Arriving in Cisco was particularly exciting as we would be meeting up with Lindsay's parents! We had booked our Inca Trail Trek months ago to coincide with their tour around South America, giving us 2 nights to spend together. They even put us up in the Novotel where they were staying, which was luxury we hadn't experienced through our travels.
When we arrived at the hotel we asked the guy at reception to call their room, and to our surprise they were already back from their tour that day. We had an emotional reunion in the hotel courtyard, it was so good to see them and get some great cuddles!
After settling into our suite (we had received an upgrade thanks to Fergus' hotel membership card), we caught up over a coffee, comparing stories of places we had all visited and planning how we would spend our only full day together. Mum and Dad were hoping to take a tour to nearby Moray and Salinas so we jumped on that tour as well.
That night their tour group had a dinner organised but we were able to tag along, where we met some of the lovely (and some of the strange) people from their tour group. We ate a delicious meal including guinea pig croquettes for entrée with a nice bottle of wine. Again well above our usual standards!
The next morning, after an extensive buffet breakfast, we met for the tour. We ended up on quite a full bus and started making our way to Moray. The first stop was a place called Chincheros where we were given a demonstration of how the yarn is spun from alpaca wool, then the cleaning and dying techniques used. After grating a local root to make soap for cleaning, a bug was then decapitated and ground up to make a red dye. Adding salt to the dye solution made for more of a pink colour.
This place was a coop of 10 local families and after the demonstration we had an unfortunately short amount of time to look at their products. We had hoped to find some nice things but were hurried back onto the bus sooner than we would have liked.
The next stop was Conjunto Arqueológica Moray. We drove through a lot of farming land surrounded by snow capped peaks to get there. In the main circular terrace the temperature can supposedly vary by up to 15 degrees Celsius between the top and bottom tiers.
It is believed these terraces were used for agricultural experimentation with the temperature variances allowing cultivation of modified types of potatoes, corn and other vegetable varieties. Peru has some 300 different types of potato!
After about half an hour exploring the site we loaded back onto the bus and headed for the Salinas (Salt Mines of Maras), a salt harvesting site, in use since Inca times. These tiered salty pools were a sight we had not expected, and there were hundreds of them!
A natural salt water spring was channelled to flow into all these pools, where the sun would then do its work, naturally evaporating the water to leave the salt behind. Each of the pools were in varying states of evaporation with some being harvested while we were visiting. Of course the place was full of shops selling souvenirs, drinks and of course little packets of salt for cooking, bathing, or that would cure just about anything that ailed you.
The bus then returned to Cusco in the mid afternoon. We had a coffee with Mum and Dad in the time we had to kill before we would be picked up for our tour of Cusco by night with a 3 course dinner to follow. Since no one else on Mum and Dad's tour had booked for this optional extra, we were lucky to have a private tour!
Our guide Jorge took us first for a drive through some of the main areas in the Centro Historico then to visit the San Blast area of the city, full of artisanal shops with an impressive church and a main square with a lovely fountain.
We then drove up the hill to the Christ Statue of Cusco, which had been a gift from Palestine. From here the view over the city was magic, and Jorge pointed out the shape of the Puma around which Cusco was built, being one of the sacred animals of the Incan society. He also showed us how much the city has spread in the last 20 years, with the central areas now catering solely for tourists while the residents have built and moved to the outskirts.
From there we were taken to a restaurant for our dinner, but first we were given a lesson in how to make a Pisco Sour. Pisco is the national drink of Peru, a clear spirit made from fermented grapes. After a demonstration it was our turn to try, Lindsay volunteering to do the honours.
It turns out a Pisco Sour is quite a potent cocktail. It contains 3 ounces of Pisco (40% alcohol), plus an ounce of each sugar syrup, lime juice and egg whites. The ingredients are combined in a shaker and shaken vigorously so the lime juice cooks the egg whites a little, ensuring a nice foam on top. Lindsay only moderately achieved this goal but it still tasted good! The bar tender made the rest.
We were then moved to our table and we selected our meals from a few options. Soon after the entrées arrived, and all of a sudden Fergus turned green and almost passed out in his soup. He was clammy and felt like he was going to throw up, fortunately fighting this urge in the fancy restaurant. Altitude sickness had hit him hard and fast.
The driver from our tour fortunately had oxygen in the car. They put a mask on him, though it was a child's mask so it barely even covered his nose. They gave him 5 minutes during which time he regained some colour and felt less like throwing up, but he then got extremely cold, shivering uncontrollably.
We decided to have our driver take us back to the hotel where Fergus got straight into bed to try and get warm. The hotel also had oxygen so Fergus was able to have a little more before attempting to get some sleep. The restaurant had packed up our main meals to go, so Mum and Dad delivered them for us when they returned.
The next morning Mum and Dad were heading to their next destination. Lindsay got up and had breakfast with them, farewelling them as they got on their bus to the airport. Fortunately we had been able to get a late checkout so Fergus could sleep some more, before we had to move to our hostel and back to the realities of backpacking.