Tag Archives: Cusco

The Inca experience

After seeing the ruins of the “Sacred valley” and the Moray terraces it was time to visit the most famous of all Inca ruins – Machu Pichu. There are different ways to get to there: The Inca Trail (closed in February for maintenance), the Salcantay Trek and the Inca Jungle Trail among others. We chose the latter one, which includes biking, rafting, hiking and zip lining and allowed us to be back in Cusco for carnival without skipping part of the tour.

The Inca Jungle Trail promised different activities and great views

We got on the bus early in the morning. With us on the tour were Alex and Lucie from France and three American machos, who were still drunk and hungover from last night’s party. With the bikes and protective equipment all tied up on the roof we left Cusco and drove up to a mountain pass at about 4400m. Since it was covered in clouds, we had to continue a bit further down for a better visibility.

The mountain roads are in bad condition during the rainy season
Alex, Lucie and three drunken American machos joined our tour

At about 3500m the conditions were better and we changed the bus for mountain bikes. From here it was about 50km only downhill biking. It was a lot of fun! The weather was perfect and we stayed dry except for the times when a stream was crossing the road. On our way down we encountered a bus that got stuck in a narrow curve and trucks who had to cool down their engine manually, because it kept overheating.

Downhill biking for 50 kilometers was a lot of fun
While the bus got stuck in the curve, the truck had to cool down its engine in the same spot

In the afternoon we had the chance to go rafting. While Nik, Alex and Lucie went for it, I decided to skip it, as the water levels of the river were pretty high and the tour agency in Cusco had advised us not to do it for safety reasons. The Americans wanted to go as well, but they passed out on the sofa, as they needed to catch up with some sleep. In the end everything went well with rafting and Nik, Alex and Lucie had a great time.

Santa Maria is a pretty quiet village

The next morning we left Santa Maria and walked along a bumpy road through the jungle. After about an hour we took a small path that left the road and led us up into the mountains, through small banana, coffee and coca plantations. During a short break at the “Casa del mono”, the monkey’s house, we learned about the different types of cocoa products, coffee beans and Inca tequila, an alcohol made from potatoes and several different herbs.

Hiking a lonely road through the jungle
Inca tequila with serpent flavor

The following section was part of the original Inca trail and led us along a narrow path high above the river valley. The views were truly amazing! After a steep descend we followed the course of the river, crossing it twice – by a suspension bridge in disrepair and on a little pulley platform. At the end of the day we were quite exhausted and happy about having some time to relax in the hot springs of Santa Teresa.

This section is part of the original Inca Trail
Part of the railing and some planks were missing on this suspension bridge

Day three started with some rain, delaying our next activity – ziplining. Fortunately we didn’t need to wait too long for the rain to die down. We put on a body harness, gloves and a helmet and were ready to fly across the deep valley. We conquered the different ziplines in different styles, first sitting down, but then also upside down, spinning and “Condor-style”, all of which were a lot of fun! The rest of the day involved some more hiking to Aguas Calientes, the closest village to Machu Pichu.

Upside down ziplining high above the valley
The last part of the trek followed the train line

By then we were ready for the most magnificent Inca ruins. At five in the morning we started our ascend of the several hundred steps that lead up to Machu Pichu. On a guided tour we learned that the city was built in the mid 15th century for the family and friends of the ruling Inca king at that time. With the arrival of the Spaniards it was abandoned and forgotten for about 400 years.

First sight Of Machu Pichu and Waynapichu through the clouds
The roofs of some of the houses were rebuilt

The rest of the day we explored the large area on our own, discovering little details that we hadn’t seen before on the tour. We also climbed the steep slopes to the top of Waynapichu, constantly wondering how and why the Incas had bothered to build more structures up there. Reaching the top, it became clear, that the 360° view is perfect for the defense of the city and a great spot for sending signals across large distances.

The narrow path to Waynapichu
The classic view of Machu Pichu

The way back to Cusco was long and included a train and a bus. It’s the fastest, but also more expensive route, but it allowed us to be back in time for a crazy carnival party the following day. The main scene was happening on the “Plaza de Armas”, where hundreds of locals and tourists engaged in a huge fight with foam spray and water bombs. But the fighting was not limited to the main square, so we had to be careful while walking through town.

Carnival in Cusco was a huge fight with water balloons and foam spray
Allied fighting with Catherine

Meet the rock masters

Cusco was the capital of the Inca empire, which stretched from southern Colombia all the way to the middle of Chile. It was divided into four different sectors, all of them meeting in Cusco. Therefore, it has been a large and important city for centuries. It was home to thirteen different Inca kings, who built large palaces and temples all over the city.

A statue of one of the Inca kings at the main square in Cusco

When the Spanish arrived, they believed that the Inca were pagans, as they had different gods – the sun and the moon – and a strong connection to Pachamamma, mother earth. As a result, the Spaniards destroyed those buildings and placed Catholic churches on top of the remaining foundation walls. These remnants still show the superior masonry techniques of the Inca, who prepared each rock individually, working without mortar.

Catholic churches were built on top of important Inca buildings
The remains of many Inca walls are still present in the architecture of Cusco

To get a better idea of the Inca culture, we took a tour to the “Sacred valley”. In Pisac we encountered the first ruins, located on top of a mountain. There were houses and terraces, which were used for growing all kinds of potatoes and other vegetables. The storage house had many windows and was located on top of the mountain, as it provided for a natural cooling by the wind.

First sight of the “Sacred valley” of the Incas
The ruins of houses and wide terraces at Pisac

More ruins are located in Ollantaytambo. Here, we climbed nearly 150 steps to the top of the hill, where more houses and an important temple of the sun is located. Once again only the foundation walls remain, but it’s still quite impressive. Equally impressive is the system of little canals that run through the old town, bringing running water to every household.

It does rain from time to time, since we’re in the rainy season
The “Temple of the sun” in Ollantaytambo is a perfect example of superb Inca masonry

The last stop of our tour was Chinchero, a small village with more Inca ruins and an ancient Catholic church. However, the village is more known for its handicraft, as most inhabitants work in groups to make colorful ponchos, sweaters, scarfs, table runners and more. They also show, how they clean and split the raw alpaca wool. Afterwards, the yarn is colored with different materials, all natural and organic. The only remaining question is, how they can produce so much that the whole country is full of places, where these textiles can be bought for cheap? The answer might be related to sheep wool, mechanical fabrication and China.

A demonstration of the natural cleaning of alpaca wool in Chinchero
Coloring is also purely natural with different plants and bacteria

The next day we booked another tour to Moray. This is a huge terraced area, which was used by the Inca to experiment with different fruits and vegetables to adapt them to the height of the Andes. They managed to create a micro-climate, where each terrace had an average temperature difference of about 0.5° C to the next terrace. And it gets even better, because the ground works as a natural filter and prevents the basin from getting flooded during the rainy season.

The terraces at Moray had their own micro climate

The other destination of that tour were the salt mines of Maras. Here, a mineral-rich stream is diverted over hundreds of basins, where the water slowly evaporates, leaving the salt behind. They have been used since pre-Inca times and have been extended several times since then.

The salt terraces of Maras have been used and extended for centuries
As a tourist we could walk right into the terraces