Cusco (March 27, 2008)

Today was another day that Marjorie, Roger, Melissa checked out the sites as Kevin was at his conference. After a busy day yesterday where we visited many sites inside Cusco, today was our day to venture outside of the city. The first stop was Pisac. Pisac is about 1 hour outside of Cusco and we had two different ways to get there – via a local bus or a taxi. Well, being the adventurous ones that we are, we decided to go with the more interesting option and take the same bus that the locals do. We weren’t exactly sure where the bus was leaving from but eventually found the so called “bus depot” behind some metal, shady looking fence. After paying the 80 cents bus fair, we were off. The bus was filled with a mixture of locals and “gringos”. The bus ride was a good old fashion white knuckle ride. The majority of the trip there was on a small road with huge cliffs. The bus driver was driving way too fast and of course, there were no guard rails to protect us. One little slip up by the driver and we would have been over a 500 foot cliff. Oh well, nothing like a bit of adventure. That why one travel right?

We made it safely into town we set out to visit the Inca ruins that Pisac is famous for. Our options were a 2-hour hike up the hill or a 10 minute ride up. In an effort to visit as much as possible, we took the taxi option. Honest, it wasn’t because we didn’t want to climb for 2 hours. :) This was our first real visit of Inca ruins and wow, was it ever beautiful and impressive to see. The ruins overlooked a beautiful valley and the scenery was amazing. Just as we started a visit, a guide approached us to offer his services. He seemed knowledgeable and the price was decent ($5.00) so we decided to go for it. It ended up being a great idea as he gave us all kinds of great explanations.
Pisac’s Inca ruins were divided into 5 main areas – military, agriculture, religious, storage facilities, and an Imperial Palace. The main Sun Temple is in amazing shape and showed the impressive Inca masonry . Vast agriculture terraces are still there and looked liked they had been recently built despite the fact that they’ve been there for 500 years. While visiting, you can see holes in the hillside that were used as tombs. None of us were really experts on Inca construction and were amazed to see how well built the buildings were. It was also equally impressive to see how they built water channels to transport water for baths as well as agriculture irrigation. The channels all still work.

After visiting the ruins, we took a taxi back down into town. Pisac other main attraction is the local market. It is one of the most famous markets in South America. Hundreds of stalls were set up with the locals selling a wide variety of textiles, carvings, jewelry, pots, ceramics as well as other items. The market runs 3 days a week (Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays). The busiest day is Sunday when many people from the neighbouring towns come in to go to church and visit the market. We visited on a Thursday. Because it wasn’t the high season for tourist, the market was pretty quiet.

We went for lunch at a local restaurant where the owner cooked the empanadas that we ate outside in a stone oven. Needless to say, they were great and really hit the spot after walking around for 3 hours in the heat.

After doing some shopping (where Melissa bought a t-shirt for Kevin and Marjorie bought a beautiful silver necklace and pendant), we set off to figure out how we were going to get back to Cusco. Our initial plan was to take the same local bus back. However, when we arrived at the place where the bus was leaving from, we realized that there was a long lineup of school kids waiting for the bus.

After being approached numerous times by a taxi cab driver, his persistence finally paid off and Melissa entered into the negotiations (in Spanish) to figure out how much it would cost us to get back to Cusco. After a tough bargaining session, the price was set at 5 soles for each of us (about $2.25). Now all that was left to do was to find a 4th person as he didn’t want to make the hour and a half trip without a 4th person. He put us in the backseat of the taxi and started walking around the area trying to find another passenger. At one point of time, he brought over two other female tourists who promptly figured out that 5 people in a space for 4 people wouldn’t work (nice try buddy…). After about 10 minutes he finally found a 4th passenger – in comes in a grandma. We thought ok, we off. But a few seconds later, the hatchback opens up and in comes in 2 more people who sat in the trunk area with 2 bags of potatoes. Our little entrepreneur taxi driver was able to get 6 people in his taxi – not too shabby. We found it pretty funny. It felt like we were in a movie.

We asked him to drop us off on the outskirt of Cusco so that we could visit Sacsayhuaman (or as it is known to the tourists as Sexy Woman as it sounds almost exactly like the proper pronunciation). Sacsayhuaman is considered by some of as one of the best monuments that mankind has ever built. It sits on top of a hill and offers a magnificent view of Cusco. While many stones have been taken from the site over the years (some used to build houses in neighbouring Cusco), it still has impressive walls and ramparts. The main rampart that faces the open square has 25 angles and 60 different walls. It is thought that the form of the rampart with all its different walls and angles was to represent the teeth of the Puma. What is most impressive about the walls is some contains boulders that weigh up to 145 tons! These, like all the other stones found on the site, were taken from a quarry that was found 3 km away. Can you imagine transporting a 145 ton boulder for 3 km?!!? Each stone fits perfectly together and still stand despite the fact that no cement or mortar was used. Some reports say that it took between 20,000 and 30,000 people 60 years to build Sacsayhuaman. While we could on and describe more about Sacsayhuaman, a great writeup can be found here:

After visiting this impressive site, we took a taxi into town. We met up Kevin. He had spent the day visiting potato farmers as well as a potato park where the Peruvian government was producing seed potatoes for many of the different varieties found in Peru.

That evening we went for a local Peruvian delicacy – Cuy (or as it is called in English “Guinea Pig”). Some people believe that eating Cuy can prevent and even cure cancer. With credentials like that, we were certainly not going to give up the opportunity to eat it. We went to a restaurant that is supposed to be known for its Cuy. We ordered it prepared two different ways – fried and roasted. When they came out, the head was still on and for presentation, they put a pepper in its mouth as well as a tomato as a hat. After a few pictures, off our Cuy went to be cut up for us. Kevin, Marjorie and Roger all had some Cuy (Melissa doesn’t eat red meat) and we were all pleasantly surprised that it tasted really quite good. If you think about it, here in North America and in Europe, people eat rabbit. How much different is a Guinea Pig?

After supper, we headed back to our hotel. Every evening, as we walk back, we are asked many times by people if we wanted to buy different products like touques, scarves, finger puppets, and sweaters. On this fine evening, we were approached by a young finger puppet vendor (about 10 years old). While most times we say a polite “No Gracias”, this little salesman was very persistent. He started chatting with Kevin and discovered that we were from Canada. Kevin decided to start asking him what he knew about Canada. And let me tell you, he knew as much about Canada as a lot of Canadian do. He was able to answer all kinds of questions, and in particular the different Prime Ministers we had in the past. When he mentioned that he knew that Kim Campbell had been the first female Prime Minister between Brian Mulroney and Jean Chretien, we were amazed to say the least. How could a 10 year old kid selling finger puppets in Cusco know a fact that many Canadians wouldn’t even know? He claimed that he learned it in school but we suspect that it was something he learned from other tourists. Regardless, it was a very impressive display of knowledge/memory. We quizzed him on a few other countries and he knew many facts about them as well. Needless to say, we bought a number of finger puppets from the little guy.

After being amazed by the young salesman, we headed back to the hotel to get a bit of shut eye.

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