Thursday, October 29, 2009
Inca Empires - Cusco & Macchu Picchu
The route from Puno to Cusco followed a spectacular river valley, with several groups of pink flamingoes, surrounded by mountains that influenced the weather with build up of thunder clouds that often threatened our path and storms and showers in the distance.
Typical of weather pattern in the altiplano region was clear and warm in the morning and then short torrential downpours in the afternoon. We were heading into rainy season where downpours were brief and drenching as opposed to our day long miserable drizzle and rain in Brasil! We had 3 days cycling 400km to Cusco and the first day brought the typical weather, farmland scenes and distant snowcapped mountains. We stayed in Ayaviri, a small industrial market town with a beautiful cathedral and plaza. Unfortunately it was where I caught a bad case of gastro, so I had to enjoy the next 2 days in a sleepy haze in the truck and missed out on 2 stunning cycling days - some long gradual climbs to 4350m, rolling hills, Inca ruins and traditional villages. It was still stunning as we wizzed past in the truck but not the same feeling with sun on your back and wind in your face, seeing expressions on local faces and smelling fresh mountainous air! There will be more cycling days like these, most important was to get well for Cusco, gourmet, I mean Inca capital of South America and our 2 day Macchu Picchu trip!
Cusco is a fabulous city, whilst the centre is touristy, it is also also beautiful, our hostel has great views over tiled roofs down to main plaza with beautiful church, cathedral and historical buildings. There are some fantastic restaurants, great shopping and good museums although I didnt quite get to the museums! We had 3 rest days in Cusco, the first day was spent walking around the town, enjoying the architecture, cobbled streets, some shopping, mostly just looking and a relaxing lunch.
I then took a 2 day trip to Macchu Piccu "The Lost City of the Incas" with 8 other cyclists from the group. Our trip took us through the scenic Sacred Valley, stopping at a llama farm and textile centre, archaelogical sites of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, and stop for lunch at Urubamba.
The stunning train ride from Ollantaytambo took 1.5hours through the Vilcanote River Valley with stunning views of the river, towering mountains and rain forest.
Arriving in Aquas Caliente, the base from which Macchu Picchu is visited, which is known for its hot springs, and otherwise is filled with hotels, restaurants and shops. We had an early departure in the morning to catch 5.30am bus up to the Macchu Picchu site, the bus snakes up the mountain with the rain forest below and the mountains towering around and as you ascend, you feel you are heading for the clouds. There are many visitors obscuring ones views but this doesnt take away from the impressive Inca site. Built in 15th Century by the Incas for purposes not confirmed (several theories refer to agricultural testing, religious or prison site) and not discovered and hence plundered by the Spanish, but left for rain forest to cover it. Whilst previous explorers came across it, it was brought to the world's attention by American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911. We spent the morning wandering around the ruins and then hiked up Huayna Picchu for some more impressive views of the site. I had always wanted to do the Inca trail and visit Macchu Picchu, and whilst I did not have the time to do the 4 day trail this visit, I now feel more inspired and eager to hike this beautiful region and country and I am certain that Macchu Picchu would be as impressive on a second visit!