It was very difficult to wake up at 6am this morning. We were tired and sore from Machu Picchu yesterday. I don’t know why I can’t seem to take a relaxing vacation, but that is how it goes. We checked out and a car came at 6:30 to take us to where the Inka Express bus was waiting. There was some confusion about seats and reservations but everything worked out just fine. We set off at 7 with our 2 drivers, our bus host, and our tour guide Matias. The plan was to visit several churches and important pre-Inca sites over the course of the day on our way to Puno with Matias explaining everything in both English and Spanish.
Our first stop was a very large, ornate, and gold covered church in the village of Andahuaylilla. Originally a Jesuit church from the late 1500s it got taken over by the Dominicans at some point, but is now Jesuit again. This one is known as the Sistine Chapel of America due to the frescoes all over the walls. It was interesting to see how the church combined the catholic religion with the spiritual beliefs of the indigenous people they intended to “teach”. The main example I found interesting was the lack of a cross anywhere around the main altar. Instead there were images of the sun, one of the three primary symbols of the Quechuan culture. We had a great tour inside with Matias showing us all the parts that were Jesuit, Dominican, Spanish, and Quechuan. No photos were allowed inside, but they gave us a a free CD that supposedly has some photos on there. (The 3 interior photos are borrowed from this disk) Actually weren’t able to take photos of hardly anything we saw this day. Then we had some free time to wander around the square or check out the market. The second stop was only 5 minutes down the road to the Huaro village to see another colonial church. This one, the Church of San Juan Bautista, was only slightly smaller than the last and just as ornately decorated in gold and murals. Many of the same elements were there with perhaps an even bigger emphasis on how the Jesuits used their fresco paintings to teach the indigenous people their Catholic ideologies in absence of speaking the same language. Matias said the Spanish crown eventually expelled the Jesuits because they were being significantly more successful at influencing the locals with their teaching methods than the official sanctioned Dominicans were being with their Inquisition style methods.
We hit a slow down in the village of Urcos due to a very large and important agricultural festival that seemed to be a Catholic related celebration. The whole town was out marching and dancing in the streets in bright colors, and we could hear drum music from inside the bus. We were basically following their procession very slowly down the street. I felt bad that there was a lot of honking from the cars trying to pass through, I hope it didn’t ruin the festival for them. This village still practices a lot of indigenous traditions as well as the Catholic ones, and was apparently the town where the last Inca revolution began.
The next stop was about an hour and a half drive away, but we still learned things along the way. We had seen a rather large river in the Urubamba valley all the way to Machu Picchu known as the Urubamba River. It is apparently the same river as the one we could see this day along our drive but here it has another name I forgot, I think named after whatever valley this is maybe Bilcanota. The source of the river is a glacier that we would see later on at the highest point of the bus route, and the river runs all the way to the Amazon River. The Incans called this the Sacred River and used it for studying the sky, constellations, and galaxy. We did finally arrive at the next stop, Raqchi, an archeological site of the Quechuan people. There was the remains of an extremely important temple to the god Wiraqocha, the creator of everything including the sun, and some remains of the housing area and food storage areas. Interestingly they built with volcanic rock from a long dead volcano nearby and then piled adobe bricks on top. They also used a trapezoidal design for their buildings and doorways as opposed to the arch shape of the Romans.
A little after noon we stopped in the town of Mangani for a buffet lunch of some Peruvian and Andean food. It was quite nice actually. I had a cream of vegetable soup, some rice, some noodles with a pesto like coating, some carrots and green beans, a potato of some kind, and a piece of bread along with some mint tea. There was also some beef dish, some chicken dishes and soup, some raw cucumbers and tomatoes (just like Israel!) and we tried some desserts which were mostly good. Things like bananas with some chocolate mixed in, a coffee custard of sorts, spiced apple rings, rice pudding, and red gelatin. Not to mention the very cool live Andean style music. The band was selling their CDs but we didn’t get one. They were very good though.
The next stop was the highest point on our journey, La Raya, at about 4300m (about 14,000 ft). This is the delineation between the Cusco region of Peru and the Puno region of Peru, the border between the Quechua people and the Aymara people, and also shows the difference between the farms and agriculture of the lower elevation and the livestock farms of the altiplano (high lands) above the tree lines. We could see the glacier that feeds the river, thought it was quite cloudy up there at the time. As with everywhere that we stopped there was a small market of locals selling their wares and in this case looking very very cold in the gray and windy weather at that altitude. A little girl had walked from her village to this spot with her alpaca and was most likely hoping to make some money by allowing tourists to check it out. I was more than happy to pay her one sole to cuddle and take a picture with her alpaca!
The final tour stop was a town called Pukara where we visited a museum about a pre-Incan culture of the same name. I liked seeing a timeline showing what was happening at different points in history in the altiplano there, the middle Andes, and the outside “old world” at the same times. The Pukara culture seemed to be the biggest influence on the Incans as many of their traditions and symbols were adopted into the Incan lifestyle. We toured a tiny museum there to learn about the Pukara and see some pottery and stones they had carved. We had some free time after that to take photos around the town and we found a bunch of sheep being very noisy in a church yard. This town concluded the touring part of the bus trip and we had a 2 hour ride left to our final destination of Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
At the bus terminal we snagged a taxi to our hotel for 7 soles ($2.30), though I think it should have been 5 soles I didn’t feel like arguing over that amount at the moment. Our hotel in Puno was right off the main Plaza de Armas, so quite urban. It was certainly not the luxury Starwood hotels we’d been in until then, but the people were nice, the room was adequate, and it had functioning free wifi. Good enough. Next step was to locate dinner. I had picked out a few options before we left on the trip, though the tour bus people also gave us cards for restaurants I assume they have some sort of deal with so I looked at those too. We ended up deciding on one of the ones the tour bus recommended mostly because they were super close, just around the corner from our hotel. It was a Peruvian/Italian place where I had some basic trout with veggies and potatoes and Eric tried his first alpaca with veggies and potatoes as well. We also shared a dessert that was billed as a lucuma (a type of local fruit) tiramisu, but it was… Really sort of gelatinous mostly. Eh. It was a nice restaurant anyway. I rather enjoyed their music which seemed to be a very random collection of brass instrumental versions of popular songs including selections from at least Whitney Houston, Pink, and The Scorpions.
Also it is really really cold here. We knew it would be cold but the reality, especially at night, is crazy cold. Eric decided to buy one of the hats that is so commonly sold everywhere here. A nice wool beanie with ear flaps and a llama embroidered on it. For 10 soles everyone who comes here can have this hat in any color they want. So we got him a hat and went back to our hotel. The little space heater here is trying very hard, but it’s just so cold. I was delighted to find out that the shower in our room gets incredibly hot and has great pressure. Both of those things can be very iffy in Peru and disappear without warning, but I was able to warm up nicely there and finally relax. We were also one block off the main square and had a great view of some fireworks that were going off over the cathedral. And as usual we had another early morning pickup scheduled.