Surrounded by Incan ruins

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The taxi driver dropped me off in the main plaza of Ollantaytambo. I paid him the 15 soles and stepped out a little disorientated.

I sat with a broken backpack in the square surrounded by double story Mexican and Peruvian restaurants. All catered to the tourist. These would be expensive. As it turns out, they were.

I was dismayed to check my Google map to see that my hostel seemed to be distant from the town, and the complete opposite direction to the train station which I would need to arrive at the following day. I paid a Tuk Tuk driver 2 soles and he drove me along a country dirt road, across a winding stream.

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The hostel was a work in progress by a strange and abrupt Peruvian by the name of Carl. He was proud of his work and especially of the double story building where at the top we could have breakfast while gazing across the valley. The mountains loomed around us, and he pointed to some of the old brick buildings alone each of the slopes. These were Incan ruins.

The more I stared at the mountains the more Incan ruins I could see. They were everywhere. It was incredible the amount of influence the Inca emperors had over their people to bring the bricks up to those levels to construct their storehouses or fortresses.

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I loved Ollantaytambo. It might be my favourite place in Peru. It was safe and I wandered to the town at night. It was a country town built into a grid system, with small canals winding along the cobbled roads. The bases of the houses were the ruins of the Incas. The local children played in the street laughing and at peace. At night after dinner I walked back to the hostel watching a local family or two practice their dancing in the middle of the street.

I wanted to see one of the ruins which I had paid a ticket to see, but I ran out of time. Instead I could see people climbing a steep track to the ruins. This was a free track and called the Pinkuylluna. It took at least 40 minutes of hard climbing and by the time I reached the top point of the path the sun was about to sink. The view of the hills and the town below was glorious. See it.

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After dinner I arrived back at the hostel just as Carl was impatiently setting up his camera gear to take photos of the night sky. Mars was coming out over the mountains. He was enthusiastic about astronomy. Maybe too much so. He excitedly woke up one of his guests, a British school teacher, so she could see Mars for herself. I’m not trying to be funny when I say she was not amused. It was freezing up on the roof. I stayed as long as I could because it made a good story, but I was tired.

I shared a room with a Frenchman, who was nice enough, but understood more Spanish than English. It was a common language barrier I was having. He had bought a permit to Machu Picchu for the same day I had, but he was going to take a bus. He couldn’t afford the expensive train ticket.

I wondered if he made it in time.

After check-out I walked to the train station. The sky was clear, the creek was beautiful, and I felt free. I had a broken backpack with all my clothes in it, a depleted wallet, and my Converse sneakers.

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I passed a beautiful statue of a beautiful Indigenous woman, and I stopped to look at her. It was the wife of Manco Inca. She was brutalised and murdered by the greedy and lustful Pizarros, who were the brother-conquerors of Peru. This was the only grim moment in my beautiful time in a place of peace, because it reminded me that this place of peace wasn’t always so, and that horrible prices had been paid because of evil people.

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I bought a sombrero at the train station, and got on the train for the next step in the journey to Machu Picchu.

Lonely Planet Tour of Cusco

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Cusco’s Plaza de Armas (1)

There have been two reliable resources for me to navigate Peru. The first I use is Hostel World, a website and app which helps me decide the hostels I want to stay in.

It doesn’t often fail me.

The second resource is Lonely Planet’s Peru tourist guide which cost me $35 Australian. In the Lima airport it’s about 120 Soles. While visiting Cusco I decided to take the tourist guide’s City Walk. It begins at Plaza De Armas and has 16 stops. It says it is a four kilometre walk and a three hour journey, but in reality it took me much longer and about four attempts to complete. But here we go….

  1. The guide book advises beginning at the Plaza De Armas (1), which is always a natural starting point. I arrived here directly in a taxi from the airport at 6am. I paid 25 soles to get here but if you walk outside then 25 soles is reasonable. It’s beautiful for the old church and the fountain.
  2. I was supposed to walk through the Plaza Regocijo (2) to see some nice boutiques and shops (3) along the way, but I walked on the wrong street! And because there were so many cafes and shops and parks it took a long time before I realised my mistake! I ended up skipping a few stops to have a juice at the market. But anyway…20180724_095054.jpg
  3. The Museo Historico Regional used to be the house of a historian Garcilaso de la Vega, who has recorded many of the stories his family told him about the Incas. He was born several years after the Spanish conquest, and eventually moved to Spain. I haven’t read his work but have read some history books that have relied on his work (although they acknowledge his writing as creative). The museum is interesting and supplies exhibits of the Incas and other Peruvian civilizations such as the Moche and the Chimu. There is also information on de la Vega, and of revolter Tupac Amaru II. 20180724_105345.jpg

To see many of these museums and the ruins you will need a entry pass called the Boletico Turistico, which only lasts 10 days. It costs about 130 Soles if you’re a tourist and 70 Soles if you can prove you are a resident.

4) The Plaza San Francisco is nice, sure, but I am uncertain whether it was worth paying 15 Soles to enter the museum and church of San Francisco. Well, maybe. Some of the painting were extraordinary and the library is filled with about 10,000 books. There is a small catacomb with bones and skeletons. The church itself is grande, but all I can think when I examined the handcrafted figures within is how much exploitation was necessary to create such beauty. There is a tower but it cost an additional 5 soles and I didn’t have the money.

I suppose it is worth it but there are many churches and buildings that will distract you.

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5)If I had done this in order I would already be exhausted. But keep going! Walk along Marquez street through the huge colonial archway (which you can’t miss) past the Santa Clara church. The guide recommends trying to peek through the doors to the mirrors inside, but unfortunately the door was closed. I continued on…

6) The Mercado San Pedro is almost like any typical market to be found in tourist sections of Peru. There’s the tourist products, the clothes and the bags, there’s the fruits, the juice bars, the butchers, and the construction happening in between the stalls. To the back left and outside is a bathroom which costs 50 centimos to squat over a hole, but it may come in use if you need a public toilet and can’t afford a restaurant.

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The guide book recommended drinking a juice. This was convenient because the lady at the juice bar saw me coming and called out ‘amigo!’ I paid seven soles for a orange, strawberry, and pineapple juice. It was delicious! She gave me seconds but I’m not sure if that’s part of the regular deal.

Regardless, I had this after 18 hours recovering from altitude sickness and it was the best pick-up. 20180725_095628.jpg

7) The guide book recommends turning around at the back of the market, roughly turning in the direction of the Plaza De Armas. There’s nothing much more to see except the Palacio de Justicia. The building is grand and it’s the one where police holding riot shields stand at the front. You continue walking past Av Sol and walk into an old lane called Loreto which leads directly to the plaza.

The walls along Loreto lane is layered with old Inca built bricks. The guide book doesn’t mention that in the lane there is a gate into a courtyard filled with old market shops and alpacas.

It’s a nice surprise. I believe that out of all the stores I saw in Cusco the prices here are more reasonable. And there is variety when it comes to the ponchos and scarves and sweaters. The ladies working at the stores here are friendly too.

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8) Due to a series of errors involving train tickets, altitude sickness, and a journey to Machu Picchu, I had long failed to reach this point of the guide until my third attempt. If you continued walking along Loreto you would reach the plaza again. From there you would turn right past the Starbucks, the Irish Pub, and the persistent ladies encouraging massages for 20 Soles. The guide says you continue walking past the old palace of the sixth Inca Roca (one I never heard of) which is now a museum. From there I walked to what is described as “the bohemian suburb” which includes a fountain, a market, and nice cafes.

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9) The laneways become steep and quirky. The laneways are cobbled and windy and it’s worth exploring these at some point. There are also nice views of the central part of the city from within the alleyways. There are hidden gems among the shops too.

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10) The last step in the guide book recommends walking up the steep hill to the ruins of Sacsaywaman on the hill overlooking Cusco. The entry fee is covered by the Boleto Turistico. The view of the city is extraordinary and shows a clear view of the plaza. You can also visit the Christi Blanco, which is a much smaller scale of the Christ Redeemer.

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The ruins and the cobblestones is easily worth more than an hour’s exploration, but it’s a wide, clear and green place to play and stretch your legs away from city streets. There’s a good atmosphere here.