34 - PERU
Cusco and Machu Picchu - 27/08/04 - 11/09/04
The main reason for coming to Cusco is to visit Machu Picchu but our first stop was the Norton Rats Tavern which we’d been hearing about on our way south. We found JB there and met Jeff, owner and Norton nut and his girlfriend Yahira. Jeff is great, crazy about Nortons and welcomes bikers, and everyone else from around the world. If you're on a bike, remind him he has a book for you to sign. It's a great idea but he always forgets!
A couple of days after we arrived he took us all on a tour of the Sacred Valley at top Norton Speed. It was funny to be a little biker gang for the day. Jeff and Yahira on the Norton, JB on his very loud KTM 640 Adventure, Dan on the comedy BMW Dakar and us. Odd looking bunch.
The Sacred Valley is amazingly beautiful, Machu Picchu hidden at the farthest end. Luckily we went back a couple of times as trying to keep up with Jeff that day we could hardly take it in.
We stopped in Ollantaytambo for lunch and being four bikes together were stared at even more than usual. Dan spotted a small tour bus with a company logo and “Overland Adventure Travel” written on the side. “Yeah right” and we all laughed in an evil self satisfied biker gang manner, before charging off back to Cusco for more beer.
Getting to Machu Picchu is very complicated. The Peruvians seem to take pleasure in making things overly involved. All the sites around Cusco have weird ticketing systems. You can buy a $10 ticket to see whole bunch of stuff but some things aren’t included. We spent about 20 minutes trying to work out if we could get in to the Cathedral without having to buy a ticket that included three other places we weren’t bothered about.
Had to go in the Cathedral, just to see the Cusco version of the last supper with JC tucking in to roasted Cuy (Guinea Pig) and Chicha Beer.
So Machu Picchu. You either have to trek or take the train. All the treks had about a month’s waiting list so it was the train for us but there are about six different ways of going. R, being pissed off he couldn’t take the bike very nearly decided not to go.
In the end we rode back to Ollantaytambo, the town at the end of the road and took the train from there. You then have to take a bus up the last very steep bit which R absolutely hated. Far too many steep drops and not enough control!
We ended up on the same train as JB and he and R were looking for the road all the way, convinced they could have taken the bikes really, that it was just kept secret so you had to pay the train fare. When he wasn’t doing that, JB was harassing the drivers. He’s such a big kid, desperate to drive the train or at least toot the horn. I think they let him do that in the end just to get rid of him.
Having survived the bus we finally arrived at Machu Picchu and having heard all the hype and seen all the pictures we still just stood and stared. It’s one of the most amazingly beautiful places I have ever seen. The pictures don’t do it justice.
The site is vast, plazas, temples, houses, a prison. And so clever, sheer drops all around with terracing cut in to them. An irrigation system which is still used today to supply the rip-off hotel with fresh water. The steepness is very scary. A few days earlier a Canadian had fallen and died. Taken one step too far whilst looking through binoculars, and a French girl was missing when we were there.
We walked round to the Inca Bridge along a narrow path that we didn’t dare lean out from. The bridge is one way in, made from wood, which was removed when enemies were approaching. They’d have to be crazy to try and invade that way!
When we arrived in the morning we had blue skies, by the afternoon it was getting cloudy. Then we saw very black clouds appear and the whole place just went dark. There was thunder and lightening and torrential rain. It was fantastic. The smell of the rocks and the grass after the rain was wonderful, kept away from the Llamas though.
The Llamas there are crazy, they are so used to tourists and treat them with utter disdain. It is their home, they own it, they go everywhere. Up the highest, narrowest stairways, in and out of temples. Calmly minding their own business and frightening the life out of tourists by suddenly meeting them round a corner. Well me anyway!! We walked and walked and just sat and looked. It’s an incredible place, you have to go.
Plaza de Armas
Cusco is a beautiful city. You can try to imagine how wonderful it must have been before the Spanish arrived. All you can do is try, they destroyed everything that may have given you a clue.
The Plaza de Armas, which is huge was apparently twice the size with gardens and surrounded by Inca palaces and temples. It is now faced by the Cathedral, Jesus Maria church and La Compania (Jesuit Church). Everywhere you look are churches.
We visited Santo Domingo, it was built in the 17th century on top of and using the stones from the Inca Temple of the Sun (Qoriancha). They have uncovered some of the original Inca chambers below the church. How incredible would it be to visit the Temple of the Sun in the capital of the Inca Empire, but no, we can visit another Catholic church.
I just don’t understand the necessity to totally obliterate an entire culture. Is it being Spanish or is it being Catholic or some weird combination of the two which breeds such insecurity? If they’d found Machu Picchu that would be gone too.
The national pastime of Peru is marching. We have seen so many marches and parades in every town we have visited. Cusco was the best though. R, Dan and I ended up trapped one lunch time in the Norton Rats, we had the bikes with us and all the roads in and out of the Plaza were closed off for the biggest parade ever. Have no idea what it was about but everyone was joining in.
We sat on the balcony, which has the best view in town and watched as group after group danced past the front of the Cathedral. Some were in the most amazingly ornate Inca costumes, looking more like something from Flash Gordon and others looked like they’d just left the office for their lunch break.
It went on for ages, each band seemed to be trying to out do each other with the brightness of their jackets and jauntiness of their playing. And once they got in front of the Cathedral there was just no moving some of them. They had centre stage and they were going to stay until someone pushed them off! There was nothing to do but sit back and be happy.
On the way back from Ollantaytambo, after visiting Machu Picchu we realised our tyres were finally dead, down to the canvas on the edges! Very odd. We found out where to get them changed from Jeff and had a nervous hour watching them being changed. It was all done perfectly though and the bike looked very tough with his new spiky boots on. We'd been carrying them since Lima, which had been a complete pain in the bum, so it was good to see them where they should be.
R and I spent another day exploring some of the sites around Cusco and testing out the new tyres. We went to an amazing place which had spiral terracing. They believe it was some sort of cultivation area. We also visited the salt pans which have been in constant use since Inca times and probably before. From a distance it just looks like a giant's had a terrible accident with a huge tin of white emulsion. It's only when you get closer you realise there are hundreds of separate, terraced salt pans. There was a great lady there collecting the salt in her bare feet, for a small fee she let R take some pics. The dirt roads out there were deserted, the only traffic we met were piglets and donkeys. It was so peaceful.
We said a sad little goodbye to Jeff and Yahira. Waved madly at the pub as we left the next morning and our little band of three headed south to Lake Titicaca, Puno and impending doom.
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