8 Mile

We decided that as the Arequipa bus was such a success and we managed to get a decent amount of sleep, we would try out the cheap seats for the 10 hour overnigher to Cusco. We made a poor choice. The journey was long and uncomfortable, there appeared to be two temperature settings freezing Antarctic cold or desert meltingly hot. It also seemed that most of the roads to Cusco are cobbled which on the top deck of a bus feels as though your insides are being shaken like a cocktail. Also as the night wears on the drivers get bored and around midnight stamp their foot down, making every corner a terrifying gamble as to whether or not the bus will make the turn upright or not.

We arrive safe but tired in Cusco around 7am, we’re too early to check in to our hostel so stop and grab a coffee from the bus station. We’ve been pretty hot so far on asking cabbies to quote us our fairs before getting in them, in order to avoid being ripped off. The bus station has its own cabbies posted outside, with a price board inside, so this time we decide to throw caution to the wind and just jump in. Another poor choice, unfortunately this cab is an 8 seater so the cheeky (read thieving) cabby charges us double.

It was still a bit early to check in but luckily the hostel let us in with no fuss. We spent an hour or so trying to catch up on some sleep and then headed out on a hunt for a good brunch. I’d bookmarked a few places which looked promising. When we got outside it was grey and wet and Cusco looked grubby and run down. The walk from our hostel into the town centre was as South American as it gets. It was dirty, busy and there were people everywhere. The Peruvians are worse than the Ecuadorians for sharing walkways, where the Ecuadorians were just slow and oblivious the Peruvians are rude and ignorant. Feeling tired and fed up I was as cheery as the weather.

We walk down the wet, narrow streets and up dog poo littered stairs until we finally arrive at one of the brunch spots. I order smoked salmon on sourdough toast and Dave picked one of the healthy bowl options. I’m disappointed to see when mine arrives that it’s only one small slice of toast but at least it’s not what Dave ordered! Dave is presented with half a coconut shell full of purple goo.

He said it was nice but the balance was all off, it needed more oats. It looked gross.

As we were leaving Dave noticed that I had managed to match my outfit to the cafe.

I decided I may have been a bit harsh on Cusco, possibly due to lack of sleep grumpiness. I try to reserve judgement until we’ve explored a little more. We come across this very nice looking water feature in a small square.

After our measly brunch I was still hungry, so suggest to Dave that maybe we should get some more food. Luckily but not too surprisingly, he agrees and we head off to another brunch spot. Breakfast number 2 was a much more generous size…

After our second breakfast we wander some more and find the main square, it is quite pretty.

We stroll through and I kid you not, every second step we are pestered by someone different trying to sell us something. Massages, restaurants, bars, tours, shoe shining, art it is relentless. We quickly decide to vacate the area.

I’m done, I’m convinced Cusco is the worst place on earth and can’t be doing with it anymore. It definitely wasn’t just because I was tired and super grumpy! The walk back to the hostel didn’t make things any better, it started to rain, there were people literally everywhere and the place is just not built to cope with the amount of foot traffic it gets. When we get back to the hostel I’m quite happy to shut the door and stay there for the rest of the day or the next 4 days to be honest!

We spent the rest of the afternoon planning our next few days, trying to catch up on blogs and I moaned a lot about Cusco being rubbish. Early evening Dave somehow managed to convince me to venture out again. We decided we wanted to try and get to the Aternative Rainbow Mountains, we’ve read a few negatives about ‘the’ Rainbow Mountains like huge crowds, 3am starts, pushy guides and limited time to really appreciate the scenery. We’d looked up a tour agency who offer the alternatives and visited the office to try and book it. When we arrived the guy didn’t know what we were talking about and couldn’t be less interested in offering any further information or explanation. We promptly left and wandered around a few more to see if it was a tour they offered. We couldn’t seem to find an agency that went there, only ‘the’ Rainbow Mountains. Feeling even more fed up with Cusco, we go back to the hostel and book an expensive but very highly rated tour we found online. To my absolute delight I don’t leave the room again but Dave does pop out and pick us up a take away pizza. Hero.

The next day we wake up and enjoy the included breakfast at the hostel. We’d decided the night before that we would spring for a Cusco tourist ticket, which would give us entry to various Inca ruins and museums. We purchase it from one of the museums and then head off in search of a taxi. About 20 minutes outside of Cusco centre are some of the ruins we can access with our ticket, there are 4 of them all along the same road. The plan was to get a taxi up to the first one and then walk back visiting the other sites on the way which in theory should take about an 1 hour and 40 minutes to walk, not including any time spent at the sites.

We find our taxi, negotiate a fare and off we go. The friendly taxi driver asks us where we are from and then spends the rest of the journey pointing out highlights to look out for on our walk, all in nice slow, clear Spanish. We arrive at the first attraction and follow the obligatory alpaca lined path…

After we have passed through the many stalls selling all the best tourist tat, we reach the first attraction, Tambomachay.

It appears to be a wall, with windows on split levels and water running out of it. We don’t know what it’s for and it’s unlikely anyone else knows either, they’ll just be guessing. You know because the advanced civilisation of the Incas had no written word. They chronicled things in textiles and other means, so no-one has the foggiest idea what anything is. They certainly knew how to pick a good spot for some wonky brick work though, the views around the site were gorgeous.

We spent much more time wandering the grounds around the site than looking at it.

Dave climbed this big hill, while I was taking pictures of the tiny flowers in the grass…

I am a fan of the ‘old’ wobbly Inca brick work though. It’s pretty impressive but at the same time why? It must have been so time consuming and difficult to move these huge stones and slot them together so precisely. Why not just make life easier and use square or rectangular ones? There are theories that some of the stones fit together to make the outline of animals but it seems a bit far fetched to me, more on that later.

Having had our fill of what Tambomachay was offering, we head 2 minutes up the road to the second site, Puka Pukara.

More classic Inca stones, this time slightly smaller ones as well as the iconic huge, odd shaped ones laid out in a square-ish shape.

Great valley views from this one and some really cool caves.

Not sure if the caves are deliberate Inca creations or just 600 years of nature making her mark. We have absolutely no idea what purpose this place had but once again, anyone else would just be speculating anyway. As this site is right on the road there’s not such an interesting walk surrounding it, so our visit here was brief.

We walk towards a small artisanal village which the cabby pointed out on our way up. Literally everything in South America is artisanal, beers, crafts, art, clothes and all the souvenir tat you can think of. I can’t even count the number of artisanal markets we have visited just to be greeted by the same stuff again and again. We stop just before the village (as we’ve just up-hilled pretty hard, at altitude) to catch our breath, we perched on a couple of rocks on what looks like a farm access road. As we’re sitting there a couple of fellow tourists walk past us down the farm road. Our original plan was to follow the road back down but it seemed there may be an alternative option. Once we’d recovered (read finished smoking) we head off down the farm track. Now one of us was not smart and decided the best footwear for a short, downhill walk, on the road would be Converse, I hadn’t accounted for this off-road detour. I should know by now if there’s a more exciting/adventurous option then we’re taking it, come prepared! Luckily the track is only a little wet, the patches of mud are small and easily avoidable. We head away from the road and around a pretty lake where we meet this friendly guy and his slightly shyer buddy.

We pass through some slightly muddier patches of path and across a barely visible stream. Then we hit the gorgeous smelling Eucalyptus forest, we follow the hard to see track along side them.

The track then disappears and ahead of us is just boggy looking farming fields. We head up into the Eucalyptus forest and follow a very narrow, little track along the side of a steep hill. We’re pretty sure we’ve gone wrong somewhere and that we shouldn’t really be up here. Then off in the distance we spot some other walkers, they are on a track on the side of the mountain opposite us.

We make our way down from the trees and can see the faint outline of a path running along the other side of the boggy field. We can’t see a way of getting there without walking through the bog and across the barely visible stream.

We turn around and go back the way we came until we see a very slightly drier patch of field. We wade across very slowly and just about manage to make it to the other side with only lightly damp feet. We climb up the side of the mountain and take in the spectacular views of the valley ahead of us.

As we round the corner we notice some bonus Inca ruins to our left down in the valley.

These must be a rare freebie as they don’t appear on our almost all inclusive tickets. As we already have a good view from this vantage point we don’t bother heading down for an up close look.

The barely there track has now changed to a wide, very clearly marked grass path with fences on both sides. Dave startled this causious guy but he was in the middle of the walkway.

We continue following the track and dotted all along the edge of it are pretty, little wild flowers.

The path splits and one track leads up a hill into woodland and the other leads to a clearing with a big rock in it. I remember the cabby mentioning something about a temple of the moon and assume the big rock must be it. We head that way but the path is flooded, mainly with what seems to be horse urine, mud and a smattering of shit for good measure. There is no getting through this path with dry feet, no matter how carefully I tread. Just before we reach the temple of the moon I sink deep into a muddy, shitty puddle. My left foot is soaked and covered in various browns I’d rather not think too much about.

Once we reach the moon temple we have a wander around the perimeter and stop for a spot of lunch. Dave was very tired…

The weather, which has been warm but slightly overcast until now, is starting to turn and we can hear a storm in the distance. From up here we have a great view of the mixed weather conditions.

After our lunch we venture on to the temple. It’s a bit different to the other Inca sites we’re seen so far, it’s a bit more rustic and natural with the expectation of a few stairs carved into it.

There is a small site below us which looks like it may still be under construction judging by the piles of ‘ancient’ stones stacked around it!

After descending a different flight of carefully carved stairs we follow the path away from the big rock.

It leads us to an Inca road which apparently used to connect Cusco with Quito, Ecuador and all the way down to Argentina. We decide the best course of action is to follow the Inca road as it’s bound to lead us to the next site, Q’enco.

There are various little nooks along the road but the purpose of them shall, like many other Inca things, remain a mystery.

As we round a corner we spot another bonus Inca site. We start to head in when a man pops up for one of the rocks. From what I understood he wants us to pay him three Soles each to look around the very small site. Now call me sceptical but I’m fairly sure this guy has just rocked up and is charging unsuspecting tourists a fee for a freebie. Well not these tourists mate, you can poke it! I take a picture from the road and we carry on, on our way.

As we round a corner the road becomes super steep but luckily we are following it downhill, I wouldn’t fancy walking up this. Like many of the other paths we have been following it is wet, muddy and pretty slippery not ideal conditions for Converse. When we get to the bottom of the Inca road all that greets us is the modern road. We check the map on our phones and see the next site should be behind us to our right. When we look that way all we see is a very, very steep modern road. Now that we’ve had a taste of adventure off roading, we don’t want to walk along the side of the modern road especially not when there is no pavement and Peruvian drivers to contend with. To my dismay, back up the Inca road we go and it was as tough as I thought it would be. We follow it all the way back to the temple of the moon and then spot the track leading off to the left, the direction we should be going in. We follow this path and it takes us though muddy fields and across a little stream. Then we’re back on the modern road which we follow down to a small village. We’ve run out of water by this point and find a classic South American house shop. Which is basically someone’s house with a little grocery shop in it. They just leave the door open with some sort of obstruction in the way, a fridge or a gate and they get on with their day until someone comes by. Unfortunately whoever owned this particular house shop was doing a little too much getting on with their day and didn’t answer our holas. Feeling parched we carry on up a hill and around a corner into some patchy woodland. The third of our planned Inca sites, Q’enco, is soon on our left. We get our tickets punched, walk past the stalls of various alpaca wool goods, hoping to see some water (we don’t) and into the site we go, just in time for a huge coach full of people to arrive. We rush in ahead of them into the centre of the site, where we find a stone in the middle of some rustic Incan brickwork circling around it.

Our guess is that this may be one of the chosen spots for bashing little children on the head with rocks or doing something similar to llamas.

With that cheery thought we continued to explore, there was a cave tunnel and a guide was busy explaining to a small group all the possible reasons it was there. Guess what though, nobody knows why. When we come out of the tunnel we are greeted by some really good views over Cusco.

It looks really nice from here, maybe Cusco is best appreciated from a distance. Just as we’re enjoying the view the storm we’ve so far been managing to avoid catches up with us. It starts to rain but only a drizzle, nevertheless we take it as our cue to move on.

We walk along the road, taking shelter from the drizzle under the trees lining the way. We reach another small village, this one is literally just a row of tourist shops. Just as we step out from under the trees the sky drops it’s load and it is hammering down. We dive for shelter under a shop awning hoping it will pass quickly. Dave runs into a shop and we finally get some much needed water, even if it does cost us 10 Soles (daylight robbery!) We hydrate and the rain doesn’t slow so we decide to brave it. We are rewarded with some soggy alpacas in a nearby field.

From here we can see the final site, Saqsaywaman but it’s not clear how we get there. We have also spotted Jesus Cristo, most places in South America have one in varying sizes, he’s always on top of a hill taking in banging views. We head his way to check out what this JC is ogling.

It’s pretty decent, Cusco definitely looks much better from a distance.

After our visit to the big man we follow a track which leads off in the direction of Saqsaywaman. All the days walking seems to hit Dave at this point and he takes on my usual role.

Blah blah moan!

Despite this we carry on and eventually reach our final stop. By this point in the day we are both fully over Inca ruins and all the guess work, so when a guy offers us an English guided tour we politely decline. After making our way through one of the more aggressive sales paths we reach the site and head straight to a mirador.

As it turns out this mirador is very similar to JC’s, in fact we can see him for this one.

Having lost some of our enthusiasm for all the Inca stuff we try to regain a bit by trying to find some of the animals rumoured to be hidden in the brickwork.

Startled horse
Constipated crab

Yeah so I think the whole animals in the brickwork thing might be bollocks. The Saqsaywaman site is huge, much bigger than any of the others we have seen today. We wander through the many paths and doorways.

Some of the stones are massive, I have no idea how they moved these things.

We found the compulsory Inca site alpacas. This site had a good collection of different colour ones.

This site also had it’s own moon temple or what looked like the moon temple we saw earlier but who knows. Maybe the guy who offered to be our guide but then again he could just be guessing.

I was really into the big curved corners on this one, they were so neat and had really big stones in them.

The sun was starting to set and the early evening had cheered up a bit after the earlier rain.

We were both feeling pretty shot after the long day and all the walking. The original plan was to walk all the way back to the town but somehow with our off roading and couple of wrong turns the short downhill walk we had planned had turned into an all day adventure. We decided it was probably best to take a taxi back to town as it would be dark soon and also we can’t afford to buy any more over priced water!

Before we walk back to the little strip of shops to hail a cab, Dave had to make some important calls…

When we reach the shops a taxi pulls up and offers us a ride to the main square and it’s as overpriced as the water. Our negotiations started with us saying no we’ll walk and carrying on down the road. The taxi driver crawls along beside us explaining that it’s a more direct journey to walk and his price is so inflated because it’s a longer road the way the cars have to take. We still decline his offer and carry on walking, we have no idea which way we should be going and absolutely no desire to actually walk back. He drives off but within a couple of minutes is back offering us a more reasonable price. We jump in, say hello to the 5 year old bouncing around in the passenger seat and are very grateful to be sitting down. The taxi driver speaks a little bit of English and shows us an English book all about the various Inca sites, we flick through and it does look interesting. He tells us that Saqsaywaman is a very important site but doesn’t elaborate any more than that. He tells us the price of the book and how much it would cost us if we brought it from a shop. You cannot move in Cusco without some trying to sell you something, it is relentless. We don’t buy the book but enjoy listening to the man as he tells us about different methods to combat altitude sickness. He tells us about a herb which is better than coca to help with altitude sickness. He says it’s called Muña which I later find out is also known as Andian Mint. He tells us he has some fermented in almost pure alcohol for tourists he picks up who are struggling. We politely decline his kind offer to try some, we have both been absolutely fine with the altitude so far. As we weave down the road back to the square the cabby pulls over telling us that Muña grows here and he’ll pick us some so we can have it as tea later. True to his word he re-appears with a handful of small, square twigs with small green leaves. It smells amazing, it’s really strong and hard to explain. There is a hint of mint to it but there’s so much more too.

For the rest of the evening smelling Muña became one of my favourite things.

Once we got back to the main square we go straight to dinner at a small Mexican restaurant.

After dinner we had one last job on our to do list, buy gloves for the next days tour to the alternative rainbow mountains.

Dave also brought himself a hat.

Feeling totally spent we walk back to the hostel and have a quick coca tea before bed.

Just before crawling into bed I check to see how far we’ve walked today, if we’d followed the plan we would’ve walked 4 miles. Taking our route we actually walked just over 8 and a half miles.

Maybe at some point I’ll do a bit of research on the Incas and stop being so hard on them! Maybe.

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