Cusco part 1 and Cloudy Picchu

Cusco, Peru: 25th – 26th November, 2012
Agua Calientes, Peru: 27th – 28th November, 2012
Cusco, Peru: 29th November – 1st December, 2012

So we arrived at Cusco after an overnight bus from Arequipa and went to our hostel to leave our bags and go out in search of food. We found a lovely little café that overlooked the main square and so settled in to enjoy our grub out on the balcony in the sun. There were a lot of people out and about, dressed up smart and a peculiarly a lot of them were carrying hard hats too so we wondered what was going on? Outside the Cathedral there was an awning and chairs all set out and it later turned out that it was the Sunday parade which apparently takes place every Sunday in Cusco and involves people from the military, police, schools and colleges.

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More importantly for me, it was the final race of the Formula 1 season that day and so I had to find somewhere to watch the race, which was in Brazil and so started at 11am in Cusco. Thankfully there are plenty of gringo bars in Cusco and one of them named Norton’s Rat Tavern, which had a nice big screen and turned on the race for me without hesitation.  At this point Sarah went off to try and find the free walking tour, but sadly it didn’t run on Sundays and so she was soon back and caught the second half of the race, which was pretty exciting and our boy Button won, which was fine with me. That done we headed back to the hostel to check in and we were pleasantly surprised to find towels, two pillows, soap, shampoo, a bath mat and cable TV all waiting for us in our lovely, clean, private ensuite room.  We were going to love it at Mama Simona’s!

Later that evening we had arranged to meet up with a David again as well as Lucy and Konrad, all of whom happened to be in Cusco too. We went to another gringo bar called The Real McCoys to enjoy pie and mash and swap tales since last seeing each other. We had a great time catching up and wished Lucy and Konrad well for their Jungle adventure trip to Machu Picchu which they were starting the next day.

Monday we had arranged to meet up with more friends who happened to be in Cusco at that point, Becca and James. We met them in Paddy’s Irish bar to enjoy more, good home favourite pub grub and swap tales with them. They also told us how amazing the crumble was at the real McCoys and how we were missing out for not trying it the night before, so we arranged to meet up with them again later that day for us to try it out and them to have one final portion before leaving Cusco that evening. In between Sarah and I had been trying to sort out a trip to the Manu National Reserve, but the company we were thinking of going with were not on the register of authorised agencies at tourist info, so we ended up back at square one, although grateful that we checked. Still, the crumble and custard didn’t disappoint and so that made up the frustrations from the rest of the day. We’d just have to sort out Manu when we returned from Machu Picchu. That evening we met up with David and an Australian girl who he had met while travelling for a spot of tasty dinner before heading back for an early night.

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Tuesday it was an early start to get the train to Aguas Calientes which is the town close to Machu Picchu. The Perurail train was lovely and we’d taken the Vistadome service and enjoyed the views of the Sacred Valley that we were journeying through. We even got a little snack on the train which we weren’t expecting! Upon arrival the lady from our hostel, Supertramp, was waiting to greet us and guide us to the hostel, a nice extra service that they provided free of charge and helped to quickly orientate us to the town.

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After checking in we went for a wander around the town and enjoyed a spot of lunch in a French style café. Agua’s itself was bathed in sunshine and a beautiful little place, spoilt only by the plethora of people hassling you to go into their restaurant. After lunch we had a wander around the market and then decided to make our way to an internet café where we spent a productive couple of hours writing blog posts that you have by now had the pleasure of reading! After an overly priced dinner in a restaurant overlooking the main plaza we headed back to the hostel to get an early night so that we could get up and get an early bus to Machu Picchu the next day as everyone told us that was the thing to do.

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Events took an unexpected turn when one of the hostel workers, Artur, was playing a few classic rock hits on his acoustic out on the rooftop bar and a group of Americans were celebrating their returning from visiting Machu Picchu that day. They all invited us out to be social and so we decided to celebrate with them. Then another load of late arrivals to the hostel soon turned it into a proper little party. As always when you are having a good time, time flies and so it was soon one in the morning and our early night had vanished, but we had a great time.

Despite our late night we still managed to get up at 6am the next day and get down to town to catch a 6.30am bus up to Machu Picchu. Our combined indecisiveness then struck because we couldn’t decide whether to get a guide or not.  They were quite pricey so we didn’t want to spend more money, but equally we thought it might be good to get some info on the site. Eventually we decided that a self-guided tour would be better and set off to see the wonders that awaited. Sadly our early start to beat the crowds was pretty pointless because it was extremely cloudy. So, while the site was pretty quiet, we couldn’t see a great deal or get any of the impressive photo’s because it was cloudy and grey and cold. This lead to a feeling of disappointment that would linger for the whole day. After exploring the site for a couple of hours it was soon 10am which was when our one hour window to start the climb up Waynapicchu mountain commenced. The climb was really enjoyable and some of the steps were pretty steep and rocky, but there were handrails for most of the really steep parts so climbing it was pretty easy and the views that it would afford us of the whole Machu Picchu site would make the physical exertion worthwhile.

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Sadly we were again denied as the clouds were heavy and prevented us from seeing anything. In fact it was pretty disorientating at times because you couldn’t see anything but white. Once we reached the very top we settled in to wait with lots of other people sitting on the rocks hoping that the cloud would lift. By about 12.30pm we were rewarded for our patience and the cloud did indeed lift and we could see the site, which was good because you could take in the size of the whole site at once and see the mountains that it sat nestled between. With that done it was time to go back down and finish exploring the site and then take some of the customary photo’s of us at Machu Picchu. In our exuberance to have good pictures we decided to do a jumping photo, only to have one of the guides come over and tell us that he was getting security to come and remove us from the site because jumping was not allowed. This was not stated in the long list of rules that you see when you enter the site (and most of which you witness being broken a lot) and while, with hindsight, we can understand that our jumping might cause a little bit of damage to the site, I’m not really sure why he was so uppity about it all. Anyway, we were done and security didn’t come to remove us. We walked ourselves out, collecting our Machu Picchu stamps in our passports before we went. Personnaly Machu Picchu was underwhelming and overpriced and I have enjoyed many other days of the trip a lot more than that one. I would also strongly recommend caution about racing up to the site too early in the morning if it is just going to be cloudy. It depends on the season of course, but I would certainly have preferred longer in bed and I didn’t think that the site got that busy in the afternoon to warrant getting up there super early, but you can all go and form your own opinions if you haven’t visited already. Also, no jumping!

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Once we returned to Agua’s we had a bite to eat and then waited for our train back to Cusco on which the train staff kept us all entertained with a fashion show and a traditional dance show, which was quite a different experience  for a train ride. Once back in Cusco we had arranged to meet up with the Americans that we had met the night before and had a fun time with them once again.

Thursday we decided on a tour to Manu and also went to the Cocoa museum which had a nice café overlooking one of Cusco’s smaller plaza’s where we enjoyed a chocolate drink and shared a delicious Brownie. We also probably had food at Jack’s, a super little gringo hangout in Cusco that served delicious food and often had a queue of people waiting outside, but it was certainly worth the wait.

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Friday we went to hire a duffel bag and a pair of binoculars ready for our trip to Manu and also did a city tour which had been recommended to us. This started at the Cathedral which as pretty interesting and then took us slightly out of town to visit three Incan ruin sites, the most famous of which being Sacsayhuaman, where we saw lots of big stones that were the remnants of some castle or palace or what not and was ok for something to do, but not particularly amazing in my opinion. I just don’t think I get these ruins….

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That night we packed up the things that we would need for Manu into the duffel bag and prepared for our jungle adventure, leaving the rest of our belongings safely deposited at Mama Simona’s ready for our return in four days time.

That is where I leave you for now.

Happy New Year!

Chris.

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