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Across Andes by Frog I should explain the nonsensical title of my journal, 'Across Andes by Frog' - it is a sort of homage to an episode of the drolly funny 1970s British TV series "Ripping Yarns" by Michael Palin & Terry Jones.

On the Sacred Inca Trail: Raiders of the Lost Inca World, Monotaxis and Eucalypti

PERU | Wednesday, 14 May 2014 | Views [540]

This morning I was scheduled to go on the first part of the Sacred Inca Trail tour. I was collected early at my hostela by someone I would come to call Braces Guide  # 1, she took me to my coach for the Inca Trail trip. We stopped on the way out of Cusco and took on more passengers. I had been noticing that all of the passengers on the coach seemed to be Spanish or Spanish speakers, but without actually realising that something was awry. Braces Guide # 1 then told me that I had to get off the coach because it was only for Spanish language tourists! (I had kind of already got that impression myself before her intervention). Another guide (sans braces) crammed me into a second coach. I was only settled in my seat for a moment when Braces Guide # 1 led me back to the original coach (which was still exclusively Spanish-speaking) where Braces Guide # 2 took charge and tried (unsuccessfully) to explain to me why I had ended up back in the first coach that a moment before I had been removed from! Not a great start to the SIT tour. I was the only Anglophone in a bus full of Español speakers, but at least the trip was underway.

The first stop on the Trail after we enter Urubamba Valley is the archaelogical site of Pisac, 3400 metres above sea level. Lots of old Incan ruins scattered amongst agricultural fields on the hillsides where corn and potato is farmed in layered rows. We hear from our guide that Peru has 100s of varieties of potatoes and 1000s of varieties of corn(that's a lot of corn!). The architecture in Pisac is pretty much decimated thanks to Pizarrio and his 16th century Conquistadors, although the Inca Citadel, perched high up on a hillside is still an impressive sight and offered good views of the valley. We noticed the Incan burial tombs built into a mountain adjacent to the Citadel (the rapacious Conquistadors had ransacked these in search of gold and other valuable metals). Going back down to our parked coach we had to pass through a full-on, hectic market selling the usual tourist merchandise and paraphernalia.

The road along the Inca Trail was shockingly bad considering that this was a primary tourist route, and there was an amazing amount of rubbish strewn all over it. There were reminders of Australia in the countryside as early 20th century Peruvians had planted countless eucalyptus trees, known for their fast growing quality, on the sides of the Trail. So far my stay in the Cusco area I hadn't experienced any side effects of the altitude but on the Sacred Trail journey I started to get a touch of the dreaded Cusco belly. I wasn't dizzy or light-hearted or suffering from a headache but I was feeling drained and weak from a bout of diarrhoea. The Spanish on the tour kept to themselves and didn't seem to have any English to speak off, fortunately the guide was quite competent in the language.

We stopped in the town of Urumbamba for lunch, after lunch and some rest I started to feel better. The lunch arrangements were really dumb. Although the tour group wasn't particular large (maybe 15 people tops), sections of the group decided to have lunch in different locations in the town, three different places. So, after we were collected in one restaurant, the bus drove across town to two separate places to pick up the others. What with delays in some of the Spaniards finishing their lunches and other hold-ups the time lunch took was stretched out for over half-an-hour compared to how long this would have taken if we were all in the same location. This didn't make any logical sense to me - particularly as ultimately we had to skip seeing one of the scheduled features later in the day! I queried this with Braces Guide #2 but he just said the individual Spanish travellers had opted beforehand to go to different restaurants. This just seemed ridiculous to me that one group travelling in the same coach on one day couldn't all have lunch in the one spot!

After finally getting away from Urumbamba it was a long haul to get to Ollantaytambo. On the way we passed numerous monotaxis, the tiny three-wheel contraptions (my favourite mono was the blue Batman vehicles) which are the standard form of public transport in many parts of Southern Peru. Ollantaytambo, although totally overshadowed by the more famous Machu Picchu, is very impressive in its own right. As well as being a vast Inca temple overlooking the three important Incan valleys, Ollantaytambo was used to house enormous quantities of stores in the sides of its mountains. We climbed to the top of the Terraces of Pumatallis which was the Incans' route to their storehouses and granaries. Standing at the top of the Terraces afforded a panoramic view of the pueblo below and the surrounding valleys. Ascending Pumatallis, surrounded by hundreds of Spanish tourists admiring the Inca structure, I was very conscious of the irony of the moment - these modern Spaniards were in awe of a monumental structure which their Spanish conquistador ancestors had contemptuously vandalised and destroyed five centuries before. In an odd sense these tourists, rambling all over Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu and other ruins, are following their Iberian ancestors as modern raiders of a lost Inca world.

On the return route to Cusco the tour stopped at the Indian markets at Chinchero which is high up on the cold, windswept plains (3760m ASL). The local community women, decked out in traditional native attire, gave a demonstration of wool dyeing. The process was  quite labour-intensive but interesting nonetheless. And their outfits were very colourful. The severity of the cold prompted me to buy a beanie from the Indian Market. By this time, about 5 in the afternoon, we were due to head back to the city hotels. I realised on checking my day itinerary that the site we had missed out on (because of the dragged out lunch fiasco) was called Boleto Turistico Del Cusco Parcial Valle Sagrado Para Turista Extranjero at Moray. I don't know what exactly it was (no one talked about it) but the picture on the ticket suggested a kind of amphitheatre resembling terraced crop circles. I wasn't impressed that we missed it but on alighting I still gave Braces Guide # 2 a small tip for his efforts (unlike virtually all of the Spanish tourists who were distinctly stingy!).

Finding myself in Plaza Del Armas once again, I look round for dinner options. I had tried the llama, Peruvian-style pescado (in Lima and in Cusco), the bife de lomo, empanadas in each city of the tour, but I was yet to sample the cuy (roasted guinea pig). I checked it out in one or restaurants but I must admit that it didn't look all that inviting to me, so I decided to pass on the pig and wait until I get to Lima and try it there. One of the problems with guinea pig that puts some people off eating it is when it is presented on the dining table as the full animal, teeth and all parts, not so enticing for extranjeros like me. In the end I opt for something pretty safe and conservative, a beans and mince dish at a downmarket Cuzco diner.


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