Tag Archive: tourists

I’m Stuck!

smallcomaI wanted a really good post title today, but my brain is not functioning. It’s not a lack of coffee, I’ve had three mugs already, but I need a nap because I spent a lot of last night waking, awake, trying to go back to sleep.

A small coma would be fine.

This working on Saturday is injurious to ones well being.

By the time I get home at 2pm, I just want to practice my Nap-fu and by the time I wake, the day has gone, evaporated, disappeared.

On the way home, I was invited to a BBQ by my neighbour who lives above the botequim, I was invited for a beer by rgeulars at the botequim, but I was knackered, I just wanted my bed.

Today, the laundry lady arrived at 7am and woke me, she’s gone now, I have the house to myself. I have managed most of my blogging, some I even did yesterday and scheduled..


A vegetating mind

I just have to find an animally thingy for Some Animals are Crackers, and finish this post; then my lot is done for the day except reading blogs, replying to comments as they arrive, and doing my weekly cryptic crossword (that takes all of 15mins, but I do it to keep my mind agile).

Too many people allow their minds to vegetate.

No thanks, I grow my veges in the garden.

My lunch yesterday was flounder fillets poached in milk with sage and capers It was yum yum.

Then I went and had a beer. We were presented with a side of BBQed lamb from the BBQ upstairs, unfortunately it was over seasoned and very salty, pity, because you don’t often get lamb served in Brazil.

Rio is going crazy. Some tart named Miley Cyrus is in town and doing a show tonight. I wouldn’t give that strumpet the time of day. She is a prime example of humanity at its worst, and one we could do well to preventing the younger generation from being exposed to.

coca-cola-obesityI read an interesting piece a couple of days ago. A man suggested that if he were to be king for a day, he would ban Coca Cola and all similar drinks. Good fellow, but no politiciam has the balls to do this because Coa Cola wouldn’t contribute to their re-election funds. But should it ever happen, the obesity epidemic would disappear overnight.

Another blog post I read, Mental Housemates. It was about the problems that foreigners working as English teachers overseas face when finding accomodation. It struck a chord, because when I came to South America in 1992, I travelled alone. Whenever I have travelled around SA, I have travelled alone. Wherever I have stopped I have stayed alone. The reason;. to avoid the other crazies. I have been invited to join groups, and to share accommodation, but have steadfastly refused. I like to make my own decisions and be beholden to nobody.

I had enough crazies when I was working as a tour guide with groups. But at least I was getting paid. Hypocondriac Americans, neurotic women and people who were just plain disagreeable were all part of my daily routine. Problems like “I can’t sleep” at 3am, “get a doctor.” “My toast isn’t the right colour!” I could go on…

Mind you, I have no doubt that others may find me equally as crazy and irritating… but that’s life.


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

Puno is on the northwestern side of Lake Titicaca

Back to Peru this week, but not Cusco, at least not yet.


This small city is the hub for Peruvian tourism. Nearly every tourist passes through Puno on the way to somewhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re coming from Bolivia, going to Bolivia, coming from Cusco/Machu Picchu, going to Cusco, or if you’re coming from Arequipa or going there, or whether you are visiting the Uros (floating) or Taquile islands on Lake Titicaca. The tourist trail goes through Puno.

Most people don’t spend much time there, usually an overnight on arrival before onward plans, trains boats or buses. They don’t go to see Puno.

The centre of Puno is Jiron Lima, travel agencies, cambios (exchanges) restaurants and banks.

I spent five months there in 1999, I worked as a dog’s body for an agency. Sometimes as a guide out to Taquile Island which I knew from past trips very well, sometimes I simply collected tourists from their hotels and saw them off on their various transports.

When I wasn’t doing this, I was opening a restaurant. You see for all the tourists passing through Puno, there wasn’t one restaurant that offered them anything familiar except pizza, and it wasn’t very good pizza. The agency I worked for wanted a restaurant, mainly for their tourists, but that is another story, the politics of which were screwed up beyond recognition. I designed the restaurant, the bar and the kitchen and prepared the menu as a Peruvian/English parellel, and I named her.

The Lake Pub

I also carved the plaque for above the door. It started out as a 40kg slab of hardwood, geez was it hard wood, 100cm x 55cm and about 10cm thick.

The result was this…

The Lake Pub


The centre piece was an oil painting of Taquile Island sunset. I paint too… Sorry the photo is B&W, but I haven’t managed to recover a coloured version yet.

As I mentioned, the politics involved eventually meant that I quit the project and moved on to my next job. I heard the restaurant was changed to solely Peruvian and became ‘just’ another restaurant in Puno which failed after a few months.

Sad really, after all the work I did.

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

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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