Sunday, 30 October 2016

Cusco – Days 40 to 45

A walk round the market in Tupac Amaru Plaza today

This is our last entry for Cusco for tomorrow we are heading off for travels anew. We have been very comfortable here, the homestay with Maribel has been great, both Maribel and her mother Nellie have been like mothers to us, making sure we have hats and sunscreen when it’s sunny and raincoats for when rain is forecast and have furnished us with medication for any ills we’ve had. The real treat here is little Maffie, the 15 month old daughter of Kathie, Maribels sister, who lives in the flat upstairs and comes down for breakfast and usually in the evenings. She is an absolute delight, always with a smile, always laughing, waving at us and blowing kisses, we’re going to miss her sweet smiling face!

Speciality breads for sale in the market
We finished our last Spanish lessons at FairServices language school yesterday and left feeling really sad. We’ve met some great new friends in other students studying Spanish as well as our language tutors Mimi and Mary who have been great. Mimi, the sister of Fanny the owner of the school along with husband John, has been our grammar teacher and very strict with us, not letting a missed accent on our written work or the mispronunciation of a word go amiss (I must remember to say the word ‘me’ – the ‘e’ sound as in ‘edge’ and not ‘mi’), but we have also had lots of laughs with her. Mary, our conversation teacher has also been very good and great fun, taking us out to markets, museums and churches to talk about everyday things as well as overseeing our homework from Mimi and giving us some useful insights into aspects of the language not covered in the grammar lesson.

And lots of nuts and seeds
The statue of Tupac Amaru, the last Inca, killed by the Spanish in 1780
The whole ethos of John and Fanny and all the staff at FairServices is to be admired and the whole spirit of the operation is one of learning whilst having fun. FairServices is a not for profit organisation and helps disadvantaged people in Cusco build stable, prosperous futures for themselves and we would urge anyone who is thinking about coming to Cusco to enrol for a course and take advantage of all that it has to offer in addition to learning Spanish, the Tuesday cooking class, Salsa dance classes on a Friday evening or the help and advice and discounts at the local medical clinic if a need arises (as it did for us). Here’s their website:

Justin saying goodbye as he headed off on his trek
We said goodbye to Justin on Thursday who has been staying in our homestay for the last couple of weeks, he went off to do a 5 day trek to Machu Picchu, returning here on Monday night after we’ve gone, we’ve got contact details for him and an invite to visit him in California sometime. On Friday after class we said goodbye to Tina, who is from the UK and heads off to Patagonia in a week to cycle and camp with her friend. She stayed with us at the homestay before Justin so we became good friends with her and, if we don’t coincide in Patagonia (which is a possibility), we may catch up with her back in the UK. There are many other people we’ve got to know, such as Ben and Emma from New Zealand, plus others that we’re going to miss. After 5 weeks here it almost feels like home and it’s going to be a wrench to get back into travelling again.

Fairservices language school. On the left are open classrooms, down the bottom is an enclosed teaching/social area with a kitchen and a couple of indoor classrooms and, unseen on the right are the offices, more classrooms and a computer/internet/printing room for general use
Emma from NZ having her lesson in the teaching/social area
So tomorrow we pack again and catch an overnight sleeper bus to Nazca, via Arequipa, setting off at 19:00, arriving briefly in Arequipa at 5:30 am and then on to Nazca, arriving at 16:00 on Monday afternoon. The bus takes us up to a Nazca Lines viewing hill and then we stay in Nazca overnight. We’re considering taking a flight over the lines to get a proper look, but haven’t finally decided yet. From there we head to Ica and Huacachina, which is the only desert oasis in South America and we’ve booked into a hotel right on the oasis for the night. On Wednesday we head to Paracas on the coast for 3 nights, with the possibility of a trip out to the nearby Ballestas Islands, described by some as ‘The poor man’s Galapagos’. Finally we arrive in Lima on 5th November for three nights before flying down to Santiago in Chile on 8th November and then on to Punta Arenas right in the south of the continent on 9th November.

And that's Mimi teaching Ben while Jackie sits with Bowie the cat waiting for our lesson with Mimi
It was a cold day and Bowie needed a bit of warmth!
It’s a busy but exciting few weeks ahead for us and very different from the last five weeks. Jackie seems to be healthy finally having got over her nasty cold (I have it now, but only slightly, as have most of Maribel’s family in the homestay), her ultrasound scan at the clinic was a bit inconclusive but not bad, so the advice she was given was ‘carry on and enjoy your travels’. Maybe another scan in 3 to 6 months to check on things, but other than that it seems we can carry on.
Mimi, Jackie and Brian just starting our class. Mimi speaks almost no English but we could still have a good laugh with her

With Mary for our conversation class in one of the outdoor classrooms. She also speaks very little English but we could converse and have a laugh just the same. It's a tribute to their teaching. Mary took our blog address and is going to have a look. If you're reading this Mary, have you understood it?

Bowie thinks she owns the place!

And she knows just where to go to get a drink of water, despite having proper bowls of water and cat food!

Monday, 24 October 2016

Cusco – Days 34 to 39

Justin taking a photo of Cusco on our way up the hill

A more relaxed week for us, mainly owing to Jackie’s ill health at the moment that, fingers crossed, appears to be improving. 

For the last couple of weeks she has had one thing after another, culminating now in a nasty cold that has sent her off her food and given her sleepless nights with coughing. Fortunately I sleep like a log and have been little disturbed by it all, I just hope I don’t get it!

Pausing for breath in the thinner air
The Spanish classes have been going pretty well and our heads are stuffed full of adjectives, nouns, regular and irregular verbs and now sentence construction. You can use an ‘a’ between certain verbs, ‘que’ between others and some without anything – wow, it’s just mind blowing!

The shelter on the summit, but we needed one more break!
We have one more week to go, originally we booked three weeks, then extended it to four and have now gone up to five. At the moment we plan to leave here on Saturday 29th October, but we’ve been looking at a flight out of Lima on 4th November, mainly due to costs (Halloween and All Saints day are big things over here and prices go up). If we go for that flight we’ll either go to Nasca or stay here for a few more days. Kathia, the sister of Maribel, who owns the homestay here is throwing a Halloween party on 31st and we’re invited, so we may stay on.

Cusco panorama from the summit
There's the unfinished football stadium with no roof
Justin joined us at the homestay last week, he’s from California and already speaks very good Spanish, having taught himself, so I’m feeling a pretty poor third rate speaker now. Justin can converse with the whole family, Jackie can understand probably 50% and I’m down at about 10%! It’s hard, by the time I’ve recognised a word, processed it in my head, thought up a reply and selected a basic sentence the conversation has moved on. It’s very frustrating!

And there's our homestay, grey building dead centre, by the airport
Our week next week is full on as we want to complete the six week course in five weeks so we have extra lessons booked and won’t finish until six pm (we do only start at noon though!). In anticipation I have been studying hard this weekend, putting in 4 hours today studying verbs and sentence construction. I just hope it pays off!

Brown sheep by the river as we got back down
Cuy and a beer for lunch - yum!
We did one thing yesterday that we’ve been promising ourselves since we arrived here and that is to try the local speciality dish, cuy. Cuy is guinea pig and is served roasted or fried, we were told roasted is best so we went to a recommended restaurant close by that serves only Cuy. There was no menu and we only had to order whole or half, roasted or fried, so we had a whole roasted one between us, served up with boiled potatoes, pasta and rocoto rellenas (a chilli stuffed with mince and veg, all held in place with a good dollop of batter before being fried. We know all about rocoto rellenas as this was what we cooked this week at cookery class on Tuesday), washed down with a local beer. They tell us there is virtually no fat and it’s full of protein, just ideal for Jackie. It was enjoyable and very tasty, not like chicken, much more of a ‘game’ taste, but it was a bit fiddly. You just have to pick it up and gnaw away! Nelly, grandma at the homestay told us we had to be there at one o clock, which we were and had the pick of tables. By 1:45 the place was packed, all with locals, not a white face in sight other than ours!

Spanish arches in the Quoricancha complex
We were nearly late there as I needed exercise and had spied a hill nearby with a shelter on top that promised a great view over Cusco. I’d looked on Google Earth and could see a faint trace of a path to the summit, so plotted it into an app I have on my phone and followed that. Just as I was about to leave Justin was sitting revising his Spanish and I asked if he’d like to join me, which he readily did. We set off about 10:15am, walked from the house into the centre and then up steps to the high statue of Pachacutec that Jackie and I had been to before and then struck off up hill. The summit is at 3600m (about 12,000 feet) and the lower air pressure really took its toll on both of us. Muscles were OK, but we both just needed bigger lungs to suck in more air and had to stop quite often to get our breath back.

A bronze replica of the Inca gold sun idol
We rounded a corner past some very poor shacks for houses and were confronted by a couple of quite fierce barking dogs and, despite us continuing to walk away from them they ran up behind and bit me three times on my legs, only lightly, but enough to cause discomfort and a bit of blood (Maribel’s medicine was duly dished out when we got back). Quickly the owner came by and pulled them away and we carried on up to the summit. Great photos, a good chat on the top and then I realised it was noon and we had a lunch appointment at 1:00pm! We were quickly down, I said goodbye to Justin who was going for a beer in town and I ‘speed walked’ back to the apartment to collect Jackie. I dropped the rucksack and we were off out again, with no shower for me and we were in the restaurant for 1:00pm. I don’t think I smelt!

Remains of an Inca wall and the church to the right
Jackie, nourished by the protein from the Cuy was up for a visit to the Quoricancha church and old Inca temple complex that we still hadn’t visited so we got a taxi into town and did it.

Quoricancha was the centre of the Inca empire (not the Plaza de Armas just up the road that I had mistakenly previously said was) and was their most sacred site. It was ringed with gold on the tops of the walls, on the inside and originally had a giant gold sun in their sacred sun temple. The Spanish destroyed most of the original Inca temples, melted the gold down and built their own very impressive church on the site, using the Inca stonework as foundations.

Inside the Inca outer wall
From the outside some of the original stonework remains and, inside, there are the remains of some temples, one of which is said to be the moon temple. The largest and most sacred sun temple was totally destroyed by the Spanish and the altar of the church now stands on what was the sun temple altar. After an earthquake in 1950, that severely damaged most of the Spanish architecture but left the Inca stonework untouched an archaeological dig took place and today original foundations of the Inca temples can be seen that has allowed them to fully understand the layout of the original complex. It was an interesting visit.

Looking out from the complex over the Avenida del Sol and the mountains beyond
The remains of the moon temple inside the church
Today, after spending four hours studying I went, with Justin and Oscar (Maribel’s brother in law) to a football match at the local Estadio Inca de la Garcilaso de la Vega. It’s a large stadium close to our language school but is still being built. A stadium has been there for fifty (or possibly seventy) years, but is now being enlarged to a capacity of 45,000. At the moment there is no roof or floodlights and reinforcement steel poles protrude from concrete uprights all round. We went to watch a second division match between Cusco and Ica, a town south of Lima and at a much lower altitude. Quite how the players are supposed to adapt is anyone’s guess and the result really underlined that the Cusco team were better able to play in the thin air. The score was 4:0 and could have been 6:0, but it wasn’t just that the Cusco players were acclimatised, they played much better football and the game was very entertaining. It was just a pity the weather wasn’t better, on and off rain throughout the match (and no roof!) and it was jolly cold. Good job I had waterproof trousers and coat and a good few layers on!

The 16th century church altar, standing on the site of the Inca sun temple altar
One of the other Inca temples with aligned windows
Apparently there is another Cusco team that are in the premier league who use the same stadium, the Cusco team we saw played in red and one end of the ground is painted red, the premier Cusco team play in blue and the other end was painted blue. The ground was maybe half full and they were all crowded round the three sides leaving the blue end nearly empty.

So now it’s Sunday evening and we have had the news from the UK that my niece Steph has given birth today to Ivy, a 6lb 1oz healthy baby girl. Congratulations to her and husband Sam, a sister for little Rory. Jackie and I are great aunt and uncles again or, as they say over here Abuela Tia Jackie and Abuelo Tio Brian!
A model of what they believe the original Inca Quoricancha temple looked like

The Spanish plaza inside the complex

What do you do with a load of finely carved Inca stonework? Make nice patterns on a lawn with them and carve into the grass the three Inca symbols, serpent, puma and condor

Outside the complex with a view of the remaining Inca outer wall and the 16th century Spanish church on top

Inside the football stadium

Oscar and Justin with the concrete reinforcing poles in the background

Justin and me just before kick-off

Team line-up. Cusco are in red

This is goal number 1 going in. A bit blurred but I was excited!

This is Maribel's family going on a family party today (they seem to like fancy dress). Maribel is on the right, dressed as cat woman, her two children 11 year old Estoban and 16 year old Alaxandra with boyfriend Amerigo on the left

This is just for interest. We visited a coffee museum earlier in the week with Mary. It shows the quantity of coffee production worldwide. Brazil is number 1 at 45,000 somethings, then Vietnam, Columbia is third and Peru is 10th, but as they say, all of theirs is organic and therefore much better

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Cusco and Machu Picchu – Days 26 to 34

Machu Picchu Youtube video (5min34sec):
Machu Picchu
We've settled into a very easy, comfortable routine here, although change is happening. Tina left to go trekking while we were away over the weekend to be replaced by Justin, who we have yet to meet. Tina is a real live wire whose first questions on arriving were where can I go for a run? (Nowhere at this altitude without acclimatising for a day or two) and how will I stop myself being bored? Four hours of lessons a day isn't enough. 
Look at this cute little puppy being cared for by a street vendor
We may have corrupted her into a more chilled way of life, she never went for a run in the fortnight, and we had to almost bully her into going to Sacsaywaman (her lessons didn't start until 14.00 so she had no excuse not to) but we had lots of relaxed breakfasts chatting and playing with Maffi and lots of conversation over dinner, which she genuinely seems to have enjoyed. An eye opener for her and an interesting housemate for us.

Looking at the walls of rented tombs
Our afternoon trips out with Mary (third spelling, but finally the right one despite being pronounced Marie) this week have been to a cemetery and to the area of San Blas. The cemetery was really interesting, though freaked Brian out a bit, it was huge with some really expensive big family mausoleums, but that wasn't what upset him, it was the wall, about ten feet high, full of individual niches, each one a child, with things they liked in the front, a teddy, sweets an action figure, all sorts. Even that wasn't what upset him, it was the 'for let' signs on some of them as apparently it is very expensive to rent these spaces so after a while the family stops paying, for whatever reason, the body is removed, and another one takes its place!

Here's the upsetting bit, this tomb is for rent as, presumably the current relatives have stopped paying. As soon as someone else rents it they open it up, take out the remains, cremate them and deposit hem somewhere else. You rent a secondhand (or third or multitude) tomb for a short period of time. Is that bizzare or what? why would anyone do that? Not very dignified is it!
An Inca tomb. Look how pale Jackie looks
We got caught in an absolute downpour while we were there so huddled in a corner to stay dry, which may have caused my second funny turn, it happened on our previous trip out too, I suddenly went absolutely white and came as close to fainting as I ever have. Tina (a junior doctor) thinks it is probably the effect of altitude on my, generally a little low, blood pressure combined with eating then walking and then standing still. 
On the Inca Rail train to Aguas Calientes
To test this theory on our second trip out this week I ate less, walked slower and didn't actually stop and stand still, but gently paced back and forth and all was fine! Bit worrying for all concerned when I had to be supported to stop me falling over though! Ice cream or hot chocolate seem to have both worked very well as recovery items depending on the hugely variable weather! The second trip out was to a couple of art galleries, one of which we visited on our free tour, and the other was shut, oh well, shall we go to the chocolate museum then? Oh yes! We still had a very enjoyable time, it's not really about where we go, but getting some insider information about things and giving us a new topic of conversation. In one of the museums last week was what looked like a lump of rock we would just have walked straight past until she explained that a whole city had been carved in and on it, before building, makes being an architect sound easy. The whole museum trip was worth it just for that!

Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) from our hostal window. Note the rail track right outside our window!
Aguas Calientes
So all in all what with a cold sore, and a slightly dodgy tummy at the end of last week I've been a bit of a wreck really! Just waiting for Maribel to get home as she has a drug for every occasion, acyclovir for the cold sore, some magic pink medicine for the tummy, and I hope something for the four really itchy bites I got yesterday! We don't know what she does, but the apartment is full of boxes of drugs of all sorts which she is quite happy to dole out! 

Jackie finds a cat who made himself very comfortable. Don't think Jackie was though!
One of the many amazing rock sculptures, this one of Machu Picchu
Our trip this weekend was to Machu Picchu which was a good weekend away, not quite as smooth as it might have been, our booking agent took us to meet our bus to Ollantaytambo, but left us in the hands of a 'colleague' with a larger group of people, who did get us on a bus, but not the one that was booked, this was obvious from the tone of various phone calls. We were bundled into the front of someone else's bus and off we went, arriving in time for the train, but not with the planned spare time. What happened to the larger group? Who knows! 

Aguas Calientes railway stattion
The Inca rail train was on time, every seat was full and off we went. The view from the window was lovely, but not as stunning as we'd been hoping for. We arrived early in Aguascalientes so hung around waiting for a man with a sign to take us to our hostal. No one appeared but Brian managed to find someone to show us the way, it wasn't very far, waiting to check in the guy was on the phone obviously to our booking agent and seemed to think we were coming in on a later train! Oh well, he had a room for us, so all was fine. 

The queue for the bus at 05:00am
We went to look round Aguascalientes, and weren't really very impressed, prices had been hiked on everything, to almost UK rates and apart from some very murky looking hot pools, and a very pretty river, it is just the starting off point to Machu Picchu. Oh well, met a good cat, early dinner (I did find a reasonably priced tourist set menu) and meet with the guide before our early start in the morning. 

Alpaccas (or Llamas) munching the grass amongst Machu Picchu ruins
An early night made sense only to discover the train tracks, literally outside our window were not for the tourist trains, but the freight trains, which ran much later and sat outside, engines running, hooting, making the bed shake till goodness knows when. The early start is because we fell for all the hype, the first bus is at 05.30 but you need to be in line at 04.45, we were actually in line at 04.30 having opened the curtain and seen the line! However breakfast didn't start till 05.00 so I nipped back to get coffee and bread to carry out. Despite our position in the line, by the time our guide had got himself and all the rest of the tour group up the hill and through the barrier it was 06.30, and really may as well have been 09.30! He was a good guide though, dealing with a variety of first languages, and walking abilities, and the two and a half hours with him were well spent. 

We made it!
We then had to rush to our start point for la montana, the higher hill we'd bought tickets to climb. Our start time was between 09.00 and 10.00, an hour and a half to two hours, but have to be off the summit by 12.00. We set off slowly but steadily, well I'd eaten very little in the last three days so may have been lacking in a little energy. We were overtaking people, but probably being overtaken by more, and had made it passed the half way stage when B realised he hadn't got his hat, sweat stained and battered it may be, but he's had it longer than he's had me, so he wouldn't risk someone else picking it up (who in their right mind would want it?) with that he dumped the rucksack and ran off! It was further than he thought, and by the time he caught back up with me he had expended quite a lot of energy! Still we made it to the top in plenty of time enjoyed the views and had a snack. Back down the zillions of stone steps in 10 minutes over the book three hour round trip.

Our guide telling us this was the main entrance to the town with evidence of hinges and a pecision fit wooden door, a method the apparently copied from pre-Inca people
The closest building is believed to have been Inca Pachacutecs residence
We went and had a relax overlooking the main area before watching the rain come in and deciding enough was enough, about the same time everyone else thought the same thing! The bus queue to get down was as long as the one to get up, at least an hour we were told, just as it started to rain! Shall we walk down then? Surely we can make it in less than the hour and a half queue and bus ride we were looking at. We would have, if rather than walking down the road we'd appreciated that the walking track wiggles from the entrance no where near the road for the majority of it's route! Oh well, we picked up a dog on the road we shouldn't have been on, who realising we obviously didn't know what we were doing decided to accompany us all the way down, stopping at the entrance to every one of the cut throughs that we finally came across!

The sun temple, astronomically aligned. The window in the opposite face aligns with sunrise for the winter solstice, further round to the right is another window (just visible) that aligns with sunrise for the summer solstice
In the col the summer solstice sun gate is just visible
The final straw came when a bus came past a little too close, I heard Brian cursing as he'd got a few splats of mud below the knee on one leg, until I looked at him, I was covered, both legs, arm, face, hair, and even the waterproof I'd got tied round my waist is filthy!

Fortunately we were nearly there and a cold beer was definitely on the cards, and boy was it a good one? Followed by a pizza we also felt we'd earned, B's phone says 24km! We got on the train, exhausted. 
One of the temples with three windows said to represent the three symblos of the Incas, the Condor for the air and heaven, the Puma for the earth and the Serpent for under the earth
The high altar. Subsidence has caused the movement on the right
Found we were sitting opposite the same guy we had been on the way out despite this train being four times bigger than the one we went out on, small world. The bus to take us back from Ollantaytambo was a proper coach, and old, smelly and slow. I'd rather have been in a collectivo, like last week! Got back to the apartment at 23.25 and had to shower, couldn't go to bed as I was! So after a phenomenally long day, school today actually went better than I thought it would!

I've forgotten what astronomical feature this was for, but it was carved from a rock outcrop that happened to be there
All buildings apparently had wooden beamed thatched roofs, held in place by wrapping the twine round protruding rock in the walls. The walls are original. They can't do this to the other buildings as it is a Unesco site and must be left as it was originally, save for remedial work to stop it decaying further

A rock carved to match the mountain behind

Jackie sneaks in a stroke of an alpacca (llama?) while it is distraced attending to an itch

Part of the intricate system of water canals built to keep 400 people fed and watered

Walking up the path to the mountain with Machu Picchu and Huyana Pichu mountain behind

We made it!

Machu Picchu looks tiny from up here and lost in amongst the surrounding 5000m peaks and the meandering Rio Urubamba. It's not surprising it remained hidden for so long. It's only visible now as all undergrowth has been cleared from it. Hiram Bingham the American history teacher who found in 1911 was led there by a local child (inspiration for Raiders of the Lost Ark?)

We made it together!

The Inca bridge, set along a narrow, vertigo inducing cliff walkway with huge drops. Where the path led anyone knows, but it's in huge vertical terrain

This is a view back up towards Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. The mountain to the right is Huyana Picchu, in the centre is the top of the road up, Machu Picchu is up on the right. It's no wonder nobody found it for so long.