All in all I was blown away by Peru, to me it has everything to make a perfect holiday. Beautiful countryside, lovely cites and towns and a wealth of history and culture. Everywhere we went we saw people dressed traditionally, and talking in the ancient Quechua language. Working ladies carry their loads and babies in a colourful blanket on their back. Their hair is worn in long plaited pigtails, tied together at the back, to prevent them falling over their shoulders. Of course there are some tourist extras, such as the girls and ladies dressed traditionally and trailing lamas round the city, for that all important Lama Photo. For me, this didn’t detract from the genuine feel of the city, probably because you never had to walk far to see an element of real Cusco life. Such as, the bustling fruit, veg and meat market at St Pedro, a short walk from the main square.
I’m really not sure what I expected from Peru. Admittedly I didn’t exactly chose the destination, simply joined in with some friend’s plans to go there. That’s not to say I wasn’t excited about walking the Inca trail though! I think in my mind, coming to Peru from Ghana I expected something altogether more third world, disorganised and chaotic. Like the constant horn-tooting, some westerners found rather irritating, I certainly heard some complaining about it. I barely noticed, I think I have learnt to get used to this over the last few months! In Cusco I found beautiful cobbled streets, albeit rather narrow. Police controlled the traffic in a fairly organised manner and the local people seemed friendly and willing to help, even if you weren’t spending money on whatever they were selling!
Machu Picchu may be the jewel in the Inca grown but Cusco is a real feat of engineering and skill. Street after street of perfect, mortar free walls, these must have taken much time and energy to build. During my first week I was volunteering teaching English (Volunteering) and staying with a local family up the hill. As I walked down into the town each day I was greeted by the sight of beautiful mountains rising from the cityscape and it didn’t take long for me to fall under the spell of Cusco. Outside of my volunteering time I was busy exploring the cities museums and sights, I particularly enjoyed the Inca museum, main Cathedral and the Pre-Colombian art museum with it’s lama head pots! Then there was the wonderfully perfect walls of ancient Qorikancha, once lined with gold, an incredibly important temple during the time of the Incas.
One full day trip I did from the city was a hike to Rainbow mountain, or as it’s officially, known Vinicunca. This tough, long, day trek was almost a wash out as some unseasonal snow fell overnight, hiding the colours of the mountain from view. The walk took us past small adobe (mud-brick) hamlets, where new mud-bricks could be seen drying by the river. These homes are basic, occupied by the local alpaca and lama farmers. Out there on the windy, barren hillside at altitude they must have a tough and basic existence. The trek up through the valley to 5000m was slow and tough, especially for those woefully unprepared tourists. Several resorted to hiring horses to help them complete the journey. The owners of the horses on the other hand, sturdy and rugged looking native ladies, were clearly well versed to trotting up and down the hillside to make money from the unfit tourists. Thankfully Pachamama (Mother Earth) was feeling kind and the snow started to melt mid-morning. Around midday it was clear enough for us to be treated to a view of the magnesium, copper and iron coloured waves that give the mountain its name. Every last step to the top was a struggle but, as always when it comes to mountains, standing on the top, looking back at the spectrum of colours, was breath taking. The view on the other side of the mountain, snow caped mountains and glaciers, was just as spectacular. I must confess to leaving my group behind (all of them strangers) for the walk back down. My weather instincts were spot on, the front guide and I had just ducked inside our adobe hut for lunch when the first few spots of rain fell. They quickly turned to hail and I had a lovely hot drink in my hands as it bounced of the metal roof!
Or glance up at some local buildings and you will often spot two small ceramic bulls on the roofline, they combine Catholicism and the native religion. The bulls represent happiness, wealth and fertility and are placed on new buildings as a blessing. They are often seen with a cross, which is believed to keep bad spirits away. The bulls are also associated with a native ceremony where a bulls blood is spilt to honour Pachamama.
I ended my Peru adventure the day after we reached Machu Pucchi. That morning, whilst waiting for it to be time to head to the airport, I was lucky enough to see a parade in the square. It seemed to be some sort of religious celebration with dancers and music. Afterwards, I wandered round a few of the smaller plazas, pausing to sit on the steps and people watch. In one plaza I was approached by some university students wishing to practice conversational English. I agreed to be asked some questions about my trip to Cusco. As they thanked me and left, I thought how appropriate it was that I had come full circle to teaching English again on my last day, so many things about this trip just felt as if they were meant to be!