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The Inca Cities of Peru

Our time in Cusco, Ollantaytambo and Puno. Cites and towns enriched with Inca traditions but where there is more there than meets the eye


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We arrived in Cusco after the most crazy overnight bus. Lewis got sick potentially from one of four options: food poisoning, altitude,the bus drivers manic driving or a combination of all of above. The city is beautiful in a new and different way to most of the cities we have seen over the last four months. There are still a main plaza and churches everywhere but there are also beautifully crafted balconies everywhere and the Spanish colonial architecture has variations between each building. The reason that Cusco has little Inca ruins in the main centre is they were demolished when the Spanish came and conquered. They did not want artefacts they wanted to take anything of value back to Spain or for themselves.

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The place was beautiful and you can see why it is Peru’s main tourist mecca. There are cafes and restaurants everywhere serving food of any sort. Our hotel was an old fashioned house with the rooms all facing into an internal courtyard. We started off our day with a massive breakfast at Jack’s Café. This place is owned by an Australian so the breakfasts were your typical fair you could expect to find at home but the size of them was MASSIVE!
After that it was really just walking around enjoying the stunning sights. We headed to the San Pedro market to see all the different areas, there some of the others tried some of the traditional fruits…sadly there were no feijoas ☹ (apparently we are in the wrong season)
As Lewis was sick he spent most of the day resting. I managed to get him to come and have a vegan set lunch with me at Greenpoint. The food was sensational and the price excellent (set menu-soup, main, desert, salad and juice for 12 soles or $6NZD). We made many repeated visits to this place while we were here. My advice is if they have passionfruit cheesecake, get it! It is amazing!

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The cafe was in the San Blas area, a bohemian chic area which had a great vibe and plenty of organic vegan cafes. Sadly but that afternoon I also came down with the same bug and our plan of mountain biking in the Sacred Valley the next day had to be cancelled. This may have been a blessing in disguise as if I had fallen off and injured myself (highly possible considering I am accident prone) then I wouldn’t have been able to do the Inca Trail the next day.

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We instead walked up to Cristo Blanco, a Jesus statue given to Cusco by the Palestinians when they took in numerous refugees at the end of WW2. The walk was great practice as to what we were going to be dealing with when we finally made it to the Inca trail with the altitude. The view was spectacular and were quite dramatic! We had some issues on the way with not being able to walk through a ruin site and Lewis demanding a reason as to why we couldn't walk but made it eventually.

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I also convinced Lewis to come to the Sun Cathedral. The Sun Cathedral isn’t the main cathedral of Cusco which is in the main plaza but the one that was built on top of Inca temples thought to be dedicated to the sun and the moon. The inside of the cathedral includes religious paintings and is around a huge courtyard. The stones are thought to be from the Inca temples that were originally located there. Inside there are also paintings and prints explaining some of the constellations the Inca saw in the milky way and the how they used the sun and positions to know where things were. There was also a gold shield that showed the different symbols from there. The ruins to be honest were minor but what I have noticed is that in Peru even minor ruins are made a big deal out of just to get more of the tourist dollar or perhaps as there are so few of them left intact.

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The next day we were off to Ollantaytambo, the town closest to the beginning of the Inca Trail. I fell in love with this cute and quirky town and wish we had more time to explore. The town was made of many little alleys that felt like the perfect maze to get lost in. Most had water canals next to them which helped add to the effect that this is a real little Inca village. On the hills surrounding the town were numerous terraces and ruin sites from the times when the Inca's ruled. It really was a cute step back in time as less had been destroyed here. We climbed up the hill to watch the sun fall behind the hill. Lewis ventured further to the old storehouses that were up on the hill.

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The work was still in excellent condition and as the light fell the view of the ruins on the other side of the town came into full view. The people of the town were friendly and you could tell this was a place that relied heavily on the tourist dollar, in general it appears that Peru relies heavily on the tourist dollar. After getting some last minute supplies and heading out for a quick dinner we made it back to our hotel. The next morning we were off to start our next adventure, the Inca trail, which you can read about in a previous post.

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On arrival back to Cusco it was recovery time. That mean normal food that wasn’t soup or chicken and rice! We managed to have delicious hamburgers from Fuego after a much needed hot shower (we hadn’t properly showered in four days!). We also managed to relax watching the rugby (Ireland vs France) in the Irish pub, which had an amazing atmosphere. We ended our day with massages. It was just what we needed to relax our aching muscles after the gruelling mountains we had climbed over the last few days.

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I can see why Cusco and the region have so much hype. It really is a tourist mecca. There is more to this place than Machu Picchu and if you have time you should take the time to visit as much as it has to offer like some of the ruins in the Scared Valley and some of the cities amazing food options.

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We left Cusco for our final destination in Peru, Puno the next day. The place is famous due to Lake Titicaca and the floating islands. Lake Titicaca is a scared lake for the Incas. They claim that this is where the sun and the world as well as the Incas came from. We were off to a Uryos or a floating island in Lake Titicaca. The islands are made with a base of roots that are tired together and anchored to the lake floor with eucalyptus pegs. They are then covered with over one metre with reeds.

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The reeds were higher where the houses are built to try and help with moisture problems. They also have boats that are made with the large reeds tied together originally with grass but now with nylon string. In the ancient times the folks would move the islands whenever they had problems like the authorities hassling them to pay taxes. We stayed and looked around the island and saw how they lived. The people use solar power now and stay on the islands via choice rather than necessity.

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We were off to another island in the lake after our visit. Tactile island is an island famous for the peoples weaving and knitting. It is a huge part of their culture and a lot of things have meaning. The men usually knit and the women weave. They make their own clothes and in the day they would pay their taxes from there textile work. The clothes are colourful and fashion was based off Spanish dress of Early Colonial times. The hats that they wear tell your relationship status and if you are looking for a partner. The colour and the amount of hats also shows if you are a person of authority on the island. Men who wish to date a girl must knit a hat that the girls father will exam and decide if he is good enough for her solely based on his knitting. The women make belts for their husbands out of wool and their own hair! The interesting thing is the old still knit and weave.

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They have no eye care and I wonder how they can see that closely and/or in the distance especially because of the altitude they are at and the increase of UV that goes with that. Shouldn’t that increase ARMD and cataracts? Usually the first complaint or thing noticed for people developing these conditions is the loss of small detail vision. The islanders we asked about this said they had no issues and rather than push it I left it at that and continued exploring. After walking around the island a little further we were off to a small village to stay for the night.

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We dressed in the traditional gowns and danced as well as played football on arrival. The locals basically live off the land and we got to do this with them. Our host was Mr Siesa. He had six children and three still lived at home. We had cuy (guinea pigs) running around outside as well as a cute puppy, pigs, sheep and cows.

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Our job the next morning was to help with the work. We dragged the bulls literally by the horns to a feeding spot after letting them drink by the lake, we ploughed the weeds out of the land by hand and we went to the lake and cut reeds for the cows. I was exhausted and even with sunblock was bright red! It was interesting talking with the family and seeing that Mr Siesa expected his children to work on the land like he did and to not go to university and seek another profession. We talked about how the lake had been overfished and how pollution was happening yet the locals just turned a blind eye and shrugged their shoulders. This seems to happen all over Latin America. The locals don't want to stop another from making a living. I guess for us it was saddening to see that Mr Siesa didn’t want more than what he had for his children and the future of the area and sustainability wasn’t a priority. Although we had different points of view of certain subjects we still had a great time staying with Mr Siesa and his family.

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We were back to Puno that night. Sadly I got food poisoning which would end up lasting the next 5 days and affect me so much that I could barely move in La Paz!

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The next day we crossed the border. We were in Bolivia! The country was interestingly less crowded and less touristy but a lot more developed than everything I had read. We were both ecstatic as the tourism of Peru was starting getting too much!
We have just over a month to go now before we head home and try and find some routine again. I have the feeling time will go amazingly fast!

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Posted by chellebelle 15:03 Archived in Peru Tagged cusco puno homestay inca uros inka lake_titicaca ollantanyambo sun_cathedral greenpoint Comments (1)

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