Returning to Cusco for me was always going to be emotional. A decade earlier I had arrived in Cusco with 'the wife', my best mate/ flat mate for a Christmas I had relished and since cherished. Alcoholic, cultural, salsa-tastic, pisco sours, quinoa, unnecessary hats. Cusco symbolised freedom of mind, money and time. I had great expectations.
We arrived by rickety bus to the wonderful Juan waiting to take us to our hostel. Juan ran it with his wife and exuberant daughter in the outer 'burbs. Here we had a warm welcome of hugs and kisses, a comfortable room and chitter chatter of a 6 year old desperate to show us her toys. It is important to note at this point the puppy. A beautiful, small bundle of energy. Utterly adorable and completely compelling. Ol' dog whisperer Harris was his usual canine magnet. The pup couldn't get enough! Bundles, nips, licks and wags a plenty.
At dinner that night over much needed bacon (Simon) and a veggie burger to drool over (me) Simon revealed a scabbed puppy scratch. Now usually a voice of calm and reason I immediately ran to the nearest pharmacy who broke the news that it was a rabies risk. A new experience of paranoia/ over-reacting/ cup half empty washed over my being and as I entered a new phase of panic and scenario imagining I knew I would have to satisfy my irrationality and force him to a clinic.
The next morning we did as the pharmacist suggested and confirmed that the puppy didn't have a vaccination. With calls made to an avoidant hostel owner, Juan took charge and bundled both Simon and puppy into a taxi, me in tow and we headed to the government hospital. We were not quite sure what the purpose of the puppy was in our trip to the hospital however poor Juan became the centre of much ridicule in his quest to find a doctor who could assist in rabies jabs. An hour of clinic to clinic, to desk to nurse to door led to nothing except a rather bored puppy.
Simon patiently continued with the plan (well my plan) of finding a rabies vaccine. Two private clinics later we found an English speaking, vaccine prescribing doctor. Simon asked that crucial question of 'am I at risk of rabies?' I at this juncture had been holding water bottles close to him to see his reaction and looking for frothing. The doctor said "Simon. Seriously. No of course you don't. It's a scratch." Both rational and sane men looked in my direction. Say no more about it, I figured. Both puppy and I left with tails between our legs....
So now that I wasn't trying to word the phone call to his family we could get on with our day of packing up and shipping out in a collectivo ( shared taxi) to the Sacred Valley and to Ollantaytambu.
This small Inca town remains as authentic and original as when the gold clad tribesmen were there in person. Set in the niche between three merging valleys, a torrent of a river flowing through and steep terraced hills on all sides this stronghold could still be imagined in its beginnings. Warehouses, dwellings, sacrificial stones where children were slaughtered, beautiful mad intricate waterways and fountains all painstakingly carved from enormous chuck of granite that Incas had harvested from a neighbouring mountain, rolled, dragged, heaved, chipped, carved and stacked to make masonry walls like you can not see in the modern world. Ollantaytambu is a staggered town that spreads masterfully up awkward juts and crevices to maximise the sun, breeze and view. Terraces for crops rise sharply, houses and temples skillfully balance and here mined unmoved in 500 years. At the base of this lies a beautiful working town. Behind wide heavy wooden doors lie courtyards where guinea pigs huddle, homes where pots bubble, children play, balconies of flowers and thick colourful textiles draping in the sun.
Simon and I walked up terraces, down terraces, marvelled at the work, effort and precision and were humbled by the skill and ingenuity of our species. It's an unfortunate thing to see that with the human need for laboursaving, efficiency and convenience what we have gained in time we have lost in skill and expertise.
Our further adventures in the sacred valley - to Machu Picchu and beyond - will be detailed in a separate blog. A sight worthy of its own chapter. With that in mind I will skip straight back to Cusco.
Our return to Cusco was to be my chance to reminisce and also to share in Simon's reactions to what I knew was a city to fall in love with. Cusco despite the tourism has managed to keep the charm and wonder so many come to experience. Not only is this the gateway to Machu Picchu but in itself a relic of past lives as well as blend the indigenous culture with the new world. Michelin worthy restaurants can be found in crumbling cobbled courtyards. Expanses of plazas circled by churches and higgledy stairs hold an array of SLR wielding tourists. Weather beaten wooden balconies are adorned by cocktail supping visitors. In the shadow of the 5 star hotels, amongst the winding footpaths weaving through the maze of houses and businesses the bowler hatted ladies can be found selling their weaving, bedraggled men offer paintings or hats, girls show you earrings on cards and once you've moved from one the next will find you just in case the paintings you just refused 5 seconds might be the one you buy from them. The lasting impressions made by most Cusco visitors is incredible food, incredible setting and incredible tenacity of the 100's of sellers all wielding identical wares.
Simon and I had found ourselves a fabulous small guesthouse run by a more than helpful young lady. Our whitewashed rooms with a door to a second floor view of the cobbled road below was a perfect sanctuary from the hussle and bussle. Whilst Simon wrote the journal I would potter the stalls and shops. Whilst Simon had coffees in hidden away cafés I would sample cakes from bakeries. Our quiet saunter didn't last too long.
Needless to say the arrival of the Nixon's brought with it the usual over indulgences. The most mouth-wateringly beautiful meal in all the adventure so far was quickly followed by a visit to Paddys Bar (the location of many a miss adventure 10 years previous). The words "uno mass" will forever bring back memories of pisco sours and a blazing headache. I managed to drag Simon away (which wasn't too hard as he needed me to stand up by the end) despite the protests. I hold th Nixon's directly responsible for the truly arduous morning which involved a 5am start to get to the airport to get a flight to Lima for a connecting flight to Quito in order to get a connecting flight to the Galapagos. Simon was silent throughout the ordeal to Cusco airport. I got us to check in. Bags in scales, fiancé upright, passports handed over. The girl at check-in broke the news that I had in fact booked the flight for March not February!! Fortunately Simon was still drunk and so remained calm. I managed to swallow the urge to throw up. Of all the flights this was absolutely not the one I needed to mess up with many pesos already spent on connections and bookings. I looked at the girl with tears in my eyes and she said she would see what she could do. The only other flight was full. More sicky feelings and she headed out to the back office. The flight on the runway was about to leave but if we ran there was an empty 2 seats. Never has a hangover disappeared so fast...! As we ran through security shoes and belts in hand we bundled in to the waiting flight with seconds to spare...the luck of the incas was with us!
In arriving in Lima we had 10 hours spare for the connecting flight and with Simon now with serious green tinges to his pallor we found a hostel close by so he could fall into a Cuba Libra coma. Quito came and went and with a Peruvian sleep followed by an Ecuadorean sleep we were actually feeling tiptop on the flight to the Galapagos...how could you not be excited with the prospect of it all?!