Tag Archive: Cusco

My Junk


There, some of my junk. Not that TSA would be interested in my junk, unless they were having an office party…

I am not planning anything today, I expect to be successful. We are into our third week of 40°+C temps, it’s so hot that I forgot to water my plants a couple of days ago and nearly killed some of them, but they recovered. The bushes that line the park in front of the house are all wilting sadly, we badly need rain.

I read a travel blog the other day. It was extolling the virtues of visiting Machu Picchu in Peru and it referred to the “Inca citadel high in the mountains”. It’s not a travel blog that I would have much faith in, because Machu Picchu is in the jungle, mountainous, but jungle. This is actually and illusion that many people have.

I took this photo in 1997

I took this photo in 1997

Yes, it looks like it’s in the mountains. But the altitude is a mere 1,700 metres above sea level.

The staring point for a Machu Picchu trip is Cusco at 3,600m asl, which is indeed high in the Andean mountains, but many don’t realise that when you travel by train to Aguas Calientes, the town below MP, you are going downhill.

maria moleMy shopping yesterday was a success, I now have food. I bought a few extras too, bottle of wine, some Camembert and Brie cheese and I bought some Maria Mole (marshmellow covered with grated coconut).

The pack that I bought, had three white and one pink. Last night I munched two of the white ones, yummy. I don’t often buy such treats, just when I have a hankering. Now, I have a problem; I have one white and one pink… which one do I save until last? Oh, life is so beset with problems!

I have pizza for lunch. Yes, I cheated, I bought a ready made one, but I will gussy it up extra cheese and some bacon. The theme of the day is simplicity.

It’s 11am, I must take a break and put my pants on.

Blogging right along until beer o’clock.


Sunday Travel Tales

Chapter 13 – Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu


A five o’clock start, early calls for everyone. It’s a good thing we didn’t have a late night at Rosie O’Grady’s. Breadrolls and strawberry jam for an early breakfast, then it was bags downstairs and into the bus for our next trip.


Today we were off to the Sacred Valley, the first part of our journey to Machu Picchu. 6:30am, yawns and bags into the bus and we got underway. The city seemed strangely quiet at this hour. We briefly visited some archaelogical sites like Qenqo, and Tambu Machay and Puku Pukara on the way to Pisac, the first town in the valley.



Tambo Machay fountains

Both Qenqo and Puka Pukara were pretty much run-of-the-mill archaeological sites, they were “ho hum” interesting. Tambo Machay, was where the action was. The action consisted of two spouts of water flowing from an Inca wall. They were ceremonial spouts and to put one’s hand under the water of the appropriate male or female spout one was assured of success in love. Okay, now we would all have successful love lives and we were again on the way to Pisac.


Pisac ruins looking down at Pisac - image: AV

Pisac ruins looking down at Pisac – image: AV

The attraction of Pisac is the “Sunday Market”, but today wasn’t Sunday. However we were assured that the market exists on other days too, although not as grand and less tourists, so more freedom. First we were taken to see the Pisac ruins, and after a strenuous downhill scramble we would get to Pisac. The ruins were high above the town. We were afforded a grand view of the Urumbamba Valley and river, as well as seeing some of the best preserved ruins in the area.


Pisac market

Pisac market

The descent to Pisac was, as promised, strenuous. We arrived in the Plaza exhausted, ready to sit and relax. Coca tea and fizzy drinks were welcome. We still had about 45 minutes to explore the market, which covered the entire plaza. We were left wondering if this was a small market, what must the one on Sundays be like? Stalls made from blue tarpaulins were every where, offering souvenirs. Alpaca jerseys, Alpaca wool wall-hangings with beautiful pictures, statuettes of everyday life and erotica (apparently even the Inca must have appreciated this aspect of life) were among the offerings.



The terraces at Ollantaytambo – image: AV

After testing our powers of bargaining we were off once again, this time to the town of Ollaytaytambo at the head of the valley, with more ruins to explore and the prospect of lunch. Again were were assaulted by people selling everything as we made our way through the township and into the ruins where again, our tourist tickets were punched like a bus-conductor. As groups or singly we explored the famous terraces of Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo was famous as the last stronghold  and stand of Manco Inca against the  Hernando Pizarro’s Spanish conquistadors in 1536. So we were privileged to be at the last place on Earth where the Inca existed as a civilisation


Kids playing

Kids playing in the princess bath – image:AV

Besides the terraces there is also the smaller site below known as Inca Misanca, which has the Baño de la Ñusta, the “princess’ bath”. The lesser site is rather better preserved and today the bath is the playground of the many children who visit, a somewhat ignoble end to a noble beginning.


After our individual explorations, lunch, and then off to the train station. We had to get the train from here to Aguas Calientes. The train was due to arrive at 3pm from Cusco. Our travel agency had bought the tickets from Cusco in the morning, so we were guaranteed of seats. Most tourists tour the Sacred Valley on one day and catch the train from Cusco to Aguas the next, our company combined the two events to save time and an unnecessary trip back to Cusco. At the station we waited amongst the locals who were waiting for the same train. This was the local train, not the tourist railcar which would have whisked through here much earlier in the day without stopping. This was the train that served local communities from Cusco to Quillabamba much further along the tracks.


The train arrives at Aguas Calientes

The train arrives at Aguas Calientes – image: AV

The train arrived, along with the commotion, people disembarking, people (including us) embarking, all through the same doors at the same time with much pushing and shoving.


Again we found our seats occupied by locals, this time, however, we didn’t make such a fuss, we accepted places dotted about the carriage and left the invaders in peace; we were becoming culturally accustomed. For the rest of the journey we looked at the scenery going past our windows. It was interesting to note that the vegetation changed, from Altiplano to more tropical types. Something that people aren’t generally aware of, knowing that Machu Picchu is also a mountain, people expect to go up to Machu Picchu, in fact, Machu Picchu is down, at only 1,800m a.s.l. We passed many small villages, kids waiting for the train, we stopped briefly at some stations until we found ourselves in the deep gorge of the Urumabmba River and chugging to a stop at Aguas Calientes. Our signal to get off. We did, amongst tourists with backpacks and locals, all pushing and shoving in every direction again.


The steep main street in Aguas Calientes - image: AV

The steep main street in Aguas Calientes – image: AV

We were pleased to be out of the station and found ourselves in a small plaza, a neat fairly modern church and our guide led us off to our lodgings. The street wasn’t a street in the general sense of the word. It was a series of steep steps and slippery concrete slopes up the hillside, we seemed to be going up and up forever with our bags. Finally we reached our hotel, it was with a collective sigh of relief that we dropped our bags where we stood sweating in the humid atmosphere.


We were in the entrance to the hotel, it served also as the lobby, reception and in the morning we discovered also the dining room. It was a quaint place, colourful with lots of plants in the central courtyard off which were our rooms. We settled in quickly and gathered again in the lobby-reception-dining room were we met our guide for the next day when we were to explore Machu Picchu and to dutifully receive our complimentary pisco sours.

The colourful hostel  - image: AV

The colourful hostel – image: AV

Tomorrow was to be an early start, we were to catch the first tourist bus, which left at 6:30am, up the mountain. That meant we had to be up and watered and down at the bus stop before then. Hmmmm, an early night was called for. It was already 6pm, time to explore a little and have dinner. There were hot pools at the top of the street, so I opted for those to relax. After it was group time for pizza, and more complimentary pisco sours, a local band entertained us with music from the Altiplano played on a variety of panpipes with guitar and native drums in accompaniment, followed by our early night.


We yawned collectively over our breadrolls and strawberry jam at 5:30 in the morning. We also enjoyed a lot of fresh fruit, paw paw (papaya) and watermelon, lots of fruit juice too and for the first time on our trip we had cereal with milk. Then it was day packs on our shoulders and off downhill for the bus.


A lone llama in the mist at Machu Picchu  - image: AV

A lone llama in the mist at Machu Picchu – image: AV

Once aboard our guide started his story of Machu Picchu and how it was only discovered in 1911 by Hiram Brigham, along the road with the steep sides of the gorge on one side and the Urubamba river some 30m below flowing furiously through the narrows on the other. Across the river and up the zig-zag road that took us to the top. We were surprised to find a five-star hotel up there. One look inside the lobby, which didn’t double as a dining room, told us why we were staying at the hotel in Aguas Calientes, very plush. Nilo, our guide, came and distributed our entrance tickets and we were off in the crisp morning air. It was still very foggy, which added to the mystique, as we climbed among the ruins, pausing for Nilo’s commentaries. We were the first group of tourists in the place, the people who had hiked the Inca Trail would just be coming across the last pass at this hour to descend into Machu Picchu. So we were privileged to be able to take photos without the presence of lots of people to detract from the essence of our visit.


The ruins at Machu Picchu  - image: AV

The ruins at Machu Picchu – image: AV

We walked, we climbed, we paused to rest and listen in this once land of the Inca. The mist and fog cleared and the day became bright and sunny, and the walking hotter and sweatier as we marveled at the once lost community and tried to imagine what Machu Picchu must have been like in its heyday. Some of the structures were massive, others were more modest and had obviously been the living areas. There was an ever present evidence that Machu Picchu was primarily ceremonial. Water courses and aqueducts ran through the place, little waterfalls and spouts making picturesque interludes. Machu Picchu was truly the marvel we had been promised, it was everything that had been written about it.


Fountains in the ruins  - image: AV

Fountains in the ruins – image: AV

The day wore on, and after being in the ruins for four hours in the now hot hot sun it was time to return to Aguas Calientes. I elected to walk down the hill and back to Aguas, so I set off alone. The others, who were not quite so adventurous waited for the bus at midday.


After descending down, sometimes inelegantly for the way was scree, the track that cut the zig-zags and crossing the bridge, I found myself alone in the solitude of the gorge. The steep rock sides rose far above me, dwarfing me, and the feeling of being an insignificant part of the natural order of the world was so overpowering as the river ran wildly on my right far below. It was an eerie feeling, one that I had never before known.


After lunch, it was back to the station to get the train back to Cusco, we arrived at 9pm, back to the hotel, dinner and bed. For tomorrow was another adventure, we were flying to Puerto Maldonado and off into the jungle.

Sunday Travel Tales

The contuing story of Strawberry Jam, Bread Rolls and Pisco Sours


Chapter 12 – Cusco

Tarim zig-zagging up the hill - image: AV

Train zig-zagging up the hill – image: AV

After a cool night snuggled safely under heavy blankets we woke to bright sunshine. At breakfast, our treat returned to bread rolls and strawberry jam, it was beginning to get a little monotonous. But we ate, drank coffee or had coca tea, there was also juice, plenty of it this time, in jugs on an ornate sideboard. Slowly we gathered and ate, then a hubbub of excitement, someone from another group pointing excitedly out the window. On the hillside opposite, in among the houses, there was a train going up the hill. But it was just going up the hill, it’s path was backward and forwards, as it zig-zagged up the hill. This was the train to Aguas Calientes. The same one that we would get in two days time when we travelled to Machu Picchu. For the next two days we had free, no planned activities, just rest and explore this fabulously famous city of the Inca.

I was going to go it alone. Although, I had formed some friendships within the group, I preferred the prospect of not having to consult a partner when it came to making decisions about when and where to go. Others in the group had planned similarly and some had planned to leave the group and actually hike the famed Inca Trail, four arduous days to Machu Picchu was not for this tourist, my days of hiking were long past and now I much preferred the comfort of train or bus.

Kids in traditional costumes selling everything - image: AV

Kids in traditional costumes selling everything – image: AV

My first idea was to explore the centre of the city, take photos and see what Cusco had to offer. There were several sites within the city that one should see, so first it was down the street to the Plaza and get my bearings amongst the tourists, churches, restaurants and travel agencies.

I quickly discovered that I could get my shoes shined by an urchin about twenty times a day, whether they needed it or not, I could buy postcards from a gaily costumed Qechua girls by the thousand, or have my photo taken ad nauseum with equally costumed families, who plied the streets with their similarly decorated animals.

I came to realise, Cusco existed today for the tourist and those who preyed on them to eke out an existence. At first it was unnerving to be attacked so ferociously by these Lilliputian street sellers. The local city guards tried in vain to shoo these kids from the plaza, but as they cleared one side, the kids invaded the other, and so it became a never-ending game of hide ‘n’ seek. The kids were the clear winners, leaving the guards exasperated by the end of the day.

The main plaza - image: AV

The main plaza – image: AV

I sat in the Plaza for a while, I took some photos, one was of a young girl slinging a plastic bag over her head talking business with yet another hapless tourist. It was in short order that I was to find out her name, Idália, she was eight, she had lots of brothers and sisters who didn’t have enough to eat. Yes, she was begging. However, I took a shine to her, we sat and chatted, she told me she loved talking to tourists, even if she didn’t get any money, because tourists were from far off places, the places of her dreams to one day be a beautiful princes in a castle in some far away enchanted land.

Idália, chatting up a tourist - image: AV

Idália, chatting up a tourist – image: AV

She was so much like my own daughter had been many years earlier, we had lunch together in a restaurant as she showed me “Gringo Alley” Procuradores was a a street that existed only for the tourist. Gringo Alley was a street off the Plaza, restaurants, more travel agencies, places to get photos developed, laundries, shops with inflated prices for tourists preparing to go on the Inca Trail. We sat and talked, we ate and she told me about the “Sexy Woman.” Wait a minute, here I was in a restaurant talking to an eight year old about a sexy woman, I needed my head seen to. I soon discovered that “Sexy Woman” was how most tourists, who hadn’t mastered the art of pronouncing Qechua names, say Sachsayhuaman.


William, my guide to the 'sexy woman' - image: AV

William, my guide to the ‘sexy woman’ – image: AV

Sachsayhuaman was the large Inca ceremonial site up the hill and about two kilometres from the Plaza, and as it happened was on my list of things-to-do. It was then Idália revealed she had an older brother who would guide me to the site. Ah, I had developed an inside contact. After lunch she would go and fetch him. So I sat in the Plaza having an after lunch cigarette wondering if I would ever see her again. I only had to wait a quarter hour and she was back with her brother in tow. Now, when she had mentioned an older brother who was a guide, I had imagined a youth, someone a little older than the boy of eleven who now stood in front of me. William was quick to assure me that he knew all about Sachsayhuaman and for the princely sum of five soles he would take me there for the afternoon. The negotiation was set, and William and I set off.


Massive stone blocks - image: AV

Massive stone blocks – image: AV

Idália remained in the Plaza, I suspect to organise more tourists for the seasoned William to take to see the “Sexy Woman.”

Up past the hotel, turned right and up a street that was just steps, eventually we came out at an old church and another plaza. It was here that my pocket was lightened by a further twenty five soles, to enter the Sachsayhuaman site, I needed a tourist ticket, which also gave me entance to another 16 historic sites, churches and museums. William didn’t need one, he was Peruvian. On up the steep track and the enormity of the site became apparent, stone walls, immense stone walls, some of the blocks of stone were gigantic, William assured me they weighed tons. He pulled a small pocket knife from a pocket and offered it to me. What was I supposed to do? He showed me. The thin blade of the knife could not fit between theses huge blocks, they had been fitted so expertly that there was simply no space between them.

William and I spent a good couple of hours wandering around the place, me marvelling at the immensity and technology involved and William proved his capabilities, he was quite knowledgeable, even leading me through a dark tunnel between the ruins, that he explained most tourists never know about. The afternoon was wearing on, clouds began to threaten us with rain and the expert William said we should return downhill to the city, if we wanted to avoid getting wet. We did, he was right, it began to rain as we reached the Plaza. I offered him ten soles for his tour, he was most happy and readily accepted the invitation to dinner later that evening. He was a likeable kid and I found myself enjoying his company. We quickly found Idália, he showed her the ten sole note and rabbited on about dinner, I invited her as well. We parted and I returned to the hotel. A shower and rest before dinner.

Horrible stuff - image: unknown

Horrible stuff – image: unknown

As prearranged, I found William and his sister sitting in the Plaza in front of Gringo Alley, they weren’t alone, there was another girl, Veronica, with them, their cousin. The pair chortled and derided the girl, who had not believed I would show up. They took me off the Plaza, saying they knew were we could eat more cheaply than in Gringo Alley and they led me to a small local restaurant, crude, but clean and not a tourist in sight. We each had chicken and chips. Not just a piece of chicken, but a whole half a bird. I had beer, the kids, of course, Inka Kola. I was surprised when it came to pay the bill. For the price I would have paid for myself in Gringo Alley, I had fed the four of us quite handsomely. My guides, were definitely worth knowing, and definitely worth the extra few soles I had spent.

Rosie O'Grady's, an Irish Pub in every corner of the world - image: AV

Rosie O’Grady’s, an Irish Pub in every corner of the world – image: AV

That wasn’t the end of the night, once again my little guides came to the rescue asking if I wanted to know where there was a good place to drink beer. Of course, the idea appealed to me immediately and they took me around the block and showed me an Irish Pub. There they left me, with the promise to see me tomorrow. And so I found myself at the door of Rosie O’Grady’s, there was naught else to do but go in, so I did. I found myself in a very pleasantly appointed bar, lots of tables with people eating, so food was available here too. If I hadn’t already eaten, I could have. I wasn’t at all interested in more food, but the bar looked inviting, so I took a seat. The barman introduced himself, a Peruvian with good English, I ordered a beer and that’s where I stayed for the rest of the evening. During the course of the evening I met the owner, an Irishman named Charlie, and we had a long talk about the world until I was ready to go.

In the morning I woke feeling a little under the weather, not with a hangover, or anything serious, but I was certainly reminded of having a few beers the previous night. If I had had one more, it might have been a different story. Nothing that wasn’t to be fixed by a good shower and a couple of extra bread rolls with my strawberry jam and coffee.

Korikancha, the church built on Incan foundations - image: AV

Korikancha, the church built on Incan foundations – image: AV

So fortified, I prepared to meet the day. There were several places that I wanted to see in the city itself, so armed with my camera I left the hotel and stated down toward the the Plaza. It was no great surprise that I was met by Idália and Veronica, the pair were so good yesterday and I enjoyed their company, so I was quite pleased to see them. They explained that William was with other tourists going up to see the Sexy Woman. So it was in their company that I visited such places as the historic neighbourhood of San Blas and the Catholic church that had been constructed on the remains of the Inca temple site at Korikancha and, after, a quick visit to some of the museums that my tourist ticket permitted.

After all that it was time for lunch. I didn’t mind the extra cost. During lunch we met some others of our group, who had coincidentally chosen the same restaurant, so we all lunched together. It came as no surprise that William also found us, it turned out that the tourists he took to see the Sexy Woman were the others in my group and they had also invited him to lunch. Conversation got round to Rosie O’Grady’s and we decided that it was a good place to spend the late afternoon after returning to the hotel for a shower and change.

It was a good chance to relax after being on the road continuously for the past ten days. For the next day, we were to begin our itinerary once again. We said our goodbyes to our young friends and returned to the hotel.

NB: Once again, I apologise for the B&W photos, the coloured originals are missing

Sunday Travel Tales

The continuing saga of Strawberry Jam, Bread Rolls and Pisco Sours

Chapter 11 – The Train

Puno Railway Satation - image: AV

Puno Railway Station – image: AV

The early morning bustle of the market again, provisions for the next stage of our journey. Edgar came and saw us off after our bread rolls and strawberry jam and helped us fend off the Alpaca-wool-jersey-saleswomen, who were becoming very insistent now that we were about to escape their clutches. As we prepared to cross the road to the station, prices began to plummet and as they bottomed out at a realistic “half-price” some of them actually made some sales.

Once on the train we found that our block booking of seats had been divided neatly and conveniently (for them) by several Peruvian families. Which meant that when we tried to claim our rightful places, we less than endeared ourselves to the locals, who of course couldn’t and didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Although we won the day, we became the hot gossip item amongst the deposed locals. A situation which took all of ten minutes to defuse when one of the youngsters became an ambassador, simply through childish curiosity. I had a beard, and looked like Father Christmas, this created such an urgent need to know, that he asked me impishly if I was.

My standard reply (developed over many years of the same question) was, “No, I’m just his older brother.” That was it! Within seconds the whole carriage knew that Father Christmas had a brother and he was right here in the train. So, Ho, Ho, Ho, relations became somewhat more amicable, all before we reached Juliaca Station.

A relic at Juliaca Station - image: AV

A relic at Juliaca Station – image: AV

The train stopped at Juliaca, the carriage filled with people selling everything. Tepid fizzy drinks, newspapers, sweets, and pieces of chicken, hunks of roast pork, corn on the cob and even whole plates of food. It was still not even 10 o´clock, but people were prepared to eat lunch.

After about a half hour the rest of the carriage filled and the sellers departed and the train jerked and we were underway once again. We passed an old steam locomotive as we left the station, weeds growing around the wheels testimony to its fall from grace and days of glory past.

The train passed the flat terrain north of Juliaca, small farmlets divided by their stone walls dotted the landscape. We stopped at several small townships, whistled as we past  through their markets. The people seemingly unaware of the danger at their proximity to the tracks as they continued bartering with the train careening past less than a metre’s distance.

Main form of transport, on foot  - image: AV

Main form of transport, on foot – image: AV

The terrain changed, flat lands became hills and hills became mountains and the note of the diesel engine deepened as it became evident that we were climbing rapidly. We made a stop at Santa Rosa, again the train was assailed by sellers. More meals, fried chicken and roast pork, the tepid Inka Kola, that disgusting Peruvian oddity, were sold. The kids looked at the food as it was whisked past on trays, their parents oblivious to their desires. The tourists came to the rescue, we pooled together and bought a dozen plates of assorted chicken and pork and distributed them to the kids. Faces beamed as they accepted the fare, a few murmured thanks, some too embarrassed by their good fortune to speak.

We watched them gorge themselves happily with sticky fingers and smiling faces. Our little ambassador looked up at me, pork grease smeared from ear to ear. “You really are Father Christmas’ brother, aren’t you?” he asked, placing his luck on the benevolence of the Christmas spirit. I assured him I was. Satisfied with the answer he stuffed another bit of crackling in an already half-full mouth crunching it noisily between his teeth.

People selling everything  - image: AV

People selling everything – image: AV

Soon we were on our way once more, and it was evident that we were in the mountains. There was snow covering the peaks, we were approaching the La Raya pass. It was harder to breathe. It required some effort, for we had reached 4,321m a.s.l. and the train stopped. Everybody seemed to get off, so we did too. We were on a siding, apparently waiting for the train from Cusco to pass, which it eventually did a half hour later. There was obviously great rivalry between the two train loads, much shouting and taunting. It seemed as though the locals knew everybody and everybody knew them.

The mountains at La Raya, alt 4,200m asl - image: AV

The mountains at La Raya, alt 4,321m asl – image: AV

The south bound train passed and it seemed to be the signal for us all to board again, so we did and just as we had found our seats again, the trained jerked in its customary fashion and be shunted off the siding back onto the main track, stopped, jerked and changed direction. Once more we were off to Cusco.

Natural hot pools descending from La Raya  - image: AV

Natural hot pools descending from La Raya – image: AV

Going downhill the trip seemed almost jaunty, the train rocked merrily from side to side as though it seemed happy the uphill part was over.

We found some hot pools off to the right, natural springs, there were people over there having a closer look that was denied to us through our apparent urgency.

We also saw swampy areas, where the water literally trickled off the mountain sides, forming little rivulets, these became little streams, then bigger and bigger until we were travelling alongside a substantial river. This river was the Vilcanota. The Vilcanota flowed past Pisac, near Cusco, and became the Urubamba that flowed through the Sacred Valley of the Inca and onward past Machu Picchu until it became the Ucayli and flowed past Pilcopata and Manu Nature Reserve, then northward past Pullcapa and Iquitos until it became the Amazon and flowed all the way across Brazil to Belém on the Atlantic coast..

These little trickles, that we had witnessed coming down the mountain sides, would one day become the mightiest of the world’s rivers.

The scenery changed, forested areas, many of the imported eucalyptus trees which abounded throughout the Altiplano crowded the railway, framing small farms and villages and stood lone sentinels on hill sides. Still the river kept us company, sometimes on the right and then on the left as we zig-zagged across echoing rail bridges the singing iron tracks reverberating beneath us. Still we wove our way through small towns, a sign that we were nearing civilisation and we started the descent into Cusco. The city was lit brightly, houses sparkled on the hill sides in the dark, for it was now night as we chugged into the station, and our journey was over.

"Will Father Christmas forget me this year?" - image: AV

“Will Father Christmas forget me this year?” – image: AV

As we pulled our baggage from the overhead racks and pulled bags that had been squashed from under seats, we said our farewells to our small companions. We had fed them, played cards with them, laughed with them and sang with them, and now our small ambassador was in tears. “Would Father Christmas forget him this year?” No, he wouldn’t I assured him, he wouldn’t. It was an emotional moment, enough to bring tears to an overweight fool. I don’t think I have ever been hugged so hard in my life. I set him on his feet so he could join his mother, he took her hand and looked back giving me the loveliest little wave goodbye.

We were met at the station by a van and taken to our hotel. It was 9 o´clock a night and after a tiring 12-hour journey, all we wanted was bed.


NB: Sorry, some pics B&W couldn’t find the original colour ones.

Sunday Travel Tales

The continuing story of Strawberry Jam, Bread Rolls and Pisco Sours

Chapter 10 – Lake Titicaca


Famous alpaca sweaters - image

Famous alpaca sweaters – image Aspenandes

We nattered in the “lobby,” until our transport arrived, Edgar’s bus to take us to the port. We battled with insistent women selling alpaca wool jerseys. They were beautiful, and although they seemed cheap by our standards, we had been warned that they were actually double the real price. We could have bargained and paid something more reasonable, but time was against us.


Along roads that were cris-crossed with railway tracks, making the journey seem perilous as the bus slipped on the shiny rails, we arrived at the port and herded from the bus to a small roadside stall with tables and chairs and shade. Although still only 8am the sun was already strong. Here we bought cold juice and cokes and our last chance to buy drinking water, which we were assured we would need.



The Yavari returning to port – image AV

It wasn’t long before we were shown along the wharf, where an old steamer was being fired up. The ship was one of the two British steamships from the previous century that had been assembled on the lake to ply trade between Bolivia and Peru. The haunting “chuff” of the boilers being fired for the first time in 50 years was eerie. We paused to watched as smoke belched from her smoke stack. We were privileged to be watching the resurrection of a ghost from the past, the Yavari was being made ready to sail. Our own departure was delayed so we could witness this special event. The old steamer moved gracefully away from its berth and steamed noisily chuffing out into the bay where it made one circuit and returned. All the glory of a bygone era was put on show before our very eyes. Nostalgia, is a powerful emotion.


Kids on the Uros Islands - image AV

Kids on the Uros Islands – image AV

We returned to the present. The ghost was again at rest, although smoke still billowed from the stack as we looked over our shoulders. Edgar got us all into the launch without fuss, we were now behind schedule, but the delay had been worth much more than could be reckoned. As our launch moved slowly at first away from land, Edgar began to recount legends of the Inca surrounding the lake, its origins and myths. Without realising, we were captivated by the emotion he put into his tales, that we were now at full speed.

Uros Islands -image: Virtual Tourist

Uros Islands -image: Virtual Tourist

Our first stop was the Uros Islands; the famous floating islands made of totara reed. The island we visited was St. Martha, it is the only island that tourists may visit, so that the Uros culture is not disturbed. The families do not live on this island, but come here each day to trade with the tourists. They dress in their usual costume, and follow an everyday Uros’ routine. They make reed souvenirs to sell, the parents make the trinkets, the older children sell them and the younger children play and receive gifts from the visitors. They love the little comics and presents of coloured pencils and educational stuff that we were encouraged to buy in place of sweets. Although it was evident that the kids would have preferred sweets. Every greeting was returned, “caramelo, señor?” hopefully. Some of our group took the opportunity to go for a quick trip in one of their totara canoes, for a small sum, of course, this is how the islanders made their living.


Small craft ply the lake - image AV

Small craft ply the lake – image AV

After a brief hour on the undulating islands, the spongy platform these delightful people called home and we were back in the launch and heading full speed out into the lake, passing between the two headlands that marked the Bay of Puno.


The water became bluer, a deep rich, jewel-like blue. Then waves, it was like being on the sea.

Amantani Island sen through an arch on Taquile - image AV

Amantani Island sen through an arch on Taquile – image AV

The launch began to buck and slap at the waves as we ploughed on through the mythical waters and the shape of Taquile Island appeared on the horizon, beyond it, Bolivia. Fishing and trading boats passed us in the calmer waters as we neared the island and began to slow toward our landing. Mercifully, Edgar had decided not to land at the main port for the ascent to the village is a grueling 500 steps up the steep island side. Instead, he was taking us to a smaller landing around the other side where the ascent was more gradual through farmlands, although the trek was longer. Along the way, we passed some ruins, and an old arch, looking back through the arch we could see the island of Amantani with the clouds over Bolivia.


We soon came across children scattered along the pathway, hopeful faces peering over stone walls. The bold requests for “caramelos” from the boys, but we didn’t understand why the girls only only whispered, barely audible. Edgar explained to us that here on Taquile, the women and girls never talk with a loud voice, that was reserved only for the men. One of the many quaint customs on this island that time had forgotten.


Our lodgings, no frills, but comfy - image AV

Our lodgings, no frills, but comfy – image AV

We arrived at hour lodgings, we had been warned that they were primitive, almost devoid of the basic comforts that we considered necessary.

The house to which we had been invited, had been extended to accommodate tourists. The beds were comfortable and had many blankets, for the nights, as we were to discover, were bitterly cold.

The Dunny! Outside toilet - image AV

The Dunny! Outside toilet – image AV

The buildings were all adobe, mud and straw sun-dried bricks. There were no locks on the doors, we had come to a place where crime is almost unknown and dogs for security unheard of, where teenage boys attracted their girl by flashing torchlight into her eyes, and she responded with a mirror to give his light back to him; where marriage was on a trial basis and divorce was ever present. A place where the women weave on primitive looms, and the men knit beautifully. A place where one had to take his own toilet paper with him in the dark to an outside dunny.


Our home-away-from-home was the only place on the island that had a small solar panel to recharge a car battery, and so give the tourists an extra hour of light by which to share their adventures over cups of coca tea in the evenings, while the boys and girls ran in the darkness outside, hopefuls flashing messages of love to their intendeds. Sleep comes early here, for so does the dawn. The island wakes with first light and is a hive of activity long before the sleepy-head tourists show their faces. Time here is irrelevant, only the light and dark.


Girls chatting in the ruins at the top of Taquile Is - image AV

Girls chatting in the ruins at the top of Taquile Is – image AV

Breakfast was not bread rolls and strawberry jam. We were almost disappointed. Instead, omelettes and scrambled eggs, coca tea and toasted rolls. Before a trek to the summit of the island to visit areas of earlier ruins and a chance to see more of the unique way of life of these almost primitive people and their simplicity.


We walked among the ruins at the summit for a while, and then met a couple of teenage girls having a chat among the ruins. They didn’t like their photos taken, in such communities it is polite to ask first and come to a small financial arrangement before doing so.. We continued on down the hill arriving in time for lunch.


Boys in traditional costume farewell visitors as they leave the island - image AV

Boys in traditional costume farewell visitors as they leave the island – image AV

After lunch, we packed our meagre belongings and headed down the hill. Here we encountered the famous 500 steps, fortunately for us, they were downhill all the way to the small harbour. We passed through many small arches and were fare-welled by boys in traditional costume, photos were expected and small business arrangements satisfactorily concluded. At the bottom, there was no ceremony, it was into the boat for the long trip back to Puno.


Temple of fertility at Chucuito - image AV

Temple of fertility at Chucuito – image AV

We didn’t go directly back to Puno, we had another item on our agenda. First we would go to Chucuito and visit the Temple of Fertility and see the first Catholic church built on the Altiplano. The return trip didn’t offer much different in the way of scenery to the outward journey, so most of the passengers relaxed, dozed, read, played cards or just chatted.


Kids jumping from one phallus to another - image AV

Kids jumping from one phallus to another – image AV

On our arrival we were met by a van and taken the short distance to the temple. Edgar showed us to a small stone enclosure where we found some kids playing, we didn’t take much notice as we gathered around to listen to Edgar’s tale about the temple and the origins of the nearby church. It was during the tale that we realised that the stones which the kids were jumping over and from one to another were actually phallic symbols, stone penises. It was then we saw the funny side and took photos. We listened with fascination as Edgar recounted tales of people who had touched the stone monuments and of how barren women had become pregnant and of how men who were in need of Viagra, didn’t.

PECIR198804bwI mused at the possibly virile future of these youngsters jumping from one phallus to another every day, and the ones nearby who were clambering around another, ready to pounce on tourists to sell their colourful little woolen finger puppets.


The afternoon wore on and we returned to Puno. Tomorrow was to be our train trip to the famous Inca city of Cusco.

NB: Sorry couldn’t find colour copies of some photos…

Sunday Travel Tales

Getting back into the swing of things. This is the first Sunday Travel Tales for a month, sorry about the absence, but as the say “… makes the heart grow fonder.”

This week we’re back in Cusco. Having lived in Cusco for many months three times, I have a lot of stories from there.

A photo, not just any photo, this is a photo that tourists can’t take.

The alter of the St Francis Cathedral

When tourists enter the church they have to surrender their cameras, as all photography in the church is banned, whether that has anything to do with the fact that they sell plenty of postcards or not, I have no idea; I suspect so.

Hernan Hilario, 10

In an earlier post I told you how I met my guide to visit The Sexy Woman; well, this is a story of  another of the rascals that I knew in Cusco, Hernan Hilario.

Hernan was part of a group of rascals that preyed on tourists, begging, selling postcards, shining shoes, guiding, offering advice and generally learning about the outside world while they did so.

They were an unkempt lot, a fact that often belied their intentions; for they would no more have robbed a tourist than flown to the moon.

Some weeks afterward I was taken aback when Hernan suggested he could get a photo of the inside of the Cathedral of San Francisco; all I had to do was loan him my camera for maybe fifteen minutes. Now we are talking here about my old Nikon. It was old, it was battered, but it took shit hot photos when it could be coerced to do so. It wasn’t the most modern model, it was an FM, the last of the Nikons that you could operate without a battery, which I preferred. I much preferred ‘fly-by-wire’ photography as that was how I learned as a youngster with my first camera an Olympus PenS. Never the less, the camera and 80-200 Zoom lens was valued at around $500 and here was this street urchin suggesting I loan it to him. Can you just imagine the myriad of thoughts that were racing about my mind?

It took me about 10 seconds to think about it and a quick outline of the plan to return the camera to me. What Hernan suggested meant that where I waited for him I could observe the only entrance into and out of the cathedral, I figured that if that was the case and the plan was that my camera was to be ‘disappeared’ I would see him leaving the church.

I handed my camera over. I showed him roughly how to take a photo. We crossed the plaza together, my camera hidden in its supermarket bag swinging freely from Hernan’s grip. I always carried my camera in a supermarket bag, a black one inside the marked one, it was my security measure. Thieves steal a camera bag, they don’t steal a supermarket bag.

The tourists were lined up for the doors to open at 10am. Hernan just wandered to the front and entered as is the right of Peruvians, he didn’t need to get his Cusco Passport stamped or surrender his camera, because he was a street urchin and didn’t have one.

I took up my position under the veranda of Paddy Flaherty’s Irish Pub, which I later managed, but that is another story, and waited.

It wasn’t long, about ten minutes when all hell broke loose. I could hear the shouting and noise emanating from the cathedral, then running out of the door like the devil himself was chasing him burst a fleet footed Hernan, dodging and weaving among the tourists being chased by a less than fleet footed group of men. Hernan flew down the steps, tossed my plastic bag at me as he ran past and kept running without saying a word.

I tucked the bag under my arm nonchalantly watching him beat a retreat and disappearing into Calle Loretto. The men chasing him had been impeded by the tourists and lost track of him, they hadn’t seen him toss the bag to me. I leaned against the stone pillar as they shrugged their shoulders and stamped back up the cathedral steps in frustration.

I had my camera back, hopefully, I had a photo.

Later that afternoon, a smiling Hernan found me in the plaza. We laughed, and he told me how scared he was. We had dinner together that evening in the same chicken restaurant as I had been with William and Idália.

Life is an adventure, some times you have to take risks, sometimes you have to trust even the most unlikely, the result can be priceless.

Back again next week.


Sunday Travel Tales

Some more thoughts on Cusco


Plaza das Armas in Cusco

I sat in the Plaza for a while, I took some photos as I admired the plaza, one was of a young girl slinging a plastic bag over her head talking business with yet another hapless tourist. It was in short order that I was to find out her name, Idália, she was eight, she had lots of brothers and sisters who didn’t have enough to eat. Yes, she was begging.

Idália chatting up a tourist

However, I took a shine to her, we sat and chatted, she told me she loved talking to tourists, even if she didn’t get any money, because tourists were from far off places, the places of her dreams to one day be a beautiful princes in a castle in some far away enchanted land. She was so much like my own daughter had been many years earlier.

We had lunch together in a restaurant as she showed me “Gringo Alley” as Procuradores was known, a narrow street that existed only for the tourist. Gringo Alley was a street off the Plaza, restaurants, more travel agencies, places to get photos developed, laundries, shops with inflated prices for tourists preparing to go on the Inca Trail. We sat and talked, we ate and she told me about the “Sexy Woman.”

Wait, here I was in a restaurant talking to an eight year old about a sexy woman, I needed my head seen to. I soon discovered that “Sexy Woman” was how most tourists, who hadn’t mastered the art of pronouncing Qechua names, say Sachsayhuaman.

Sachsayhuaman was the large Inca ceremonial site up the hill and about two kilometres from the Plaza, and as it happened was on my list of things-to-do.

NB: These are the paragraphs that follow last weeks story.

I must add that much of these stories is based on my actual adventures in Peru. For example, the black and white photo is Idália, she does exist, and the “sexy woman” story is true. The name Gringo Alley really is what the tourists call Procuradores.

I’ll post more of this and other stories in future posts.


Sunday Travel Tales

Some thoughts on Cusco

I quickly discovered that I could get my shoes shined by an urchin about twenty times a day, whether they needed it or not, I could buy postcards from a gaily costumed Qechua girls by the thousand, or have my photo taken ad nauseum with equally costumed families, who plied the streets with their similarly decorated animals.

I came to realise, Cusco existed today for the tourist and those who preyed on them to eke out an existance. At first it was unnerving to be attacked so ferociously by these Lilliputian street sellers. The local city guards tried in vain to shoo these kids from the plaza, but as they cleared one side, the kids invaded the other, and so it became a neverending game of hide ‘n’ seek. The kids were the clear winners, leaving the guards exasperated by the end of the day.

NB: An excerpt from an English grammar book I am writing. Yes, it is advanced English, very advanced.

Sunday Travel Tales

Yes, I know it’s Monday. Somehow I’ve managed to let carnaval get to me. I had a post planned for yesterday, I was going to continue the story of the Colca Canyon, but I found a story that is a little more current; like in the news this morning.

Machu Picchu & The Inca Trail

Now while I have been to Machu Picchu more times than I can count on both hands, I have never been on the Inca Trail; that is not to say that many of my tourists haven’t been. You see on the trips I accompanied around Peru the Inca Trail was an option. The tourists who wanted went with local experienced guides while I accompanied those who didn’t want on a tour through the Sacred Valley and then on to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu the next morning where we arrived to regroup with the ‘Trailers’ as they descended from the trail into MP.

So I have a pretty good idea of what the Inca Trail consists of. Here’s the story I found this morning.

Student takes on Inca Trail for charity

A TEENAGER from Goring is to attempt a nine-day trek in Peru to raise money for charity.

Student Sarah Taylor, 19, will take part in the Machu Picchu Inca Trail Challenge in August.

The trail reaches altitudes of 15,000ft as it takes in the Andean mountain range.

Miss Taylor, of Elvendon Road, hopes to raise £2,850 for the Meningitis Trust.

She said: “I’ve never really travelled and I wanted to do something for charity so I thought I would combine the two.

“With this challenge, the trekking is not the most difficult bit. The real test is the altitude as it can leave you feeling breathless, even after a couple of steps. Also there is the possibility of altitude sickness, so it is by no means going to be easy.”

Miss Taylor, who is studying for a maths degree at Nottingham University, saw the challenge advertised on campus. She will be among a group of about 20 students on the trek and will be holding fund-raising events before it.

Her parents are John, 50, a chartered accountant, and Jane, 50, a teaching assistant at Goring Primary School, where Sarah attended before going to Our Lady’s, Abingdon. The couple have another daughter, Vicky, 16.

To make a donation, visit uk.virginmoneygiving.com/sarahtaylor12

Source: Henley Standard

Doing the Inca Trail is not as fearsome as many imagine. Yes, it’s a slog at times, especially the second day when you climb the most in altitude.

Doing the trail you begin in Cusco, where the altitude is 3,600 in the city, although the airport altitude is a little lower and often misquoted as the city.

One of the initial impacts on going from sea-level (normally Lima) to 3,600m (10,000ft +/-) for the first time is you may/may not suffer from Sorrochi (altitude sickness). Some suffer, some just breeze through it. It normally strikes you the first time you go above 3,000m, once you have experienced this once, normally you never experience it again. Sorrochi can affect people in different ways, a simple headache to full blown nausea and dizziness to the point where some (very rarely) need to be evacuated to sea-level a.s.a.p.

Abra de Huarmihuañusca or 'Dead Woman's Pass' at 4,200m

Some groups go by bus, others by train to Km 82 where the four day trek begins. Km 82 is a lower altitude than Cusco, you climb then to 3,000m, 12 km trek to Wayllabamba at 3,000m where you stay the first night. The second day you also cover 12km, but climb to Abra de Huarmihuañusca or ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ at 4,200m, from there it’s a steep descent to Pacamayo, 3,600m for the second night.

Photo credit: Naked South America, great story of the trail there.

From that point the trek is mainly down hill until you get to Machu Picchu at 2,200m.

Machu Picchu

What many people don’t realise is that from Cusco you are basically going downhill to the rain forest. Many people are under the illusion that Machu Picchu is higher in the mountains, it’s not.

While I have written about the 4 Day trek, there is another option of a 2 Day trek starting at Km 104.

Next Sunday, we’ll continue with the Colca Canyon story.

Sunday Travel Tales

We’re going back to Cusco today. Cusco is a fascinating place, which is just as well; more tourist enter and leave Cusco than anywhere else in South America on a daily basis.

William, I thought he was selling his older sister

Most tourists who go to Cusco visit the ‘sexy woman.’ Yes, they do. I was told that by William a nine year old boy in the main plaza; he asked me if I had been to the sexy woman? Now most tourists would be shocked by this question, and I would hazard a guess that you are too, but in Cusco it is a legitimate question. William was not tauting for a local prostitute, nor his older sister.

He was talking about Saqsayhuaman, the huge ceremonial centre of the Inca on the hills above the city. Most tourists, dare I say it… Americans can’t get their tongues around Saqsayhuaman and it comes out ‘sexy woman’ which is actually pretty close.

Looking across Saqsayhuaman with Cusco below

Saqsayhuaman is a must for every tourist to Cusco; more so in July during the festival of Inti Raymi the sun god.

Huge irregular monoliths placed with precision

It is fascinating to walk around, through and on the great stones erected around the centre. The workmanship is astonishing, you can’t fit a penknife blade between the stones because the tolerance is so fine. We are talking about stones that weigh tons, they are not just rocks, they are massive stones. The curious thing is this precision was demonstrated by a primitive people who didn’t have the wheel.

Answer these questions; how did they move the massive stones and how did they carve them with such precision, how?

No one knows for sure, but many think as I do, they had help; and perhaps that help was not from this planet. There are many things and places in Peru that point towards this thinking.

While many tourists visit Saqsayhuaman, many do not get the opportunity to visit other nearby sites.

I am talking about Tambomachay, Puka Pukara and Qenqo.

Catching a local bus in Calle Tullamayo that goes to Pisaq and getting off at Tambomachay, another ceremonial centre. This one is for love and fertility.

The twin fountains of Tambomachay

Which is for love, which is for fertility, the left or the right? No one knows, the kids who act as guides play on this and tease the tourists.

Puka Pukara - the coloured fort

Literally across the road is Puka Pukara. This site is not as spectacular as the others, nor in as good repair, but still worth the visit for the view and the trudge around the ruins.

Now you start the downhill walk back to Cusco. You visit the sites in this order to make the walk downhill. It’s a good 30 minutes before you come to Qenqo, another ceremonial site. The most important ritual centre in the area.

The zig-zag groves for the 'water' to flow

For many years it was generally believed that the Inca did not make human sacrifices, but with the discovery of the Ice Maiden and her companions near Arequipa, that belief was shattered.

At Qenqo there is a high alter on the rocks with zig-zag groves from a ‘cup’. My first visit there I was told that it was for water offerings, however, that has been revised almost certainly it was for a blood sacrifice.

This site is worth more time to explore.

From here you walk downhill and enter the Saqsayhuaman reserve from the back gate and eventually down hill to the city.

This trip takes an afternoon. It costs you the bus fare and the cost of the ‘totuist ticket’ that entitles you to enter the many sites, churches and museums in and around Cusco.

NB: Only the photo of the zig-zags is not mine, I had one but it is missing.

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