The Bolivian border was less than an hour from Copacabana so it did not take us long to get into Peru. The bus stopped long enough for us to walk to both border posts along the road before continuing to Puno along the shores of Lake Titicaca. We had briefly planned to spend a night at Puno but we'd heard that the main attraction there, the floating islands, had become much more like floating gift shops overrun with tourists. Instead we stopped only long enough to change buses, get out some Peruvian money and to learn that hamburgers (2 soles or NZ$1) are much better value in Peru than pringles (12 soles or NZ$6). And that bus station hamburger was the best I'd had in South America so far. Driving away from the lake the landscape became much drier though oddly it started to become very cloudy and rain fairly heavily at the same time before finally becoming fine just before we reached Arequipa.
We ended up in a very relaxed hostel about four blocks from the square in the centre of town which had a great rooftop terrace for us to relax on at night. Our first day there we visited the hug monastery of Santa Catalina. The place was and still is a convent built in the sixteenth century. It once was full of nuns living in seclusion but now there are only twenty living in an area separate from that open to tourists. The convent took up an entire city block and inside it was a maze of narrow streets, passages and interlocking rooms. On the outside it looked like a low grey fortress sitting in the centre of the city. After exploring this for a few hours and having some outrageously amazing chocolate cake made by the nuns we took off to wander the city. Arequipa is a cool old colonial city and even with nearly a million people living there so while Rob and Tim took off for a few days of Canyon trekking the rest of us relaxed in our hostel, chilled on our fantastic roof terrace, wandered the city and sampled the brilliantly cheap local Mexican place. After a relaxed couple of days it was time to head to Cuzco so we jumped an overnight bus that go us into the Imperial Inca city far too early.
Cuzco began for us at 6:30am when the bus arrived and I kept my eyes peeled for Inca ruins as we walked up to the hostel. Unfortunately The Spanish did a very thorough job at flattening the Inca city so there is very little left out in the open save for a few old foundations in the old town centre that the Spanish reused. Later in the day we did find a few gems when we took a tour of the sites in and around the city. The first was the old temple of the sun which was once one of the most important buildings in the city and as such it is a great example of Inca stonework. Strangely over the top of the Inca temple is a colonial Spanish church and on top of that is a modern steel and glass protective structure. Later we went up to Saqsaywaman (remembered as ¨sexy woman¨) which is a huge Inca fortress sitting above the city. Here the massive stone ramparts are nearly intact, especially the largest stones which weigh several hundred tonnes so the Spanish had no chance of moving them. Again here the stones are perfectly fitted together in odd shapes for extra strength against earthquakes. For several hundreds years Spanish buildings have collapsed in earthquakes while Inca remnants have continued to stand strong. Driving further out of the city we visited three more Inca sites which were smaller than Saqsaywaman but still amazing to see.
The next day Rob and Tim arrived back from their canyon trekking and we went out to the Sacred Valley (or as our guide told us ¨The Valley of the Sacred River¨. Apparently valleys were not particularly sacred to the Incas). Here we saw the immense fortress of Ollantaytambo (I think) where the Spanish once suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Incas. There were huge terraces that climbed up the side of the hill and on top of this was an unfinished (due to the civil war which tore apart and destroyed the empire just as the Spanish arrived) fort with commanding views along three valleys. We then drove into one of the small towns in the valley for a massive buffet lunch before seeing several more amazing sites in the valley before finally arriving at the best one late in the afternoon.
If Ollantaytambo was the most impressive site we saw then Pisac was the most detailed and the most empty. Thanks to a brief rain shower we had the site to ourselves. We crawled up through the old ruins up staircases and along passages. In addition the sun decided to come out as we got up to the hill top fort/temple/combination of the two. Across the valley we could see the old cemetery of holes carved into the cliff face. After spending as much time as we could exploring the amazing site we walked back down to the van and as we did a bus arrived and disgorged a massive load of camera happy tourists. Thankful to avoid the crowds we headed back to Cuzco along road covered with landslips and other evidence of the recent damage to the area due to heavy rain.
Our final day in Cuzco was a lazy one. Initially we were to have left for Machu Picchu on this day (the 30th) but we had to delay our departure by a day so we were left with some time to organise ourselves, have a bit more of a wander around the city, update blogs etc. Tomorrow we leave Tim behind (he´s got a month longer in South America) and we leave for Machu PIcchu. We spend a night at the base of the hilltop site then head up on the 1st of April. We have the entire day there before coming back for another night in Agua Calientes followed by the drive back the next day (we´re avoiding the overpriced train and going in the back way). It should be awesome and I should be able to put up an update when I get to Lima.