the race was on to the top. I managed to be in the first dozen people to arrive at the entrance and we had Machu Picchu to ourself for a brief moment before the masses arrived (there was a bus option also). There is a tremendous feeling of awe on first witnessing Machu Picchu, and the clouds only added to the mystic atmosphere. The ancient citadel is a complete Inka city straddeling the saddle of a high mountain (2380m) with steep terraced slopes falling away to the river below. While on the guided tour the sun came out and made for a more pleasant ambiente. I did some more exploring on my own before we had to rush back down to catch the train back, followed by the 6h bus ride. Machu Picchu is truly amazing and well worth the visit. The setting is stunning, somehow reminds me of Fiordland, just on a bigger scale. It was a couple of long days and I felt like I’ve been away for more than a week.

After a rest day in Cusco, I did one more excursion in direction of the Sacred Valley, visiting the Ruins Morey, the Salineras – natural thousands of years old salt terraces – and Chinchero. Morey is an interesting set up of agricultural round terraces which were used as a experimental laboratory for different plants of the Inka empire. The Salineras are most impressive and are the local salt mine. Water at 14 degree and with a 70% salt content flows out of the mountain and gets filtered into terraces where the water slowly evaporates. These terraces have been used at Inka times and only a small number have been added since. On the way back to Cusco I got out at Chincheros and visited the market which is a beautiful ensemble of white colonial buildings on Inka foundation walls. I was very impressed by the interior of the church. The whole wooden ceiling and the plasterwalls were covered in 16 century old fresco paintings. Absolutely stunning. This was my last day in Cusco and surrounds and I’m getting ready to hit the road again in direction Arequipa.

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