Travelblog SA#24: Cusco & The Sacred Valley Part 2 – Peru

25th-30th October 2018

After my foray to Machu Picchu, I returned to Cusco for a while.  A place I had already spent a few days at (which you can read about here in a previous blog) but was drawn back to because of its old antiquated charm and there was still plenty more to see, not just within the city itself but also within the Sacred Valley just outside it.

I ended up spending almost an entire week, but I did my sightseeing at a relaxed pace. I had my boleto turistico now, so I had access to plenty of sites. I will not bore you with every single museum and relic I visited and instead focus upon the highlights.

 

Pisac

Although I found its ‘traditional market’ a little touristy, Pisac’s ruins are a must-see if you are exploring the Sacred Valley and just a short bus ride from Cusco.

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You can reach the Inca ruins by climbing up a steep trail from the central plaza or, for those of you who don’t want to get sweaty, you can catch a taxi to the official entrance on the other side. But if you do this make sure you still see all of the ruins, as the most interesting ones are a little further out.

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Just like in Ollantaytambo, I did notice that the guides here seem a little lazy. If you do get one, clarify with them how far they are actually going to take you into the complex as, when I was there, the (rather underwhelming) parts which just so happen to be near to the car park were crowded with people on tours, but places like Inti Huatana were pretty much empty.

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Not that I am complaining. It meant I got wander around them mostly to myself.

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Whilst on the way back to Cusco from Pisac, you can also see two other smaller sites called Tambomachay and Puka Pukara if you like. I enjoyed visiting them, but I am a bit of a fanatic when it comes to ruins. They are conveniently very near to the road, so it is easy to get off a bus and hop on another one afterwards, but I wouldn’t say that they are must-sees if you are short on time.

 

Moray and Salineras

These two sites are located quite close together but cannot be reached by public transport, so they are easiest booked as a tour from Cusco.

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If you already have your boleto turistico then Moray is worth getting off of the bus for. Some of the people on the same tour bus as me waited while we were taken around this site though because it is not included within the BT (and it is admittedly not really worth it if you are not planning to see any of the others included in the ticket).

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Most people just take a photo of it from above and then leave, but you can wander down into it if you like. Although it is quite easy to get bored of this site visually, it is quite interesting from a historical perspective. The lower levels never flood, no matter how much it rains, and archaeologists are still not completely sure why. They also discovered that there are slight differences in temperatures between the terraces too, proving the Incas found an ingenious way to create a series of microclimates between the different levels. It is believed they grew different variations of crops in them.

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Salineras was definitely the highlight of the day though. Being privately owned, it is not part of the boleto turistico but only costs ten soles to enter. Built by the Incas hundreds of years ago, it is still a fully functioning salt mine today. During the rainy season, the irrigation channels fill all the individual pools and then, over the course of several months, they dry out until it is time for harvest.

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Chinchero

I originally intended to spend a night at this place on my way back from Ollantaytambo, but I couldn’t find any reasonably-priced accommodation so decided to make it as a day trip from Cusco instead.

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This village often gets compared to Pisac, as they are both home to a market and a series of Inca ruins. Chinchero feels like more of a genuine Andean town though. Whilst wandering around you will see lots of people clad in traditional clothing and its market is definitely for the locals as well as tourists.

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The ruins are not quite as preserved or impressive as Pisac’s – the colonials built a church on top of them – but the setting is lovely.

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The church is very interesting too. Its inner walls and ceiling are covered in old, faded, but beautiful murals. It was one of the most memorable ones I have seen in South America so far, but unfortunately, it is forbidden to take photos inside so I can’t show you any of it.

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Around the back of the ruins, there is also an old Inca trail which leads into another valley if you fancy seeing some extra scenery.

 

Sacsayhuaman

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Just a short walk from Cusco itself, these ruins are a great example of the Inca ’s masterful wall-building.

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They are also situated upon a peak overlooking the city, meaning you are in store for some great views. I cannot recommend these ruins enough

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Museums

There are two art museums included in the boleto turistico, the Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporáneo and the Museo de Arte Popular. Both are okay and quite close to the main plaza. If you are walking past, then pop in, but I wouldn’t go out of your way to see them. Same with the Museo del Sitio del Qoricancha which, apart from its interesting collection of trepanned and elongated skulls, is just a collection of non-engaging artefacts and poorly translated displays.

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The Museo Historico Regional is quite good though. It is set within an old colonial building and gives you insight into the history of Sacred Valley from both an ecological and anthropological perspective.

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Last but, definitely not least, is Cusco’s Museo de Historia Natural. I actually enjoyed this place, but not entirely for the reasons intended. If you have a thing for laughably bad taxidermy, then this is a place for you.

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It is not included within the boleto turistico but, at only three soles for entry, it will keep you entertained for a few minutes, and it is (to be fair) one of the few museums in Cusco which is reasonably priced.

 

Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo

A surprising bonus included on the boleto turistico. Every evening, this place has a one-hour performance of traditional Andean dances from the Cusco region accompanied by live music (a video here). It was a perfect way to finish off my time in the Sacred Valley.

 

For more photos from Pisac, Moray, Salineras and Chinchero, click here.

More photos from Sacsayhuaman are included in my Cusco album.

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Travelblog SA#3: Quito (Part 2) & Otavalo – Ecuador

14th-17th June 2018

Back in Quito again. Although, this time I opted to stay in the Centro Historico; an area abandoned by most of the backpacker community who now prefer to stay in La Mariscal, with its modernised bars and international restaurants. Quito’s older district is a place most people dare to only venture during the daytime these days, and tourists, in particular, are warned not to wander around at night because knife-point muggings are common.

I have found it to be fine so far. When I venture out at night, I just take a few dollars in my pocket and nothing else. Nobody has given me any bother, apart from the occasional prostitute trying to lure me. The restaurants, shops, and just about everything are cheaper here and, even though it is a bit seedy, it has an atmosphere. It is a facet of Quito, and part of the experience.

I have been staying at Quito Backpacker Hostel. It has a friendly atmosphere, good wifi, and a terrace bar. It is quiet, but I didn’t mind, as I have spent much of the last few days relaxing and catching up with my blog. When I first arrived, I was their sole guest, but now we number almost in the double digits. I don’t understand why more people don’t stay here though; I checked out some of the other hostels nearby, and this place is much cleaner and better maintained, and yet it doesn’t receive as many guests as it deserves.

My evenings have often been spent visiting a vegetarian place a few blocks away called Govindas. It is run by a group of Hari Krishnas who have been helping me practice my Spanish. I also get to listen to them chanting their prayers from upstairs while I eat.

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Over the weekend I made an overnight trip to Otavalo. A town to the north with a thriving market community going back hundreds of years. It is mostly known for its handicrafts and clothes but I didn’t buy anything because it is too early in my trip to be carrying excess stuff. I did enjoy wandering around though; soaking up the atmosphere and trying some of the street food.

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I ventured to its animal market too. It was a little challenging, seeing all those chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits, and all sorts of creatures crammed in tight little cages while still alive, and sold like produce.

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I guess one thing you need to remember when seeing sights like this is that, as a privileged person from the first world, it is problematic to judge. A lot of these people do not have luxuries we take for granted, such as fridges, so any meat they do eat has to be taken home alive so it doesn’t spoil. If you eat meat and live in a modern country, the only difference between you and them is that, for you, the cruelty occurs out of sight and mind.

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The animal market wasn’t all a completely uncomfortable experience. There were some light moments there too. Such as seeing a young boy being taken there by his father to buy his first puppy, and seeing the smile on his face as he held the nervous creature for the first time. And not all of the animals were in cages, either. Some of them, even though they were being sold as food, seemed as though they had been well cared for.

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I also went to see a waterfall in a village called Peguche, just outside of Otavalo. A place which is still, to this day, sacred to the local Indians.

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And, finally, I went to yet another museum. Although this one was not quite like any I had been to before. Museo del Pueblo Kichwa is set within a complex of old, abandoned buildings which used to be a textile factory. The Kichwa people were forced to work in horrible conditions there but, when it was closed (over a decade ago), a group of them bought it and turned it into a living museum.

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I think I somewhat surprised them, coming on a Friday instead of the weekend, and thus the only person available to give me a tour who spoke any English was the young son of one of the owners. He wasn’t fluent, but his English was certainly much better than my Spanish. Sometimes, when he didn’t know the English words for what he was trying to explain, he gave it to me in Spanish, and I caught the general gist. He told me about their festivals, which seemed to always take place on the 21st of the month. And traditions such as the giving of twelve lashes to both parties as the penance for couples who divorce. He also told me about the yachacs; Kichwa shamans who have knowledge of herbs and will rub an egg across your forehead to diagnose ills.

I appreciated how hard he tried and, even though he couldn’t quite explain everything to my full understanding, it was still a rewarding visit. He and the rest of the people there were very warm, and I left there feeling like I’d had a genuine experience.

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Venturing back to Quito again, I spent my last day there preparing. Tomorrow I fly to the Galapagos Islands.

 

For more photos of Otavalo, click here.

Travelblog#24: Tomohon – Sulawesi, Indonesia

20th-23rd November, 2014

My time in Sulawesi was now drawing to a close, and me and my travel-buddy Roy had just parted ways: he was destined for Sri Lanka, whereas I still felt like I was not finished with Indonesia just yet, so I was heading for Sumatra.

Now a solo traveller, I had three days to wait for my flight. I decided to spend them in a little town called Tomohon.

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I stayed in a place called Volcano Resort, which was situated at the base of Mount Lokon and set around some very pretty gardens.

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So, I had: stunning views of the nearby volcano, a cabin all to myself, cool mountain air, and some peace and quiet (apart from the constant birdsong, but I didn’t mind that). The only thing that I was missing was some wheels.

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Which the very helpful lady running the resort kindly found for me.

Any visions I may have had of me seeming all man-like roaming around on a motorbike were squished when I asked for a crash helmet and was handed the Pink Power Ranger’s headgear.

Kimberly, I believe this belongs to you?

Kimberly, I believe this belongs to you?

But safely first, and all of that. The next morning I set off.

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My first destination was Mount Mahawu, which had a very impressive crater. I walked around the rim and was rewarded with a great panorama.

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I then made my way back down the mountain and got lost for a while. But in a good way: I roamed around lots of villages. The people were all very friendly and the hills were blanketed with farms and greenery.

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After eating a quick lunch at a warung, I then went to Linow Lake, which was a vivid green colour and had lots of bird life.

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I tried to walk a full circuit around it, but found myself having to turn back three-quarters of the way in by a rather obnoxiously placed fence. Not matter. I walked back around, and got onto my bike again.

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Tondano Lake was next, and it was rather large (10,500+ acres). I started driving around it and was shortly heckled by a group of ladies I am guessing were having a hen do. Maybe it was just all the arak they were drinking, but apparently fairly average-looking white guys wearing Pink Power Ranger helmets are desirable in this part of the world, because they were very insistent that they have their picture taken with me and there was much giggling and blushing.

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They tried to make me stay and drink with them, but I politely reminded them that I was driving and still had most of a lake to explore. I put my Pink Power Ranger helmet back on and started up the engine.

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Tondano Lake was very beautiful, and I passed through many small hamlets and villages along the way, stopping every now and then to take photos.

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In the late afternoon I finished my circuit and turned my bike back towards Tomohon. I got back just in time to make a quick visit to its infamous market, where pretty much anything with four legs was on the menu.

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I had planned to climb Mount Lokon the next day, but after making an enquiry I was warned that I would be doing so at my own risk because the volcano was currently active. It last erupted less than a month ago, and was smoking only yesterday.

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So I decided it would probably be wise to give it a miss. Instead, I spent a day relaxing in the lovely gardens at Volcano Resort, watching the birds, reading a book, writing this blog.

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Tomohon was a wonderful way to finish off my time in Sulawesi.

 

More photos can be found here.