Lima - Don't Bother

by CameronM Tue, April 18 2006 21:58

After four very early mornings on the trail, I was a little annoyed when I awoke at 4:30am to the sounds of the people in the room next door departing. I was due to leave for the airport at 6:30am and would have loved to be able to sleep for a little longer.

From Cusco I flew to Lima and decided to take a taxi into the city centre. Everything you read talks about Lima as a dangerous city, where even the corrupt police exthort money from tourists. After a day of getting ripped off, or at least having people try and rip you off yesterday, I was not surprised when my friendly English speaking taxi driver exthorted more money than the agreed price for 'tolls'.

The suburbs of Lima, at least the parts we drove past, are terrible. Not very nice at all. The area around Plaza de Armas (yes another one), is nicer, with several impressive government buildings and a Cathedral, however I was not impressed, possibly I still a little jaded after forking out what equated to about US$40 for the cab ride.

That’s not to say the buildings are horrible, quite to the contrary, the Cathedral, Government Palace of Peru (Government House) and Municipal Palace of Lima (City Hall) are all lovely and the plaza itself is well maintained and attractive.

After checking out the buildings around Plaza de Armas, I contemplated heading to one of the trendy beach areas, but decided to think it over while having lunch at one of the cafes located around the Plaza.

Over lunch I decided that I just couldn’t be bothered trying to find the beaches and risk being ripped off by another cab driver, so I decided to give it a miss. I still had to wait until about midnight for my flight to LA, so I decided to kill some time watching a movie. Sadly Ice Age 2 was dubbed in Spanish, but I think I got the main themes.

Eventually, after being told not to be in the centre of town after about 3pm for safety reasons, I decided just to head back to the airport, in the relative comfort and safety of the departure lounge.

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Sacred Valley - Cusco

by CameronM Thu, April 13 2006 21:48

This morning it was back on the tour bus for a full day trip to the Sacred Valley. The valley is named thus because in Inca times there were a number of religious sites and important towns. First stop was the market town of Pisaq, where every local and their dog tried their hardest to seperate me from my Soles (Peruvian currency). I resisted quite well and since I had already shopped around both in Cusco and at the markets here, I was able to avoid being ripped off too much.

Pisaq also has ruins, however we did not see these, which was a bit of a bummer, since my tourist ticket covered entry to them as well.

Next stop was a buffet lunch of 'traditional' Peruvian foods, including small pieces of a relative of the Llama. All the food was very tasty, excect for the pieces of corn, which were horrible.

After lunch we headed off to Ollantaytambo, a hillside village and temple ruin. The village is still in use today, however the temple area was either never finished, or destroyed by the Spanish, depending on who you believe. The temple is located at the top of a very impressive terraced hillside. These terraces were used as protection against errosion and also for growing crops - either way they make for an energetic climb.

Leaving Ollantaytambo behind, we headed to another former Inca town called Chinchero. Here the Spanish took a novel approach and built their own church on the foundations of the old Inca temple to the sun. At a number of places in the church, the smooth Inca stones are still visible.

As it was the Thursday before easter, mass was about to start, so I felt a little weird walking around the church while the congregation was sitting waiting for the priest to come. Our guide didn't seem to mind and continued to talk about the various artifacts and traditions of the 'simple' rural people.

Hostelworld lists a number of hostels and backpackers in Cusco, including the Hospedaje Turistico Recoleta where I stayed.

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Saqsaywaman

by CameronM Wed, April 12 2006 21:47

This morning I decided to walk  the 2 kilometres from Cusco to the hilltop city/fort of Saqsaywaman. This was apparently a religious site and was shaped like the head of a Puma, with Cusco being the body. Sadly the Spanish dismantled most of it and now there are only the terraces that made up the teeth of the Puma remaining.

I had a good walk up the hill, although the altitude, or my lack of fitness seemed to make it harder than I would Have thought. Once there, I had a hard time avoiding the busloads of tourists, but managed to have a good look around. The views back to Cusco are amazing.

I headed back down after a short sidetrip to a large white statue of Jesus on the next hill. I found out later that the Spanish put crosses and statues on mountains because the native inhabitants worshipped them and rather than make them stop worshipping the mountains, they simply made it seem Christian.

Back in Cusco I decided to sign up for the half day city tour. First stop was the Catedral del Cusco, a huge Cathedral located right on Plaza de Armas. We went inside and our guide pointed out all the unusual 'Inka' style artwork, such as a Jesus with bowed legs, typical of the Andian people who used to carry massive loads on their heads, and a Last Supper painting, where the feature dish in Guinea Pig!!!

We then headed of to the former religious and governmental area called originally called Qorycancha, where the huge outer walls were apparently covered in gold leaf at the time of the Spanish conquest, but sadly, as can be expected, they melted it down and sent it to Spain.

Although many of the original walls have disappeared, the Spanish managed to preserve a number of them by building the monestery of Santa Domingo over the top. The walls are made from stones about two foot square and quarried to such perfection that they did not use mortar and the gaps between the stones are paper thin. Even now, many people can't figure out just how the Incas achieved such results.

From Qorycancha we headed up the hill to Saqsaywaman, which I had visited earlier. Here the stones are massive, some up too 300 tons, or in other terms about 3 times as tall as a person. Each stone is quarried with different angles, none of them are simple, straight squares, yet like Qorycancha, all the stones fit snuggly together. As tesiment to the construction techniques is that in 2 major earthquakes since the Spanish conquest, Cusco has been almost levelled, except for the older Inca buildings.

From Saqsaywaman we headed to a nearby temple at Qenqo. It used to have a large stone Puma, however the Spanish cut its head off to stop the locals worshipping it. The guide explained that some of the rural people still worship the traditional sun, moon, earth gods, even after 300 years of 'devout' Catholic teaching.

We concluded the tour with a quick trip to a fountain at Tambomachay, because by this time it was almost dark as we had been just about ruined out.

Hostelworld lists a number of hostels and backpackers in Cusco, including the Hospedaje Turistico Recoleta where I stayed.

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Chile to Peru

by CameronM Mon, April 10 2006 21:44

Who decided that 6:40 am was a good time to have a plane leave? I was up at just after 3am and Hal drove me to the airport at 4am, so it was not surprising that after checking in we both went to grab some cafeine.

The flight to Lima was 3 hours 20 minutes and luckily the plane had those little seatback screens, so I could watch a movie to pass the time. I then had a 2 hour wait until my flight to Cusco left, but this was just as well because I had to clear customs and check-in my bags again, as they couldn´t check them all the way through from Santiago.

I arrived to a rainy Cusco, which was actually the first real rain I have seen in 5 weeks. I had booked my accommodation on hostelworld.com prior to leaving home and had sent my flight details so thankfully the guy from the hostel was there waiting for me and we jumped in a taxi and headed off to the hostel. The taxis are so small, basically the same size as the old Mira and they drive like maniacs, hardly ever staying on the correct side of the road.

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After checking into the hostel called Hospedaje Turistico Recoleta, I decided to go for a walk into the centre of Cusco, located around the Plaza de Armas (does every city in South America have one of these?). Cusco is almost 100% tourist driven, so it is not surprising that every other shop near the centre is selling souvenirs, clothes for trekking or organising tours.

On my list of things to do was a visit to the tourist office (located just off Plaza de Armas) to purchase a tourist pass that covered the entrance fees to 16 inca sites and museums around Cusco. The pass cost S/ 70.00, but covered all the must-see site including Saqsaywaman, Pisaq and Ollantaytambo. You also get a certificate which isn't a bad souvenir of your cultural outings in Cusco.

It is the start of Semana Santa (easter week) and the streets around the plaza began to fill with people at about 7pm. There was a very slow moving procession, complete with Jesus on the Cross, but I watched it on a big screen TV in one of the side streets, since I had no intention of adding anymore of belongings to my already stolen camera. Eventually I tired of waiting to see something exciting, so I headed to the internet cafe and then off to the hostel for an early night.

The hostel cost US$10.00 a night for a 4-bed mixed dorm, but most of the rooms appeared to only have two people in at most, so I was sharing with a guy from the USA, who had been travelling extensively in Ecuador and had also attended a language school for a few weeks. I could empathise with his conclusion that “I went to learn Spanish but it didn’t take”

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