Getting the Inka-feeling in Cusco and the Sacred Valley

After a really comfortable overnight bus ride from Arequipa (yes, I made it despite the heavy rain and the streets did NOT get washed away, thank god!) I arrived in Cusco around 7 a.m. at the bus terminal. I hopped into a taxi and told the driver to bring me to a hostel that I had found on the web and that I wanted to check out. All the shops were closed, hardly any people on the streets and of course as always clouds and a little bit of rain. I don’t know why but my idea of this town was that it would be a tiny, sandy, quiet town with only a few hostels and not much around. But I was so wrong. Fortunately. Because to sum it up in a few words: Cusco was my very favorite city in the whole of South America. After I walked around with my huge backpack for about an hour in the whole town to find the best place to stay I ended up walking back to the first place which was a perfect choice. Great view over the city with its brown brick-roofs and many lush green hills, an extremely narrow and steep cobblestone street and a great location right in the middle of the historic and artisanal part of the city. Within the next 2 hours the city woke up and got busy with people walking through the old charming streets and across the many wonderful plazas. The churches (am I boring you yet with me mentioning the many beautiful churches?) were the most impressive and beautiful I had seen on my trip and they were literally lined up next to each other! The only very different thing in this city was that they charged a lot of money to visit the churches so we sneaked in at the beginning of the masses since they are fortunately for free. This city is the very heart of the former Inka empire, this is the place where everything started in the 13th century. The city is so full of history – great museums on the Inkas and also the previous tribes – mixed with the culture and architecture the Spaniards brought with them after their invasion in 1533. But you can also feel the touristy aspect of the history of that town – the INKA name is used EVERYWHERE (Inkafarma, Inkaterra, Inkafe, INKA-this and Inka-that)J)

After the first 2 days in Cusco we rented a taxi driver for a day and drove to and through the Valle Sagrado, the Sacred Valley, with its many ruins such as Q’enko, Pisac, Moray and Ollantaytambo. The Inkas were masters of design (e.g. regarding the construction of water systems or the way they cut rocks for their buildings and temples so that they would stay firmly together without the help of any other material). The thing I liked in particular is that they planned many of their sites in the shape of the animals they worshipped, e.g. the Lama, the Puma, the snake and the condor. Not only did they manage to construct the whole (sometimes huge) sites in the shape of these animals, they even planned them in such a thorough way that for example the area where the genitals and the womb of the female Lama are they built houses for storage of fruit and vegetables they had- symbolizing fertility. As we arrived in Ollantaytambo it was raining hard and the streets were once again flooded. We checked in at a small hostel which had a very chilly room and sleeping in thermal underwear or in a hardcore sleeping bag became kind of a normal thing. Fortunately we both had bought Alpaca hats that day at one of the markets so we were at least a bit equipped to walk into town and get a nice warm soup before freezing through the night.  The next day we caught the train to Aquas Calientes which brought us closer to our ultimate destination: Machu Picchu. There are no roads going to Machu Picchu so the train is the only way to get there. The 2 hour ride led us through beautiful scenery and along the Urubamba river which was extremely high with rapid brown water sometimes coming quite close to the train tracks. Aquas Calientes is a strange town – the scenery is beautiful as the town is surrounded by steep mountains covered in cloud forest and the river runs right through but the downside is that it is very touristy since everyone has to go there to reach Machu Picchu. Tons of little not-so-wow restaurants all trying to lure you into their place. We started reading up on the history and setup of Machu Picchu as we had decided to explore the site on our own without a guide and without time pressure. The next morning we had got up a 4.30 a.m. (my 3rd early morning adventure) and hopped on the first but that went to MP at 5.30 a.m. This gives you the opportunity to see the sunrise (since it was – surprise, surprise! –  a rainy, foggy day again we knew that we wouldn’t see much of a sunrise but being there as early as possible would at least give us a chance to see it when it is still peaceful and quiet). As we reached Machu Picchu at 6 a.m. and the gates opened a few minutes later we quickly walked up to the spot from which you get the famous postcard shot – and about half of the site was covered in clouds. We waited for a while  and finally got some shots of the site itself – but without the big mountain Huayna Picchu (meaning “young mountain”) which gives the site its distinctive look. It was a very special feeling to finally see this amazing and unique ruin which is in an incredibly good state. Lying at 2.400 m  on a steep mountain (Machu Picchu means “Old mountain”), surrounded by huge, tall cone-shaped mountains that drop down to the Urubamba river, Machu Picchu is a fascinating experience. Around 8 a.m. we started our climb of Huayna Picchu to get the full view of the ruin. After we reached the top of the mountain we waited for an hour until the clouds finally disappeared and gave us the full view of the site for a few minutes from high above. On the way down it started to rain and we spent about 1 hour walking amongst the ruins in rain. Rain rain rain in the rainiest moth of the year, but the good part of that and low season was that there were far fewer tourists on site than usual (in high season there are on every 2.500 visitors/per day!). It is hard or impossible to describe the atmosphere and the ruins up there – it is simply a place you have to see for yourself. What is really amazing is what a good condition the ruins are still – maybe also due to the fact that the American historian Hiram Bingham discovered the ruins only in 1911 with the help of local people who had kept the secret of the location of Machu Picchu. The reason why Machu Picchu was not destroyed by the Spanish Conquistadores (the strictly catholic Spaniards saw is as  blasphemy that the Inka worshipped other gods such as the earth, the sun and animals and therefore destroyed everything that served the worshipping of those gods)  compared to most of the other temples and sites  is that the last Inka (Manco Inka) gave his people the order to destroy the complete Inka Trail which lead to the site so that the Spaniards wouldn’t be able to find and destroy it.

By 2 p.m. the rain had scared most of the tourists away and we enjoyed one last hour in sunshine, mixed with some showers. Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley and Cusco –  a wonderful experience.

P.S. Dagmar, dieser Beitrag ist dir von ganzem Herzen gewidmet. Ich danke dir dafür, dass du dich mental und energetisch „auf meinen Rücken geheftet“ hast. Ich habe dich bei all diesen heiligen Inka-Plätzen stets bei mir gehabt!

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