Grateful for a good night’s sleep we awoke refreshed and ready to see more of the Inca Heartland around Cusco. Today was the day for the “optional tours”. The choices were to see Tipon, Pikillacta and “The Sistine Chapel of the Andes” in the morning, or to visit Sacsayhuaman in the afternoon. Or both. We had avowed to fit as much in as we possibly could, so “both” was our obvious default position; especially as our guide had recommended the morning one, and I had already decided I definitely wanted to see Sacsayhuaman.
On the way out of town, we saw loads of schoolkids waiting patiently at the side of the street for a procession to pass by. Anywhere in the world, children love a parade; Peru is no different. In the end it seemed to be a land rover bearing a religious icon that had arrested their interest; not sure that would have been so captivating back in Northampton.
Also en route we stopped to see a bread shop. Yes, I kid you not. This is because they bake very large circular flat loaves, and they are apparently the talk of the valley. Mrs C can’t do bread, so it was of limited fascination to us. But if you like your loaves, check out the Pan Chuta in Oropesa.
The Sistine Chapel of the Andes is so called because of its incredibly ornate interior. God knows it as the parish church of San Pedro de Andahuaylillas. The building is undergoing some restoration and there were many talented artisans working on bringing the interior up to its former glory; unfortunately we weren’t able to take any photos. The three crosses outside the church are rather outstanding in a stark sort of way, and it was a peaceful place to observe the locals with their children selling their wares.
Heading back towards Cusco, our next stop was Pikillacta. This is (was) a pre-Inca city and the ruins are still in pretty astonishing condition. You can only imagine how imposing it must have been in its heyday. Mindful of not overexerting ourselves, so as not to exacerbate the altitude sickness, we spent a very pleasant half hour gently wandering around. Ours was the only tourist coach there – you can imagine Pikillacta spends many winter days rather deserted. One felt sorry for an elderly couple trying to sell basic tourist rubbish from their groundsheets to the occasional tourist; a hard way to make a living.
We were due to visit Tipon on the way back. Described as a picturesque set of stone canals, terraces and stairways that are thought to be part of a royal hacienda, it sounds lovely. Unfortunately workmen had taken the road up and there was no way for a coach to get to the site. Never mind, it’s always good to have a reason to return.
After a brief lunch we were all ready for our afternoon trip to Sacsayhuaman. The site covers a large area and its main feature, the mound of three large terraces that zigzag over each other, is outstandingly impressive. The huge chunks of granite that form the ramparts take your breath away (literally, at 3600m above sea level) and you can only imagine (in fact you can’t imagine) how they managed to get the granite into place. The stones all interlock, which is why the construction has stood so strongly over the years. The stones also all take on different shapes and sizes – it’s like a pre-Incan vertical version of crazy paving.
When you climb to the top you get a magnificent view over Cusco below. While we were there, a group of traditionally dressed Peruvians descended on the viewpoint with gusto and huge delight to see the view. Presumably they were tourists in their own country. They were as excited as little kids who have just heard the ice-cream van.
Our entrance ticket to Sacsayhuaman also let us into several other smaller sites. Tambomachay is a series of platforms and fountains and is meant to be in honour of the water deity. My memory of our brief visit was watching a very formally dressed father virtually abusing his very formally dressed son by making him pose for endless very formal looking photographs in front of the ruins whilst the wife/mother uncomfortably looked on. Every sulk and scowl from the boy was counteracted by an even more vicious sounding vocal diatribe from the father. Most odd.
Then we visited Puka Pukara, which means “Red Fort” and is a rest stop complex of rooms, plazas, aqueducts and look outs. Finally we saw Qenko, Quechuan for “labyrinth” which was a site where sacrifices took place. All very interesting – and hilly. Too late I remembered the advice about not overdoing it if you want to avoid altitude sickness. By the time I got back to the hotel I sank into an oblivion of headache and nausea. And tomorrow – oh joy – we would be undertaking a journey that would climb up to over 3800m high.