Date: 23rdth August – 31st August 2012
Where: Cusco – Chincero – Ollantaytambo – Aguas Calientes – Ollantaytambo –Cusco
Distance: 4518 to 4572 miles
Arriving in Cusco, we were greeted by puddles of pee in the main bus station from where the buses had emptied their tanks. Luckily, the city of Cusco was friendly, safe and full of Inca remnants. We stayed at Hotel Estrellita’s, an everyday hotel, but sniffed out by cycle tourists and a popular haunt. A cheap price, big rooms, space to do maintenance, a bike shop across the road and most importantly, a brilliant French bakery next door are some of the things that cyclists like! Meeting cyclists on the road and especially in places like this where there is time to talk is like a walking talking cycle touring library to us. Providing information, tips, and inspiration as well as great stories and new friendships are just some of things we take away with us. See the links page for some of the people we met in Cusco.
A trip to the tourist office revealed the ‘boleto turistico’ (tourist ticket). This cunning piece of marketing means you have to fork out for sixteen archaeological sites when you actually only want to visit one (if you had time, it’d be a very good deal though). As such we settled on visiting those things we could pay for individually: the Cuscan religious centre called Qorikancha, the farming laboratory at Moras, the salt pans at Salinas, and of course Machu Picchu. Taking inspiration from Matt and Sylwia’s blog (who Sarah and Nico met in Mexico) we set off with slimmed down panniers for the market town of Chinchero. We arrived with time to walk round the market, and a local’s tip allowed us to walk round the impressive terraces and Inca stonework for free (otherwise it would have cost S70 ~ £18.
With a packed itinerary for the next day we set off early, feeling cold whilst cycling in the high altitude air. Luckily most of our day involved going downhill so we soon warmed up. By chance we found an off-road track to Moray. Cycling through beautiful colours we negotiated our way through the countryside, with past friendly people always turning up at just the right time to point out which the correct path was. Moray was fascinating and hypnotic in it’s concentricness. These terraces were all at different angles and directions to the sun so that the different micro-climates could be analysed for different crop suitability.
The off-road to Maras and the ensuing downhill to Salinas was even more breath-takingly beautiful with sweeping views of the the snowy nevados of the Inca’s Sacred valley. Our breath was certainly taken away by some of the single-track sections, which would’ve been decidedly difficult with a full pannier set-up. Our hopeless brakes eventually managed to stop us above a crazy view of the Salinas salt-pans. Here water containing salt has poured out of the mountain for centuries, and is captured in paddy field-like terraces where the water is then allowed to evaporate. This salt-mine provides all of Peru’s salt and is also exported to Japan! A final downhill took us into the Sacred valley which we whizzed down to Ollantaytambo just before dusk.
Up early the next morning, we left yet more bags and bikes in the hostal, but were frustrated to have to wait till 9:30pm for the bus to Santa Maria (S15), where we luckily jumped straight into a taxi (S13) and arrived at the hydro-electric plant at 3:30pm, just before the 4pm cut-off. A two-hour walk along the railway lines took us to Aguas Calientes, the tourist-packed town in the valley directly below Machu Picchu. Up even earlier the next morning we reached the entrance gate at 5:45am and decided against buying the can of coke for S10 ~ £2.50. We did however leave yet another bag in the left-luggage office. Our day walking round Machu Picchu was well-worth it, not for one particular building, but more the mystical aura which surrounded the place…a City…on a saddle between two mountains…with stoned-terraces falling down each side…and pathways going across sheer mountain-faces…surrounded by swirling clouds then clear skies to reveal stunning views. That’s our attempt at explaining what Machu Picchu is like.
The same day we managed to get back to Ollantaytambo realising as we walked back along the railway lines that had there been no clouds we would have been able to see Machu Picchu on the walk-in the day before! A couple of combis with our bikes took us quickly back to Cusco with plenty of time to congregate all our stuff again and repack the bags ready to begin cycle touring proper again. We’re looking forward to it and with the drugs having seemed to kill all known bugs in our stomachs, we feeling strong and ready!