Peru 2002 (Part 2)
The drive from Cusco to the Sacred Valley was about an hour or so, and our first stop was the ruins at Pisac, a small town. We drove up the side of a mountain and then walked along a stone path (part of the Incan trail) toward the small hill top village made of stones. This fortress guarded both the Valley and a high jungle pass. The weather was perfect, sunny, a little brisk, but very nice and that’s when the sun burn first started. I climbed up into the village a bit, but I was definitely feeling the altitude and thought better of going ahead on my own. From Pisac, we followed the Urubamba River, stopping only for lunch. We arrived in Ollantaytamba which is where the train leaves for Machu Picchu, but also has a fairly extensive ruin of it’s own. Along the side of the mountain were a series of terraces and steps that went up several hundred feet. Along the ridge, there were more Inca ruins, the outlines of Inca buildings. The climb up was pretty rough and I was very short of breath when I got to the top. All those endless hours on the stairmaster and you’d think it wouldn’t be an issue. Maybe if I carried my own oxygen bottle. Anyways, the ruins were fantastic, the weather was great, and this was a great start to the trip. The Spanish were actually beaten by the Incans here in 1536, one of their few victories. Outside of the ruins, there were several merchants selling souvenirs and I started my shopping early by buying an Inca cross. We left Ollantaytambo and headed to Urubamba which is where we would be spending the next several nights.
The next day, we got to sleep late and then our first business of the day was to go shopping! We went to the village market in Pisac. The market was fascinating. The variety of food was amazing. There are over 100 types of potatoes in the Andes, plus corn of all colors. It really was quite spectacular. In addition to the normal market, there was of course the tourist market. It was here that I saw the tumi. The tumi is a statue or carving of an Incan warrior and is usually in bronze or stone. I found one I really liked, it was huge with onyx and lapis inset. But I decided to see if I could find one cheaper. I mention this now because of the quest. The quest for the tumi. I spent the remainder of the shopping portions of the trip looking for something close to the ones I found in Pisac. But I shall tell of the quest later. After our shopping expedition (where I did buy some gifts for people), we headed toward the Urubamba for a rafting trip. March is the end of the rainy season in Peru and the Urubamba was channeling all of that rain. The portion of the river the tour company usually rafts was now class 5-6 rapids and with the average age of our group being around 60, this was probably not a good idea. So we rafted on a different section of the river. As we floated downthe river, we would pass one small village after another. From some of the buildings, there would be pole sticking out next to the door with a red plastic bag attached to it, that meant they bar was open! They drink a corn based beer in the Sacred Valley which was actually not bad. After the raft trip, we had a late lunch next on the river bank and then we had the rest of the afternoon off. I walked into the town of Urubamba to look around. Not a lot to see, your typical third world little town. I did find some place that claimed to be an internet café, but my Spanish skills couldn’t figure out when it was open. We had dinner at the hotel and a local Indian band played. It was nice for the first ten minutes, then my head started to hurt.
Wednesday was another early get up as we were heading to Machu Picchu! We had to pack two bags as they don’t allow full suitcases on the train to Machu Picchu. So we made efficient use of our backpacks while our luggage went ahead to Cusco. We drove back to Ollantaytambo to catch the train. The train station was packed with tourists, and this was the low season! The train ride was interesting. We followed the Urubamba river, which was raging at this point. Rafting on that would not have been possible. We saw several minorIncan ruins on the valley hillsides as we made our way. The train stopped a couple of times, once to let people off who wanted to hike the rest of the way to Machu Picchu. From the train stop, it was about 6 hours of hiking. Another option is the 4 day hike. At this altitude? I’ll pass this time. The train seemed so nice, so civilized, so dry because it was drizzling outside! And so we made it to the village of Machu Picchu. From the train station to our hotel, we had to pass through the permanent tourist market selling souvenirs and more t-shirts than you can imagine. But NO tumi’s! Anyways, we made it to our hotel which looked like it was brand new. We dropped off our stuff and then headed to a local restaurant for lunch. After lunch, we piled into the bus for the trip to Machu Picchu. Okay, I’m sure there were several good reasons for living on the tops of mountains, but I’m just glad there was a bus. To reach the top, I think we hit over 15 switchbacks. But we made it to the entrance of the park and I was psyched. It had started to rain/mist during lunch and the weather just couldn’t make up it’s mind. So our first sight of Machu Picchu was through foggy mist and low clouds.