Posts tagged ‘Inca’

Making guinea pigs of ourselves. Cusco, Peru

It’s lunchtime on a Saturday afternoon and Cusco’s main square is black with tourists. Most of them are standing in front of huge, imposing cathedral watching a line of people in colourful costumes and homemade masks parade past. A handful of the younger ones are lounging on park benches around the fountain in the main square in twos and threes cosied up next to lovers and friends and trying to ignore the persistent tauts that want them to buy paintings, sunglasses and bootleg cigarettes. On the other side a group has gathered around a traditionally dressed little girl who, to a chorus of oohs and aahs, is holding a newborn lamb on the end of string. The lamb is wearing a green hat and is blinded by a dozen flashing cameras.

As big as the space is it is starting to look a little crowded as more and more people stream in every minute from the narrow winding streets that stretch uphill in every direction. Sometimes it feels like everywhere you go in Cusco is uphill. Like that familiar old boast, “When I was your age I had to walk six miles to school. Barefoot. And uphill. Both ways.” Climbing hills at 3,400m above sea level is no fun but Cusco, with its warren of cobbled streets, artesan markets, Incan ruins, bustling squares, lively cafes and thumping nightlife is worth every painful step and every laboured breath. Cusco (and of course the famed Machu Picchu nearby) has been the beating heart of Peru for centuries.

Adding to Cusco’s appeal (for us anyway) was the arrival of two of our friends from home – the dashing Mark Grennan and the sparkling Katie O’Connor. Mark and Katie had also brought along two friends of theirs, Roisin and Deborah so it was party time. Cue yet another stint in one of Loki’s hostels, counting the minutes until the bar’s 1pm opening and eating our weight in delicious western food. It really is hard to beat a good Loki. After a few days of hardly leaving the sunny courtyard, Gary Mark and I reckoned we weren’t really giving Cusco a fair hearing so we grabbed our sunglasses and set off for Saqsaywamán, one of the city’s many many Incan sites which was – surprise surprise – a long, sweaty uphill climb away.

Half an hour and many complaints later we were staring at an absolute marvel. Row upon row of gigantic rocks cut to fit perfectly together raised all sorts of questions – where did the stones come from? How did the Incas cut and finish the rocks so smoothly? How did they get them up the hill without trucks? Why did they bother? It was incredible but, since we could see it without going in, not worth the ridiculous €20 entrance fee. Instead we climbed up the hill right beside the site where we found Jesus and a Peruvian man playing the guitar.

Inspired by our day of exploration, we went back to Loki, dragged the girls out of the bar and headed off in search of another cultural experience – cuy. Cuy is what you call guinea pig when you skin it and roast or fry it, usually serving it up whole complete with beady little eyes, menacing claws and protruding front teeth. Sometimes it even comes wearing a hat. In Peru cuy is a pretty common delicacy that is eaten by families on special occasions such as birthdays or when there is an important visitor. Guinea pigs are generally allowed to run free around the house or shed and then when the day comes, are just picked up off the floor, killed, boiled to take the fur off and then roasted. They taste like a cross between rabbit and duck but a little greasier – the skin is the best part, like crispy roast chicken skin. Mmmmm.

Cusco was also where we were to meet Mark’s friends Darragh and Elaine who we would go to Ecuador with but that’s a story for another day. Before any of that we had to tackle the Lares Trek and explore one of the wonders of the world – the one, the only “lost” Incan city of Machu Picchu. Life is so hard sometimes…

There are more pictures from Cusco available in the gallery

September 8, 2010 at 8:45 pm 2 comments

A short stack of home. Samaipata, Bolivia

A little mountain town outside of the sprawling, characterless Bolivian/Brazilian metropolis of Santa Cruz was the last place in the world we had expected to find ourselves feeling at home. Yet our two day stay in Samaipata had somehow turned into five days of guiltfree pleasure. Mornings consumed by difficult decisions such as whether to have bacon and eggs for breakfast or a short stack of chocolate pancakes. Afternoons spent lazing in the family sitting room watching our favourite Will Ferrell comedies. Absorbing the last of the evening sun on the porch playing cards over a few beers and mostly, laughing ourselves sick with two new friends we were comfortable enough to discuss bowel movements with.

The end was even more promising because our trip to Santa Cruz hadn’t started out all that well. Knowing only that it was more Brazilian than Bolivian and that it was around 30 degrees in Santa Cruz, we had come in search of a swimming pool, two sunloungers and a top-up on our tans (we could hardly go home as pasty as this after a year long holiday now, could we?) What we got was a city centre plaza we were not permitted to stand still in, a bland hostel and some subpar food – all at Brazilian prices but Bolivian quality. Still there were some nice sheltered hammocks in the hostel and the funniest pet toucan so we were pacified, if not impressed.

More importantly however, we managed to fill a few vacancies we were casting for. Having parted ways with Sarah, Matt, Sophie, Paul and Swati for now, we were facing a daunting future alone together – a situation that, for the sake of maintaining a healthy relationship, had to be rectified immediately. Cue Sam, a scruffy Scott with a wicked sense of humour and some interesting stories about climbing a mountain with a loose boweled German. Then there was Sam’s child bride Mo, a failing vegan with a chocolate/egg addiction and serious guilt issues. And we had just shaken that troublesome vegetarian…

Having been promised temperatures upwards of 30 degrees we were a little disappointed to find Samaipata cold and decidedly wet. Had we not already booked into in Posada del Sol on the recommendations of several travellers and Lonely Planet reviewers, we would probably have headed straight for La Paz but we had so instead we bedded down and got to know our new family. There was Trent, the gregarious Texan, his charming and impeccably mannered daughter Sierra and our new adopted Bolivian Mum, Lydia – an incredibly welcoming woman with an impressive collection of berets and the best hugs this side of the equator.

The plan was to visit Amboro National Park which, according to a Dutch tourguide with no discernable inside voice, was “absolutely ruined by snow recently. If you want to see animals don’t go to Amboro. If you want to see plants, don’t go to Amboro.” Then we thought we would go to the waterfalls but according to Dennis, our famer friend from Limerick who was over in Bolivia to maybe marry a local girl or maybe flee before it was too late, “the waterfalls are shite. Don’t go, it’s shite. I’m going on this Chay Gevara thing tomorrow but will probably be shite too.” So Amboro was out, the waterfalls were out and because of time limitaions, the very promising Ché Guevara tour was also out.

That left two sites – El Fuerte and the zoo/animal refuge. Efficient as we were we decided to tackle both in one day so as to leave the most free time possible open for sleeping, eating and exploring the local nightlife and all the bellydancing, Shakira-wannabe boys and Bolivian karaoke it had to offer. Yep, Samaipata was an experience all right…

So back to El Fuerte, apparently an ancient Incan religious site although, according to some claims it may also be a launch pad for spaceships. The site was… interesting I guess. A lot of the original features, such as carvings and statues, have been destroyed by wind and the Spanish *shakes fist* so it is really only a fraction of its former self. Still, it is easy to make out the importance of the site from its scale alone and from the remaining carvings. When combined with a trip to the museum in town El Fuerte makes a nice day trip and lays the foundations for a much more in-depth discovery of Incan culture throughout the rest of Bolivia and Peru. Be warned though, the “handy” map and signposts at the site don’t match up at all and the “bottomless” hole that “goes to the centre of the earth” can be reached with a 20m stick. Maybe the Temples of Angkor have just made me difficult to please though.

Our second stop of the day was every inch as rewarding as it had promised to be. For less than €1 we got the full run of the zoo, all its inhabitants and a German Woofer (if you haven’t heard of Woofing and you call yourself a traveller, shame on you!). Not normally as enthusiastic about all things small, fluffy and cuddleable as I am, Gary was surprisingly taken with the place. The key, I believe was in the winning charms of a certain little lady. Having sniffed him out only a few minutes after our arrival, the chica in question was quick to seduce him, clutching at his arm, stroking his neck and running her fingers through his hair. With all the excitement of a young child with a new friend she grabbed at his hand dragging him around her garden showing him this and that – her favourite tree, the bouciest branches, the greenest leaves… Gary played along as best he could, mindful of my feelings of course, but when she peed on her hand and then licked her fingers, the romance was off.

Another monkey took a particular liking to me (this one a howler, Gary’s thing on the side was a Spider Monkey), wrapping herself around my neck like a thick hairy scarf and falling asleep for the next half hour while her mate, a sulky looking hulk of a monkey, tailed Mo like a shadow. Sensing his fear of all things furry, the animals steered clear of Sam although he did manage to grit his teeth and pet one of the 16 puppies for a few minutes.

With so many dogs, cats, monkeys, ducklings, pigs, birds, noise bears, ducks and goats there was enough cooing and petting to fill an entire day although the absolute highlight came from an unexpected source. After prying myself away from the impossibly cute puppies who had just peed on my handbag I followed the others down to the farmyard animals – snore! Well we have all seen the goat that shouts like a man on YouTube right? Well this was better – a big ugly sheep that opened up its mouth and let out the most guttural, satisfying burp I have ever heard. We laughed until we cried and then we sat and watched it burp over and over again. Comedy gold – hopefully Gary can get the video uploaded.

It was with swollen bellies and heavy hearts that we eventually bid adieu to our big Texan family, left Samaipata and headed to the big smoke. I wonder if La Paz can cook pancakes like Trent can.

There are more pictures from Samaipata available in the gallery

August 14, 2010 at 8:06 pm Leave a comment


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