June 27 – 29, 2009
The bus ride from Puno to Cusco was not bad at all, and in fact, was very pleasant. We took an inkaexpress bus, which is a very reputable tourist company.
The bus ride reminded me of my Bicol-Manila trips during college in one of those Sunshine or Sarkies Buses. The bus left Puno at exactly 7:30, as we were told. We are really impressed at the punctuality of the tourists services here, which I guess I had mentioned already before. It should only take about 6 hours to get to Cusco, but we had 5 stops… 4 of which are on some museums, or old colonial towns, and an archaeological site, so we pretty much stop every 2 hours or so, which made the trip feel shorter. We also stopped for a Peruvian lunch at a small town.
I woke up still feeling sick that morning and I had no idea how I will survive the trip, but at the same time, I needed to go down to a lower altitude badly. I think all of us can´t wait to go to Cusco. But don´t get me wrong, I did like Puno, and there are things that nobody else has except Puno, but my body is just not made for high altitude. This is the second time Pachamama (Mother Nature) had reminded me of that. I just thought maybe She´s changed her mind so I tried once again 😀 . And now, I get her point, ok, I should stay somewhere near sea level.
The bus went higher first, all the way up to 14,500ft where we passed by a pass lined with snowcapped mountains of the Andes. We passed by herds of vicuñas, sheeps, cows, and alpacas. Raising these animals are the only source of living of the inhabitants in this region. Crops won´t grow and survive at this altitude.
We would pass by small houses made of adobe with small windows few and far between. The entire environment looked very hostile to me, I can´t imagine how they live their life here. Once we started descending, we started seeing trees and some vegetation … ahh, signs of life. The mountains started to look alive and fertile, with lots of eucalyptus trees and crops planted on terraces along the face of the mountains. We stopped by a plaza of a small colonial town, which of course, has a church on it. The church was considered the Sistine chapel of the Andes , with the interior adorned with golden carvings, and some leaves plated with 24-carat gold. Huge paintings cover the ceilings and walls.
Finally, we reached Cusco. We were met at the bus station by a representative of our hotel. The car went through the city, and through very narrow stoned streets lined with high white walls complemented with blue-painted windows. All the streets around the main plaza are made of stones, and are very narrow you wouldn´t think a car would even fit in there – but somehow they do. They are very pretty. Oh, have I mentioned, all the streets that I´ve seen are very clean – I haven´t seen any trash or litters on the streets. I couldn´t wait to walk along these streets and check out every small store, restaurants, and cafes around it. We were in the neigborhood of San Blas, a couple of blocks from the main plaza (yes, of course, the Plaza de Armas) and what is known to be the “artists´neighborhood”. The streets are lined with stores selling beautiful paintings and handicrafts. At night, the streets are lit by lamps which makes the streets even more charming. I was obsessed with the streets :).
After settling in our room, we agreed to meet up with our friend, Kurt, who just arrived from SF and was meeting us for the Cusco-MachuPicchu part of our trip. We walked two blocks to the high steps of the Cathedral in the main plaza where we found Kurt waiting.
We were so amazed at how easy it was for us to walk around and go up steps. We couldn´t contain ourselves as we compare how we feel in Cusco compared to Puno. It didn´t hurt my nose and throat to breathe the air, and even though I still get exhausted quickly, I didn´t feel like my heart was about to burst out of my chest. We were all amazed we felt like we were at sea level and were bragging about how easy-peasy it is for us to walk and climb steps. I guess we have Puno to thank for, our bodies are acclimatized to high altitude by now. No more soroche pills. Anyhow, we then had dinner, followed by coffee while sitting at a cafe while watching people around. This is what´s going to be our daily evening routine in the following days.
The next day was a Sunday, and was a big market day in Pisac, a town about 45 min away from Cusco. So that was our agenda for Sunday. But first we headed to some Inca ruins on top of the hills in Pisac. The town lies in the Sacred Valley and has one of the most wonderful views. The Pisac ruins lies on top of the hills, which is amazingly carved by terraces used by the Incas for their crops. The sun here is very harsh, and even me, being a sun-aholic, can´t stand it. We found ourselves having to walk up a trail, zigzagging along the terraces to reach one of the ruins – we picked the lowest one, with what seemed to be the easiest trail. Of course, it still wasn´t easy, but we were determined to at least reach one of them… only to discover when we reached the top, that there is actually a road which leads to the top ! Our cab driver was laughing when we told him later. Of course he knew, and for all I know, he must be explaining it to us before we took off but the only thing I understood was we had to walk.
After the hike to the ruins, we were all exhausted and starving so we stopped for lunch. This day marked my daily ceviche dose. After lunch we headed to the huge market, which sells everything and anything you could think of. From vegetables, fruits, meat, to handicrafts, jewelries, and all sorts of stuff. I had fun taking pictures – everything is so colorful, how can I resist ? And of course, we were all impressed at Maridol´s skill in haggling and bargaining for prices. I don´t have her patience, so I let her bargain if I wanted to buy anything.
We were back to the city center as the sun was setting. A perfect time to sit by the plaza … and so we did. We chose one of those colonaded balconies that surround the plaza, ordered some drinks, and watch the sun set and the people go by in the plaza.
Some uniformed men performed some rehearsed routine to bring down the Peruvian and the Cusco flag (which by the way is a rainbow flag, and is found in every corner in Cusco). There was a newly wed on top of the high steps of the Cathedral, having their pictures taken while they dance and hug and kiss, and Peruvian kids circle around them.
After a week of purely Peruvian food, Maridol was craving for something else so we chose Jack´s cafe for our dinner. Jack´s cafe is one of those places you go to if you want to escape from Peru for a few hours. It´s packed with tourists (only), and they serve mexican food, burgers, grilled ham and cheese sandwich… you get what I mean.
Oh one thing I notice about Cusco that wasn´t anywhere else that we´ve been to, is there´s soo many vendors bugging every tourist around. Oh right, there´s also so many tourists.. I mean, compared to Lima, Arequipa and Puno. We can basically hear other languages being spoken by everyone around us, whereas in the previous cities we´ve visited we hear mostly Spanish. This is when I really appreciated Puno. In Puno, women wear traditional clothing as part of their life. Here in Cusco, vendors wear them for tourists, and children wear them to have their picture taken for a fee. I love taking pictures of people, but not here. In Arequipa and Puno, I felt like I was capturing real moments, a stolen glimpse in a life of someone who lives in a world I am fascinated with. Here in Cusco, kids would approach me telling me to take a picture of them and pay them a couple of soles. I was put off by the whole thing. Some of them are wearing the traditional clothes, with a llama tugging along – all for show. Good thing I´ve seen plenty of llamas, vicuñas and alpacas in the wild on the way here.
Anyway.. this is it for now …. we have couple of more days here in Cusco, and the Sacred Valley, before we head to Machu Picchu on Friday.