Peru, part 7
I walked the five steps to the bathroom this morning and as I came out the door, I saw a huge spider on the wall adjacent to the tiny closet. That means I walked within inches of the black spider on my trip to the bathroom. Believe me Paul was out of bed in short order to dispatch the intruder. I shudder at the thought of that thing crawling around our room last night. EWWW. I don’t like big spiders sharing accommodations with us. I shook out all my clothes and checked my shoes extra carefully after that wake up call. This is why I always zip every compartment in my backpack and luggage on a trip. I don’t want any stowaway surprising me when I remove articles from my luggage.
Enough of my phobia. Norma gathers us at a the leisurely hour of eight. We are trekking just outside of Cusco today. Our driver Marcos is very nice but his car has no seat belts in the back seat. As goofy as people drive here I’m not very happy about this. We stop at the enormous Christ statue that overlooks Cusco; it is a copy of the one in Brazil. At the feet of the statue, we have a sensational view of the sprawling city. I love this bird’s eye view of the tiled roofs and the stately spires of the churches.
It is amazing how quickly we lose the sight and sound of the city. Within twenty minutes, we are walking among beautiful flowers and seeing signs of Inca ruins. Our first stop is at K’usilluchayoc, say that name three times or even just once. There are remnants of Inca buildings scattered about the area mostly foundation walls.
There are flat surfaces carved on top or in numerous boulders randomly seen around the site. The Inca had no written language so there is only theory for what the Incas uses of the smooth-faced stones were. Norma says archeologists believe the cut stones were for sacrifices. I do know that it took a powerful amount of hard work to cut that hard stone into these smooth faces.
On we go and as we climb I feel a bit dizzy and experience some shortness of breathe. I reluctantly tell the others I need to rest. Norma says that we are over 12,000 feet, which seems to be the height where my tolerance for altitude ends. Yesterday at a couple of stops, I experienced the same symptoms and these places were around 12,000 feet. Norma finds a muños bush, this plant is everywhere, and picks some sprigs for me. After a short rest and a whiff of muños, I’m good to go. I put the extra muños leaves in my pocket just in case.
Norma refers to the next ruin we stop at as the Moon Temple but tells us the official name is Amaru Markawasi. Moon temple suits me just fine! We climb up among the ruins and scattered along the way are smooth cut stones like those we saw at the last site. The Incas seemed obsessed with carving these bench-like areas on top of or into huge rocks. If you sit down on the rock benches there is often a nice view from your hard seat but there are so many I suppose it isn’t feasible that they were just stone chairs!
The coolest part of the moon temple is its natural cave of stone. As we descend the stone steps to the entrance of the small cave, my right hand traces the outline of an enormous, chiseled serpent. The serpent lends to the Indiana Jones atmosphere I feel as we approach the darkness of the cavity. Since none of us has a flashlight, (I can hear Brian saying “what!”) this certainly adds to the adventuresome mood. There is a crevice in the cave wall where a sliver of sunlight pierces the gloom. The shaft of sunlight plays over a ceremonial stone table that fills up a large part of this eight by ten (?) foot cave. It isn’t hard for my imagination to conger up the high priests in ancient times performing sacrificial ceremonies in the secrecy of the cavern. It is time to move on so we leave the snake and its stony gaze behind.
Paul and I find it amusing that Norma literally leads us off the beaten path in order to save a few steps. We walk down steep slopes, through farmers fields and fight our way through brush to keep from walking an extra hundred yards. Norma can traverse these dubious shortcuts with ease but at times, Paul and I look at each other with raised eyebrows at the route she leads us on. On the other hand, we would never have seen the couple washing their clothes in the river had we been walking on the designated path.
As we approach the busy couple a pack of barking dogs run towards us. There are at least six of the mixed breed mutts and I’m convinced they mean business. Norma hearing my concern pulls out some food from her pack and begins tossing treats to the canines, which immediately turn into tail-wagging beggars. As we continue our walk to the river, we now have trailing us a bunch of dog groupies. Paul is preparing to take a photo of the woman who is standing in the river dunking clothes in the water. I suggest we ask the couple before snapping a photo. Norma poses the question to the man who is swishing clothes in soapy water before handing them to his wife for rinsing. The answer to the photo question is a resounding no. There are no smiles from either of the river laundry folks but if I had to wash all my dirty apparel this way, I wouldn’t smile either. Paul later admits that he took one photo before Norma asked permission and I must admit I’m glad he did.
Norma leads us to a third Inca ruin, Inkilltambo, where some restoration is taking place although not a soul is in sight today. In fact, the only people we have seen on our trek are the laundry couple. The dogs are still skulking after us even though Norma has threatened and ordered them to go back where they belong.This site is different from the first two ruins in that there are rectangular niches chiseled into the enormous rocks. These cubicles were where the Inca people put the mummified remains of their dead. There is also a long, narrow structure, stone of course, that might have been a large oven for drying food.
Speaking of food, Norma decides this is a good place to eat lunch. When we open up our lunch boxes the passel of dogs begin to close in on us. Norma runs them off with a shout and a few tossed stones. It appears they understood the stern message as they lope off disappearing in the direction of their masters. We have an interesting sandwich today, chicken salad with a large amount of fried julienne style potatoes on the top. I find the combination delightful and when I express my approval Paul keeps silent. He tells me later someone forgot to add the chicken salad to his sandwich so he was eating a cold fried potato sandwich:). Three of the dogs have silently crept back and are lying several feet away staring at us as we eat. Luckily, for the mutts sandwiches filled with stringy spuds are hard to consume and quite frequently, potato pieces fall to the ground. When we move out the dogs move in snapping up the scraps we have left behind.
Trekking to the last ruin on today’s agenda we must cross a winding creek twice. The first bridge we encounter is a crude wood bridge with no sides. Paul who is no fan of bridges grimaces, mostly in jest, because the distance from the bridge to the creek is only a few feet.The second “bridge” we must walk over is a stone slab approximately 12 incheswide and 12 feet long. The drop off here is deeper and I must say my heart beats a little faster as I am traversing the minimal bridge. Once I reach the other side I look back at Paul as he starts across. I can tell by his face that the stone span is bothering him for real this time. When Paul joins Norma and me, I ask how he liked that adventure to which he replied “not much”.
Norma forgoes the trail once more and as we walk next to fields of corn and fava beans we encounter a woman and her son in one of the fields. They are gathering ears of corn and a few stalks of the fava beans. Fava beans look like giant lima beans to me. The boy is chewing on a piece of sugar cane and at Norma’s urging he cuts three chunks of cane and hands one to each of us. We gnaw on the stringy stalk enjoying the sweetness of the juice that is the result of our efforts. Norma converses with the friendly natives and explains to us that they are here to gather food for their evening meal. We really want a photo and the two are more than happy to cooperate. Their attitudes are a full 360 degrees from our encounter with the river folks.
We are within sight of Machu Choquequirau, given this name because its circular three-tiered ceremonial platform looks like the ceremonial platform at the famous Choquequirau. We can facetiously say that we did hike to Choquequirau now. We walk along ancient terraces, which are the first we have seen to have water running through the irrigation channels. It is fascinating to see how these channels actually function and amazing to think that after 800 years, they are still in working order. We laugh at the sight of three children dunking their heads beneath the stream of water. A man who is working at the Choquequirau site passes us on the path and asks Norma if we are climbing up to the cake. When she translates this question to us we have to chuckle, as the structure does resemble a giant layer cake.
The climb to reach the “cake” is very steep and I must rest a few times to catchmy breath. The reward for our efforts is the spectacular view of the valley we wandered through today. The downside of the site is that a few sheets of bright blue plastic, its purpose being to stop erosion; hang over a portion of the platform and in the heat this plastic is emitting a strong odor. The visit to Machu Choquequirau lost some of its mystique due to the tarps but it still was worth visiting.
We take our time going back down the sheer sides of the round platform. I am sure glad I have my hiking poles as I slip more than once. Who would believe we are within view of the outskirts of Cusco. We cross the valley and start to climb a seemingly never-ending series of steps. When we finally make it to the top Marcos is there waiting to take us back to our hotel. We thank Norma for a wonderful day and tell her we will see her tomorrow.
The Midori hotel staff has indeed moved us to another room and what a difference from last nights room. It is double the size of the other room and quite lovely. We lounge around our room awhile although both of us agree we feel fine despite walking seven hours today. Tonight we eat at a small restaurant just off the main square. The Pumpkin soup and hot rolls are delicious. I love the bread here! A good ending to a great day.