Our whirlwind tour of Peru is now officially at an end; I am writing this post from the comfort of our apartment in Mexico City (and also very glad to be back on the continent of North America once again!). At the conclusion of my previous post (see here), we had just hopped on the Bolivia Hop overnight bus from Copacabana, Bolivia, to Cusco, Peru. The border crossing took place in a small, dusty town on the shore of the lake called Kasani. We were with a group of about 30 backpackers, and were herded like sheep from the Bolivian immigration control office to the Peruvian office by our guides (one Bolivian and one Peruvian). You literally have to walk across a no-mans land to get there, but there is no gate, so the many stray dogs can come and go as they please, the lucky devils.
Once the formalities were completed, we piled onto the gigantic double-decker overnight bus that would take us to Cusco, over 500 km away. These buses are made in Brazil to travel the huge distances needed to get anywhere in South America. Why we don’t have buses like this back home for long journeys, I will never understand. There are 57 luxury reclining seats on the bus, and a VIP section downstairs. For some unknown reason, all the backpackers went upstairs, so we had the VIP section all to ourselves for the first part of the journey to Puno. The seats were leather, and reclined almost horizontally, somewhat like a business or first class seat on a good airliner. There was a TV with a film, so the kids were entertained too, and I just sat back and watched the sun setting over the lake. We stopped in Puno, a somewhat grimy little town also on the lake, for dinner in a pizza restaurant, which was pretty good. Afterwards, we headed back to where the bus should have been, only to find it had gone. We were informed that it had gone to get some more passengers, and to our deception, we no longer had the VIP section all to ourselves. Oh well, it was time to get some sleep in any case.
The seats were less comfortable after 6 or 7 hours of laying in them, but we nonetheless managed to get a bit of sleep. Before we knew it, our guide was telling us to get our stuff together, we had arrived in Cusco. It was not even 5 am yet. The bus company had arranged for taxis to take us into the old town (impossible to get that bus in there), and so we turned up at our hostal not long after and rung the bell. It was dark inside, and we wondered where we would go if there was nobody there to let us in. The kids looked like a pair of walking dead – they didn’t appreciate being kicked off of their comfy bus at 5 am into the freezing air. After a few worried minutes however, a light came on and we all breathed a sigh of relief. We were let in, but told that our room was not yet available, but we could crash on the couches in the communal living area. They even provided blankets, which was nice.
Not long afterwards however, the staff began to arrive and started noisily preparing the breakfast on a mezzanine above our heads, and so that was the end of any sleep. Around 6:30 am, we headed back out to see if we could find a place that was open for an early breakfast. We were located quite close to the main plaza, and so we headed in that direction to see what we could find. Pretty much everything was shut, so we wandered around the plaza, which was empty, except for some dancers practicing for the upcoming festivities of the Incan Festival of the Sun (Inti Raymi). Unbeknownst to us, this would be the only time we could actually appreciate the plaza in tranquility. It was Tuesday, and the main party was on the Saturday.
We were first in line at the Starbuck’s coffee at 7 am (it was the only place open), and had the usual overpriced coffee and pastries for our first breakfast. Afterwards, we headed back to our hostal, and were shown to our room – a windowless dungeon-like room, conveniently located right next to the noisy dining room / main corridor. But we didn’t care – all we wanted was a bed to lay on.
We had two days in Cusco, before heading to Machu Picchu (MP). Plenty of time to explore! We did a lot of walking around the town, which was getting busier with each passing hour, it seemed. Tourists were arriving in droves, and not just gringos, but the locals too. We refused to buy the over-priced ticket that gave you access to a bunch of attractions, and instead chose a few smaller museums to visit, such as the Machu Picchu Museum, which got our juices flowing in anticipation of our visit to MP. The city itself is very picturesque around the main plaza de armas. There are lots of narrow cobbled streets, and beautifully restored Inca buildings (now luxury hotels), a gazillion souvenir stores, cafes, boutiques selling alpaca-everything. This place was much, much more geared to tourists than anywhere in Bolivia or Argentina that we had been. The case in point are the roaming packs of killer alpacas, all dressed up, and ready to pounce on unsuspecting tourists and fleece them out of ten or twenty Soles in exchange for a photo. I laugh, but we did actually fall victim to them ourselves in Copacabana, LOL! (see photo below).
In order to escape from the craziness of the main plaza, there are lots of places you can go, such as the Mercado San Blas, the open air market, which seemed quite authentic. You can also walk uphill (which was still tough, despite being acclimatized) to get a lovely view of the city. One attraction we did visit that was worth it despite being very touristy was the Qurikancha ruins – where the Spanish conquistadors built a church basically on top of an Inca temple, whose walls are still visible. The craftsmanship of the Incas has to be seen to be believed.
Our two days in Cusco went by very fast, and before we knew it, the time had come to go on our MP adventure… Stay tuned for Part 2: Machu Picchu special edition!