Friday, December 30, 2011

Ollantaytambo and Back to Cusco: Day 11

We started the day with our train ride from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo, a city about halfway back on the way to Cusco. This time we took the Expedition, the cheaper 'backpacker' train. It was still a nice train, it just didn't have the plushy seats, music, and nice snacks the Vistadome did and the ride wasn't quite as smooth, but it was totally fine. If you're looking to save a few bucks it's a totally viable train. The only reason we didn't take that one on the way up is because the ones that worked well for us timing-wise were already full… the cheaper trains tend to fill up more quickly.

When we arrived, we went into the little town to check it out and to have lunch at a Lonely Planet recommended cafe, called Heart's Cafe that gives some of its proceeds to local people in need of warm clothing. We also looked at the ruins in the area… from outside the entrance gates. It was going to be the equivalent of about $65US per person to go in… and seeing as we needed to get back to Cusco at a decent time to see the museums we had missed, and we had already seen so many different ruins (and were sore from the day before), we decided to simply admire them from afar. They were still pretty spectacular.

We wandered around for a bit after that finding a ride back to Cusco. The guidebook just said something to the effect of 'find a bus, "collectivo" (van that they fill with as many people as possible), or taxi to take you back', with not much more description. Since the passengers from our train had gone a couple hours before and the next one wasn't due in for a couple more hours, there weren't as many of them hanging around as when we first got off the train so it took a little while, but eventually a cab drove by and asked if we needed to get to Cusco. Why yes, yes we did… we asked how much and he said 10 soles per person. I had him write it down because I was sure I misheard him… seeing as our ride in a cab to Poroy train station only 30 minutes from Cusco was 30 soles (for both of us) and this would be a two hour trip, I was sure it couldn't have been right. We were expecting at least 50 soles per person for such a long ride. But no, that's what he meant… he picked up some other passengers to fill the cab on the way, which is why it was a little cheaper I think. The others were native Peruvians from what I can tell; a woman sat next to Jim and me in the back and a man with his four year old daughter on his lap sat in the front. (Another thing that would never happen in the states, by the way… I am my mother's daughter and all I could see on the ride back was the taxi driver having to slam on the breaks and the little girl flying through the windshield… but that never happened so I digress…)

The ride back, other than the fact that I was squished in the middle seat, was rather pleasant. The countryside between Ollantaytambo and Cuzco is absolutely breathtaking. The mountain air is clean and we drove with the windows down, which was great until we got behind some diesel-spewing trucks, but that was brief. We drove by several villages and farms as we climbed from about 6,000 feet in elevation for Ollantaytambo to Cuzco's 10,000 feet. (I keep flipping between the spellings for Cuzco/Cusco because I've seen both and can't decide which one is better, haha.) Almost every single building is made with mud brick adobe; you can still see straw poking out of the mud bricks. I guess I didn't realize that Peruvians in the countryside really do dress in the 'traditional' Peruvian dress… I mostly saw women wearing a skirt, sweater/shawl, Peruvian hat, socks, and sandals/shoes… I even saw a group of women leading their donkey carrying a load of yellow flowers for them. We drove by so quickly we weren't able to snap a picture, but I'll never forget it.

Entering the Cuzco valley from outside offers an amazing view of the city. There are many houses and buildings up on the slopes of the surrounding mountains, with the center of town down at the center of the valley below. As soon as you enter the city the construction changes to more western-style-brick/cement construction than adobe, though there are still some buildings made with the mud bricks.

The taxi stopped at some unknown neighborhood to let everyone out. We asked in our best broken Spanish how much it would be for him to continue to the Plaza de Armas area to our hotel, and he said just 10 soles more, so we jumped on it. When we got there we gave him 40 soles instead of just 30; he had gotten us there safely, dealt with our limited Spanish, and we were expecting to pay so much more anyway that we felt he deserved the tip. (You don't usually tip cab drivers around here.)

Rumi Punku, our hotel, had definitely settled things with the agency from before and said our night here was already paid. When we got to our room, we discovered we had gotten one of the 'superior' rooms (we only paid for a standard room) with a king bed, bigger TV, nicer shower, and even bath robes. I never thought I would get so excited about a bath robe, but they're too big to pack when all you can bring with you is a tiny backpack and it's cold getting out of showers around here. I'm not sure if maybe they had just run out of standard rooms after they told us one was available when we booked this before we left, or if they felt bad for waking Jim up at 10pm the time before, but it was a nice, unexpected surprise. The only "problem" is that the wifi doesn't reach this room so we have to go out to the main area to use it ::puts hand on forehead dramatically:: so I may never make it. ;)

After settling in we set out for the Inka Museum, one of the largest museums in Cusco from my understanding. It has many artifacts from the Inka empire, though few of them are from Machu Picchu but instead are from other areas. By my understanding, when Hiram Bingham 'discovered' Machu Picchu in 1911 (though he didn't really discover it but I digress) he brought many of the artifacts back to Yale University, where he worked. They remained at Yale until last year, as there has been a battle between Yale and the Peruvian government to get them back. Peru argued that the artifacts were a 'loan' and that they belonged back in their native lands, while Yale argued that Peru didn't have the facilities to properly care for the artifacts and they were worried about them degrading over time. It sounds like they reached an agreement for the artifacts to return to a Peruvian university under Yale's supervision for preservation, though I'm not sure when that happened if it has yet nor do I know which to which university in Peru they are going.

Regardless, there were a lot of cool artifacts at the Inka museum. Their displays are a little outdated, but it was worth the visit nonetheless. There were several stone tools, ceramics, and even some Peruvian mummies. My favorite display was a to-scale model of Machu Picchu. It was great to get an effectively birds-eye view of the entire complex that we had just visited.

We went into the Plaza de Armas in search of dinner. We found a good one at the Inka Cafe (at least I think that's what it was called)… we ended up having some french onion soup because it sounded so very yummy, and it was delicious. It may be lame, but I am crazy for soup.

After dinner we picked up a CD of supposedly traditional Peruvian/Incan music for my classroom. I had no way to listen to it and will have no way to until I get home, so I have absolutely no idea if it's any good or not! We'll see!

We then headed to the Museo de Arte Precolombian (MAP). Precolombian as in before columbus, or before European influence. This museum had far superior displays, with most in Spanish, English, and French… though you could tell that they were written by an artist instead of by an anthropologist, as they were more opinion than fact. I could go into a rant about how some fine artists can be rather full of themselves, as the person who wrote all of these obviously was, but I digress. Let's just say that when it comes to ancient art, I get along better with the anthropologists.

And that's the end of our tale in Cuzco. This morning we had a leisurely breakfast and are getting ready to head back to the airport in Lima.

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