On Sunday we caught the Inka Express from Puno to Cusco. The journey took us 10hrs (usually 6 with no stops) and we had five stops of interest on the way and a delicious buffet lunch. We stopped at Pukara is famous for it´s pottery, especially the well-known ¨Toritos de Pukara¨ (Little Bulls of Pukara). People place two ceramic bulls on their roof for good luck and prosperity. The town has an impressive Cathedral and a Stone Museum which we visited. Our guide explainedthe meanings of some of the Inca statues and also showed us some Inca ceramicsthat were found underground. The Incas used to paint the pottery using blood, plants and insects and animal fat to varnish. Pots filled with food (potatoes, corn or coca leaves) or ceramics of animals (Llamas/Alpacas) were given to Pachamama (Mother Earth) in August time, when she was hungry, to pray for a good harvest the following year. We drove through the Andes and the very dry landscape, passing lots of Llamas and Alpacas and little stone houses of the people who live in the area. To keep their houses warm in the cold weather the houses don´t have any windows and they use the heat from the oven (fuelled by manure!). They also get their water from underground using a pump. Along the way we stopped at a lookout called La Raya (4335m) which had stunning views of the Andes and ice-capped volcanoes. On the drive down the scenery became greener and there were lots of Eucalyptus trees. We also past a hot spring filled with locals splashing around. After lunch we stopped to have a play with a couple of Llamas, shaggy Alpacas and baby Vicuñas then we went onto Raqchi (Temple of Wiracocha God) to look at the ruins of the Inca temple which, in it´s day, was 100m long, 26m wide and 14m high and had 11 giant columns on either side. Raqchi means `Ceramics´ and the community main income is from the crafts and ceramics they sell. Our guide told us that only 60yrs ago people used to come to the inca site and take the stones to build their houses, which is why there is not much left of it - great hey!! Close to the temple there are circular shaped buildings known as `Qolqas´ or food stores. Last stop before Cusco was the beautiful church of Andahuaylillas, named the `Sixtine Chapel of America´. Inside the church is painted with lots of gold leaf and has many examples of Andean religious art.
We arrived in Cusco at 5ish and headed straight for Loki hostel. Unfortunately for us the hostel had no record of our booking and were completely full so we found another, bit more expensive, hostel nearby called Los Niños. Our room was gorgeous, the beds were comfy and there was a hot shower so we were happy!! We then had a delicious `British´ meal at The Real McCoy. I had baked potato cheese & beans and Jem had steak pie, gravy & chips - yum yum!!!
Yesterday we checked into a cheaper hostel called the Flying Dog, had a gorgeous brekkie at Jacks then climbed 2km up to the top of the hill (3701m) to the Inca Walled complex of Sacsayhuaman (also known as Saksaq Waman or `Sexy Woman´). The stones of the fortress are missing because the Spanish used them to build many of the churches in Cusco but the Inca stonework that is left is amazing to see and remains a mystery as to how it was construted. Each limstone block interlocks precisely with the next, not even a piece of paper can fit between them and the largest block weighs 128 tonnes which would be very difficult to transport. The view from the top is superb and you can also see the statue of Christ on the next hill along.
On the way down the hill we past San Cristobal and Santa Teresa church which both have inca walls then we went to the main square Plaza de Armas, for a beer (Jem had Old Speckled Hen) at Norton´s Tavern which overlooks the square. From the balcony it was great to people watch and we a lovely view of the Cathedral, the two churches either side of it, Jesus Maria (1733) & El Triunfo (1536) and the Jesuits´ church The Compañia. Last night we had a massive burger at a cool bar called Los Perros with big comfy couches and a great atmosphere and from there we went to The Real McCoy´s 1st Birthday party for few drinks and live music.
Today we had a wander round the bustling local market (best I´ve seen) with it´s fresh juice stalls, fruit & veg, meat, clothes & baskets and outside I saw a lady with scales weighing people which was a funny sight!! On the way back we past Santa Clara and San Francisco church then went to have a nice lunch at Jacks (fab salad and Hummus). This afternoon I´m going to visit the Coricancha (Temple of the Sun), the centre of Inca religon, and the monastery of Santo Domingo, La Merced (yes another church!!), Calle Loreto (Inca alley), the inca walls of Banco Wiese, the famous twelve-angled stone which is on the front of Cusqueña beer, Santa Catalina Convent and finally San Blas church which is up a steep hill - yuk!!! Alot of churches I know but they are so beautiful here and I love just walking around this stunning city.
Tomorrow we catch an early bus to Santa Maria (5hrs) then Santa Teresa (2hrs) and from there we walk to Aguas Calientes and on Friday we get up at 4am to visit Machu Picchu (this is the cheap way of getting to Machu Picchu to avoid the expensive tourist train!!). At the weekend we´ll be in The Sacred Valley visiting Ollantaytambo and Pisac (Sunday Market), back in Cusco on Sunday. The next five days are going to be jampacked so I´ll be in touch early next week, lots of love from us xxxxx