May 5, 2013 by jiejie768
On Saturday, April 6, Meg and I renewed a Peruvian travel tradition by getting up at 4:30 in the morning, taking a cold shower (our shower is solar-heated … not too much sun at 4:30 a.m.), and waiting for the cab that would take us to the airport. Mom and GeGe had ordered a cab, which would pick them up in Carmen Alto then drive over to our place in Santa Ana and take us all to the airport.
GeGe, as I mentioned in Friday’s post, was unable to come with us, but she did accompany us to the airport, where her and Mom “tried” to take a jumping picture (see photo). The three of us were headed for Cusco, via Lima for a few days in the Sacred Valley featuring visits to Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo and the Pisac Sunday Market.
Thanks to a scheduling snafu from StarPeru Airlines, we no longer had a tight connection in Lima. Originally, we were set to land in Lima at 7:45 and catch 9:10 flight to Cusco, but the airline cancelled the 9:10 flight and rebooked us on an 8:35 flight. This was too close to attempt, so we got a refund for our Lima-Cusco tickets (a reservation separate from our Ayacucho to Lima flight) and rebooked with Peruvian Airlines. The good news was this inadvertent change of plans saved us about $120 per ticket. The bad news was it meant we’d be stuck in the Lima airport until 1:30 that afternoon — about a six-hour layover between flights.
It wasn’t so bad though, as we were able to get Subway, Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts to pass the time. I also took a practice math test for my upcoming graduate school entrance exams (turns out I was a bit rusty). Even with an added delay, we made it to Cusco at about 3 p.m. with plenty of daylight left to explore the town a little. We didn’t do much that night, simply rested, grabbed a bite to eat at Sara (a restaurant that Meg and I had eaten at and loved when in Cusco with her family) and did a little window shopping. It was a relaxing evening as we knew we’d be back in Cusco for two days on the back-end of this trip.
One important order of business on that first day was booking our passage from Cusco to Ollantaytambo via Pisac. We had booked a hotel in Ollanta for Sunday night and a train to Machu Picchu Monday morning, and we planned to get a shuttle to take us the two hours from Cusco to Ollanta on Sunday with a stop at the famed Pisac Sunday Market along the way.
While we were discussing transport with the staff at our Cusco hotel, we learned there were also some pretty impressive ruins at Pisac, and it may be worth checking those out as well. After some discussion and a bite to eat, we decided to hire the hotel’s driver, who would take us to the ruins, the market and on to Ollanta for just 170 soles (a about $60-$65). With that determined, we called it a night and looked forward to our 10 a.m. departure the following morning.
Sunday provided a rare opportunity to sleep in a bit, and we took advantage before grabbing breakfast at the Los Ninos Hotel restaurant (more on Los Ninos in a post later this week). After breakfast, we met our driver Efrain, loaded up his late-model Toyota sedan and were off into the heart of the Sacred Valley. On the way from Cusco to Pisac the road first climbs the hillside outside of Cusco before descending along a highway that features some spectacular views of the Urubamba River valley. Meg and I had taken the train from Cusco all the way to Machu Picchu on our first visit (which follows the river directly), and we enjoyed this bird’s-eye view of the countryside.
After a couple of stops for photo-ops along the highway, we arrived in Pisac at a about 11:15 a.m. Efrain informed us it was best to go to the ruins first and that we would return to the market afterwards. So it was that we passed through Pisac and begin the winding, picturesque climb toward the entrance of the Incan ruins on the mountainside high above the town. Along the way we had to stop and buy a boleto turistico (tourist ticket) that would grant us entrance to not only Pisac, but Ollantaytambo’s ruins, and a series of ruins outside of Cusco that we planned to visit later that week. Once we reached the entrance, Efrain parked and informed us he would be waiting there whenever we were done, no rush.
The ruins themselves were pretty impressive. There were two main areas that featured stone residential buildings, a few of which had restored thatch roofs. All along the mountainside below the structures were a series of the massive agricultural terraces you find throughout the Incan Andes. It was about a five minute walk from one structure to the other, and the views looking back and forth were pretty impressive.
There is a hiking path from Pisac that follows the backside of the mountain and Meg, Mom and I accidentally wandered along that for about 20 minutes back toward town in search of a route to the top of the ruins. We had a eschewed hiring a guide, and I stand by that decision, but the result was we spent a lot of time wandering aimlessly and arriving at various dead ends.
We even did a little “off-road” hiking for a bit to reach the summit of the stone structures. It was a lot of fun, though, and provided a bit of exercise to boot. All told we spent about two hours, maybe a bit less, exploring the ruins before returning to our car.
The market, our original motivation for stopping at Pisac, was our next destination. There are no shortage of markets — fruit, vegetable, tourist or otherwise — throughout Peru, but Pisac has a well-earned reputation for being among the largest and most authentic. Sunday is reputedly the best day to visit, as it is the day when families descend from villages in the surrounding mountains to buy and sell their goods for the week.
I’ve been to several similar markets in Ayacucho, Cusco and elsewhere, but there was an indefinable charm to Pisac’s that made it a bit more special. It’s hard to put into words, but while we were shopping during our visit, the experience seemed to be a bit bigger than simply hunting for souvenirs, a task I’d carried out several times in the past seven months.
The merchandise booths were an explosion of color, and unlike other markets, the pressure to buy was not overwhelming. The merchants seemed to know there were enough gringos with money to go around and allowed the shopper to approach them instead of vice versa. Though I enjoyed the first few minutes perusing the hats, bags, paintings, rocks and various other dry goods available, Mom and Meg outlasted me in that regard, and I quickly grew bored.
This led me to venture into the produce part of the market where I was dazzled by the bright dyes, colorful fruit stands and traditional Andean clothing worn by the clientele and merchants alike; the merchandise stands may be for the tourists, but this part of the market was clearly for the locals. I’ve spent many hours in the market in Ayacucho, which is similarly colorful and vibrant, but again, there was something about Pisac that seemed different and somehow special.
After a couple hours — bags heavier and wallets lighter — we were ready to return to the car and make our way to our hotel in Ollantaytambo. Our haul for the day included chullos (the traditional Peruvian alpaca-wool hats) for Meg, myself, Andrew (little brother), Tara (little sister) and Chris (stepdad), a purple and gold alpaca-wool blanket and a painting for Meg and I, an etched gourd for Mom, and D’Onofrio Mokaccino ice cream bars (our favorite ice cream bar in Peru) for all three of us.
The remaining hour or so on the road featured more spectacular scenery as we were now driving along the river looking up at the surrounding mountainsides. We arrived in Ollanta shortly before five and checked into our hotel. Hotel Sol (which GeGe had selected and booked when she though she was coming) was a very nice little inn right across the street from Hearts Cafe, a restaurant Meg and I had eaten at with her family in December. It had a great little courtyard and, we would learn on Tuesday, a phenomenal complementary breakfast. Below, is a photo gallery featuring a few photos from the day that didn’t fit among the text of this post.
Knowing the next day was going to start early (train to Machu Picchu at 6:10 a.m.), end late (train returned to Ollanta at 8:30 p.m.) and feature a lot in the middle (hiking up Wayna Picchu Mountain), we grabbed an early dinner (or VERY late lunch) and headed to bed. The next day, Meg and I would be doubling down a dream come true by visiting Machu Picchu for the second time in four months.
Catch up on all our adventures with Mom: