Days: 300-302 (21 April 2015 – 23 April 2015)
Total distance travelled: 57,387.3 kilometres (35,644.29 miles)
The merits of our purchase of a Boleto Turistico have been highlighted to some extent already in our adventures to the Incan ruins of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, but with something like sixteen (or was it seventeen) locations that it allows you to visit, we left ourselves a little more time in Cusco so we could better utilise this ticket.
Given the remote nature of some of the locations, the fact that a ticket remains valid for only ten days, and the fact that many tour operators offer reasonably cheap tours (which would allow us to get to more than just one site in a day) we happily signed up for a few to the most desirous of the locations.
Top of the hit-list was a site that we only discovered thanks to an English couple way back in Mexico… although I dare say we’d likely have gotten wind of it by the time we got here.
Still, they were our initial inspiration, and the reason that it was our number one place to visit after getting Machu Picchu out of our system, the ‘Rings’ of Moray… in fact agricultural terraces.
It might not sound much, especially as anyone who’s followed our Peruvian adventures would know how many Incan terraces we’ve already seen.
Still, take a look at the pictures, and I think you’ll understand why these were different.
There are theories, or perhaps they’re speculations, that this place was an experimental agricultural site, and I do suppose that with its circular, quarry like design, it certainly would have had its own micro-climate…
Fact or fiction aside, we thought it was certainly something a bit different, definitely worthy of our time and money!
There was a second stop on this particular tour, not a site listed on our ticket, so there was a small entrance fee associated with this next location.
However again, it was one that was worth every Peruvian Sole we paid.
Looking something like images I’d seen of the dyeing pits of Morocco (that is, those clay vats in which they dye fabrics), minus the smell, this incredible view was in fact a vast array of salt ponds, served by an underground saltwater spring.
Welcome to the salt ponds of Maras.
We were granted an ample amount of free time to explore these cool surrounds, so what did I do first up?
Stick my finger in for a taste!
No surprise it was salty, but I was a but taken aback when the waters were actually pretty warm as well (this was from the natural spring, not the muddy looking pond water).
The scale of the place was ridiculous, and to think that it’s just another example of ingenuity of yet another place, still in use since Incan times…
A day later, and we were back at it again.
Another day, another tour, and this one included not one, but two sites from our coveted Boleto Turistico.
Like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (without much actually hanging… or many plants other than grass come to think of it), this next morning saw us arrive at the interesting (yet again terraced) site of Tipon.
Designed roughly like a sharp edged, terraced U, this place is renowned for it’s flowing channels, cascades and fountains (all fed by a freshwater spring).
Its true purpose seems to still be speculated, but the two most common hypothesis seem to be that it was either a retreat for the royal Incas, or another place for cultivation and agricultural experimentation (similar to Moray).
Whatever it originally was and despite there being few of the original structures remaining, as an ancient water park, it was undoubtedly beautiful!
Although we didn’t attempt to, we were even assured that the waters (at least closest to where the spring emerges) are very drinkable.
There were also the nearby remains of a fortress, again like many Incan sites, situated on some prime, scenic real estate, however for us the highlights were all about the waterfalls and fountains.
After a mid excursion snack of Choclo con Queso (corn with cheese), we were on our way to the next site, our first non-Incan ruins in some time.
Pikillaqta was again making good use of our Boleto Turistico, to investigate what must have been at some time, and incredibly large city.
This site of the Wari people was apparently abandoned in about 1,100 AD after about six hundred years of occupation, apparently due to shortages in food and water.
Unfortunately, the photos I snapped don’t really reflect the size of the place, but take my word for it (or if not mine, perhaps that of Sarah?), it was big!
Various areas have been excavated, where incredibly well preserved white walls and ceilings can be seen (but obviously not touched).
Admittedly not too many original structures do remain, but the broad and well defined street system is what truly allows an impression of how significant this place once was…
Our afternoon was rounded out with a far too lengthy stop at a picturesque church, however we baulked at contributing further to their religious coffers, as it also came with a hefty entrance fee!
The following day, which just so happened to be a Thursday (if anybody cares to know), was also to prove our second last in and around Cusco, so we were eager to visit a few more Boleto Turistico sites… as after all, we’d already paid for them!
It also helps that we were also rather interested in them as well.
Today however, there were no tour agencies in sight, instead, given their proximity to Cusco, the four sites (sounds ambitious I know) in question, we’d decided to tackle on our own.
The plan to tackle these four ruin sites (although the bits and pieces that make up the total park are scattered, we’ll leave it at that to save confusion), was to take a bus out to the farthest, and from there, simply walk back to Cusco.
Nothing to it!
So after a short colectivo ride, we kicked off our morning out at Tambomachay, a pretty spot, but not one that will consume hours of your precious time (ten-fifteen minutes should suffice).
We enjoyed the beautiful water features, again constructed around both the natural spring and the natural rock formations in the vicinity, before taking our leave for a short walk up the road.
When we say short, in this instance there is no pissing about with the truth.
In fact, you can see our second destination, Pukapukara, from Tambomachay!
So when we say a few minutes later we were at Pukapukara, we mean it… although that doesn’t mean we didn’t see 95% of other visitors driving (or being driven) that ridiculously short distance!
True to form, we were on yet another hill with a view, but again the site was small enough that we didn’t need to linger longer than ten minutes or so.
That’s not to say others didn’t… we spied a trio of gringos with their local spiritual mentor, meditating atop the site.
I’m not sure if they found the nirvana they sought, but apparently it is an option (likely you’d need to arrange it from Cusco), if you’re one of those kinds of travelers… or have just finished watching ‘Eat, Pray, Love‘ (I’ve never seen it, but apparently it has inspired a wave of middle aged women to try and find themselves… or possibly just trowel the world for a young toy boy)!
Enough of my theorising on the pursuits of women in the throes of mid life crisis, as our next stop, this one several kilometres along the road back to town was something pretty neat, or at the very least, different to most others we’d visited.
This was Qenqo, not so much a collection of jumbled ruins, but rather huge rock formations, the former stone quarry from where the product with which they raised their magnificent temples, cities and fortresses was cut.
You can see the marks all over the stone, where the hands of people, hundreds of years ago, cut (and then incredibly hauled) huge blocks, with ridiculous precision.
It felt at times like a child’s playground, as we were able to wander our way through maze-like pathways between the rocks, where again, more incredible examples of their stonework could be found.
But… I better stop gushing before you all give up reading!
Another gentle amble downhill (the way this walk panned out, the first two sites sit in close proximity to one another, as do the final two) took us to probably the best named ruins in the Incan world, Saksayhuaman.
Sure, it does look like a mouthful, but the correct pronunciation is apparently akin to saying ‘Sexy Woman‘ and as far as ruins go, she certainly lives up to such a title!
Perched essentially atop Cusco (not literally), not only was this former fortress, constructed from some of the largest stones we’ve seen used anywhere, given its position, it came with some pretty stunning views as well.
So after heeding the signs advice, and ‘continuing to continue’, we were presented with this…
Saksayhuaman was the full package (apparently it is still used on certain dates of the calender for traditional festivals), as the ruins themselves were pretty amazing as well.
Today, we’d certainly saved the best of the four offerings for last.
The lead us either around, through, or over (you could take your pick of one or all) the ruins, so we did our best to give ourselves a good look around.
It didn’t hurt that by now the morning cloud was far more fragmented, so there were plenty of blue pockets as well in the sky above (this also meant more sun, so we did start to get hot as well).
No being above the city, also meant we were now pretty close to a sight that from what we could tell, is visible from pretty much anywhere in the city, Cristo Blanco (White Jesus).
So, given that we were in the vicinity, we popped over for a look, so we could at least add another large Jesus statue to our collection which started back in Timor-Leste several years ago.
The views were probably better from over at the ruins, but given that we could still see most of the city, we figured our assumption that the statue was visible from anywhere in town was probably pretty accurate.
We finished our day with another round of delicious crepes and a beer, fair reward we figured for a day of wanderings before our final night in Cusco…
* Our ‘Boleto Turistico’ cost $130.00 Soles, which allows access to 17 sites in and around Cusco.
* Our tour to Moray & Maras cost us $20.00 Soles a person (a $7.00 Sole entrance fee is needed for the salt ponds).
* Sarah negotiated even harder for our 2nd tour to Tipon & Pikillaqta, so it cost us $25.00 Soles each (it is a much less common, more distant location).
* Our colectivo from Cusco to the ruins of Tambomachay cost $1.50 Soles per person.