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Colin and Sue’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 11 Oct 2006

Location: Cuzco, Peru

MapIt´s been really busy since we arrived in Cuzco (no time to update the blog!). We have stayed in two hostals in the San Blas area, on a hill just above the centre. It´s a really nice part of town, not as busy as the main square, lots of galleries, restaurants and cafes and good views of the city.

We spent our first day sightseeing round the Plaza des Armas, visiting the Catedral and other churches. Also checked out the South American Explorers Clubhouse here, where we are now regulars. After just a few hours we were tempted to track down and buy one of the fabled Cuzco "No Gracias" T-shirts as the streets are full of vendors selling postcards, dolls, finger-puppets etc and touts trying to lure you into their restaurant with offers of free Pisco Sours. We have learnt a useful new phrase - "maybe later", which seems to do the trick. Amazingly we bumped into three of the Canadians we met in Huaraz so we ate out with them in the evening - lots of Peruvian food, music and more folkloric dancing. One of the bands was really good and we even bought their CD, it´s a pity we have no way of listening to it!

But it seems expensive restaurants don´t agree with me (Sue) as the next day I was ill and spent most of the day in bed leaving Colin to go exploring on his own (and take the opportunity to have a hamburger in the Cross Keys pub for that authentic Peruvian experience!). I revived sufficiently to meet Tony and Elaine, our friends from Solihull for dinner - great to see them and catch up on news.

The next day (Sunday) we were up early to buy train tickets to Machu Picchu and to try and find somewhere to stay when we came back to Cuzco as our hostal, which had a wonderful view of the city was full, as were lots of other places. We decided to splash out on the Rumi Punku as recommended by Suzanne from the FSA.

We left Cuzco for the Sacred Valley, first taking a local bus to Urubamba then a colectivo to Ollantaytambo (our rucksack was thrown roughly onto the roof so we spent the journey looking out of the back window whenever we bumped over the potholes in the road). The last part of the journey was a bit slow - getting past hordes of very tired looking cyclists. We met a few of them in a bar later - there were 60 of them who had cycled from Puno on a charity bike ride.

The Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo are very impressive and also very crowded with locals on a Sunday afternoon. The town was really nice too, with cafes and bars round the main square - just a pity that our hotel wasn´t as good. We had no water at all, not just the normal temperamental hot water. The receptionist claimed that this was a Sunday problem and that all would be ok in the morning, but regrettably this was all lies and we were drawing water from a standpipe in the garden to wash ourselves and flush the loo! Somewhat ironically the town is full of little channels of water gushing along the streets.

So, unshowered and with our rucksack we boarded the train to Machu Picchu Pueblo (aka Aguas Calientes) with a coachload of very clean looking Americans with smart luggage. Great views along the way and we saw some of the Inca Trail trekkers and heavily laden porters heading for Machu Picchu. Aguas Calientes is a dump - lots of the buildings look like they have been bombed, but we did walk along the river to the local museum and botanical garden, where we were very excited to see an agouti, our first wild rodent in Peru.

Up at 4.30 the next morning (by some miracle as the alarm had been set for pm not am!) to catch the first bus up to Machu Picchu. We didn´t see a wonderful sunrise due to the clouds but it was great to have Machu Picchu virtually to ourselves before the main tour groups arrived. It lived up to our expectations as the site and setting are magnificent. We walked round for a couple of hours and then climbed up Wayna Picchu (the peak you see on all the classic pictures) which was really steep but well worth it for the views back to Machu Picchu. We also scaled the small peak whose name we never discovered - much quieter and the top was surprisingly full of butterflies. In the afternoon when we explored the rest of the ruins, we met Tony and Elaine again!

We came back to Cuzco via another night in Ollantaytambo (planned so we could visit the museum there but we decided to give it a miss due to Inca and museum fatigue). It´s been good to have 3 nights in Cuzco in the same place with nothing special to do. We really like Cuzco now we´ve got to grips with the endless selling. We´ve spent some time in cafes drinking capuccinos, eating icecream and watching the world go by - very relaxing. The Rumi Punku Hostal is good too - comfy bed, a duvet instead of being crushed by heavy Peruvian blankets, nice breakfasts and a sun terrace for picnic lunches.

We´ve visited a couple more churches and ruins, one with an exciting tunnel (10m in total darkness) and a natural slide worn smooth by generations of kids (and tourist adults). We also met up with Maurice from the Colca Canyon trip for a beer and Tony and Elaine for a farewell meal with some of their group. It was entertaining being in a large group with restaurant touts vying for
our custom, we ended up with free wine and garlic bread rather than the usual offer of free Pisco sours. We have also had time to buy and send some Christmas cards and presents - who knows when and if they´ll arrive.

We´ve also had a change in plan and instead of going straight to Lake Titicaca are flying off to the jungle (Tambopata National Park) for the weekend - lured by the prospect of seeing giant river otters - we´re staying at the Sandoval Lake Lodge on a lake with a resident otter family (in the lake not the lodge!) so hope to be lucky.