The hotel is not Conde de Lemons, it is Conde de Lemos. I’ve most likely insulted some god with that mistake. Their restaurant is named Lluvia, and this morning I help myself to two bowls of their sugar puffs and some type of chocolate cereal, then some scrambled egg and orange juice. Then two cups of coca tea – I am taking that very seriously. And especially on seeing Heather this morning. She had been very bouncy the evening before, but had suffered a headache at the base of her skull overnight. I continue to count my blessings that I am not suffering any ill-effects from the altitude, and continue to drink as much coca tea as possible.
Today we are heading to Cusco, and we are going by coach. it is going to take 10 hours to get there. The prospect does not fill me with joy. We leave the hotel in a mini-bus at 0700 and are on the coach with other groups and ready to leave at 0725. I am sitting next to Katherine, and so I will take this opportunity to correct my spelling of her name from earlier blogs. Wilfredo is our guide for the journey, and he informs us that the onboard chemical toilet is “only for pee pee and not for poo poo”…I am not sure if that is better put in Spanish, “numero uno, para numbero dos”. We were going to be making a number of stops along the way, which proves to make the journey a lot more bearable than it might have been. The first stop is at Pukara, which has an archaeological museum, but sadly does not allow any photos. So I cannot show you Hatun Naqak, the Great Decapitator – what a name for a priest ! It was just a half an hour stop for a quick look around the museum and the surrounding market, all under the shadow of a pretty stunning mountain. A couple of things soon became clear – if it is a site of interest then there will be something of a market attached to it, and what might seem like a mountain now will actually turn out to be something of a molehill. We were back on the coach at 0950.
And soon we were driving on a road passing through some real mountains, seeing some snow-capped peaks, and were nearing a 4200m height. This had become a magic number for me before I left for this trip, as it is the height of France’s Mont Blanc. I shared in some biscuits and crackers as we drove along, and it seemed that in no time we were at La Raya. In fact, it was 1100, and now we were at 4338m.
There were market stalls and I bought a cd of pan pipes music, just in case I did not see any on sale anywhere else. Yes, I jumped too soon with that one, though I could hardly believe what happened within the next half an hour. We stopped for lunch at 1145 at a delightful lodge named La Pascana. Everything in the buffet was free, except for anything we had to pay for. Gotta love Wilfredo. I had noodles, cucumber, tomato, avocado, salsa and popcorn (not the sort from the cinema !), and also some coleslaw…with thin chips in it. The coleslaw may sound strange, but it tasted wonderful, and the inclusion of chips turned out to be a common thing in the parts of Peru we visited. I ate alpaca stew to the Sound Of Silence played by Alma Andina, the resident pan pipes band. The meat in the stew was both sweet and salty, and had a taste somewhere between pork and beef, and it was accompanied by potato, carrots and peas. Pudding was creme brulee and caramelised bananas, and for afters I played with the pan pipes band. Yes, I joined the band for a couple of tunes and there are photos to prove it. They very kindly asked me to join them after I bought their cds and asked them to sign them for me. They are a great bunch of guys, extremely friendly and gracious, and it was an honour for me to be up there with them.
We left there at 1230 and arrived at Raqchi at 1250. Our tour of this Inca site was conducted by our own excellent guide, Silvia, and included her telling us, not for the last time, that “all roads lead to Cusco”. The site was magnificent, and it is remarkable just how well preserved everything is, and how extensive a site it is – there are over 100 storehouses.
We left at 1345 and all of our group agreed we could have stayed there much longer – it really is a wonderful site, also known as the Temple Of Wiracocha, and would be well worth another visit. We were served drinks on the coach by “senorita lady” – I never did find out if her name really was ‘lady’…but I did try a cup of Inca Cola, which was a flourescent yellow colour and tasted like bubblegum.
Thank goodness it was free. We stopped at roadworks. There does seem to be a lot of repair activity taking place on the roads we have travelled, and one thing which particularly struck me is that the crews carrying out this work are mixed, and in some instances contain more females than males.
Our next stop is at 3100m, the lowest height on our trip. We arrive at The Church Of Apostle San Pedro Of Andahuaylillas at 1520. Wilfredo describes it as “the Sistine Church of America”.
It is stunningly ornate inside, and we can see people working to restore it to its full glory. I must say it will never rival the Sistine Chapel, though. We left at 1550 and at 1655 Wilfredo welcomes us to Cusco, or rather he uses its alternative name, “Welcome to Costco !”. Oh, how we English laughed (even if the spelling is Cozco). Well, we laughed until we looked out of the coach windows – the outskirts of Cusco are pretty desolate, run down, quite scary, to be honest, and we were all hoping the coach would keep going for a while to take us well away from this type of neighbourhood. And as we continued to drive it very soon became more plush, grass rather than rubble, a much nicer sight, before becoming a welcoming city. We appear to circle a statue in a fashion designed to make it impossible to photograph, mush to the annoyance of the man sitting across from me who must have taken over 1000 photos from inside the coach over the 10 hours. Then our group is transferring to another mini-bus, negotiating the tight streets which lead us towards the centre of Cusco, situated at 3400m. The streets are straight but we take so many turns it would be impossible to find a way back to our starting point. Regardless, the driving is fast and we are soon at the Midori Hotel. I am sharing with Russ again, and we both take the opportunity to wash some clothes and turn the bathroom into a Chinese laundry – but at least I have my top, boxers and socks washed. Getting them to dry is another matter altogether, of course. I also charged my BlackBerry, and then recharged my PowerMonkey.
I do not think any of us were prepared for Silvia’s choice of restaurant. And in a slightly patronising way, I am not sure any of us would have presumed there would be such a place in Peru. The Fallen Angel restaurant was…decadent, and deliberately so in its decour.
It was a wonder to behold, very modern, quite unlike any restaurant I had eaten in before. The theme was heaven and hell, we had passed through a room with stars hanging from the ceiling, and the room beyond us was dominated by a silver angel. We had some flying pigs above us. Our table was a covered iron bath, filled with water which had goldfish swimming in it. And once I had got over this I had a tropical fruit juice, before one reason we had come here arrived as our starter – guinea pig. It was presented whole on a plate, lying on some breads, surrounded by popcorn, cheese and baked potato, with its nose on a red tomato.
Katherine is a vegetarian and had to move to avoid its gaze. To be honest, I could not blame her because it did look quite gruesome. It did not taste an awful lot better, and I will not be trying it for a second time. It was a little greasy, with a strong fishy, salty taste. My main course was much better. The Inca salad is a fresh mix of different blends of native quinoa, asparagus, yellow chilli pepper, olive oil and Andean cheese, served with an aromatic touch of mint, corianda and parsley. I had it with the smoked trout and avocado option. Very sophisticated and very delicious. The Andean cheese is like haloumi. At the end of the meal I bought a tshirt and agreed to wear it once we reached Machu Picchu.
We went out into the night and marvelled at how relaxed the main square was, at how stunning the Cathedral looked, at how bright the statue of Jesus was (seemingly floating in the sky, but in fact on one of the surrounding hills), and at how steep the walk back to the hotel seemed to be.
I am not sure what time we got back to the hotel, but everyone was straight off to bed – it had been a long day.
You can see more photographs from the day here.
You can see more photographs from the evening here.