The next morning we spent some time seeing the sites in cusco: Sacsayhuamán (the remains of a massive Inca fortress); Q’enqo (an inca temple); and the moon temple (there are a few of these in the vicinity of the fortress).
The moon temple is a sacred place dating back to inca time and assigned to the subject of fertility. There is excavation work going on and areas cordoned off including the main altar. Nonetheless, when the moon is full, local shamans still practising the old ways will sneak in carry out their ceremonies.
The temple is effectively two main caves in the stone where a lot of carving has gone on inside. The altar sits under a small hole and so at night at the right time, the moonlight comes through and illuminates it. Infertile women were apparently brought here to attain a “cure” and also animal sacrifices were made.
Standing on top of the temple you have a great view all around the area and can see a couple “checkpoints” on the inca trail, these were effectively small settlements spaced 30km apart which provided refuge for runners who were transporting goods to the incas.
We had a fairly chilled afternoon enjoying a beer on a balcony overlooking the main plaza drenched in sun that had proven elusive ever since we first got to cusco. I had apparently fallen out of the rhythm of ritual sun cream application and resultantly “picked up a bit of colour” here. We then went to a ceviche restaurant “punto del mar” quite away from the main touristy drag and had some ceviche to rival (or even beat) that which we had in Arequipa. I decided to risk a full meal of just ceviche type food, which as a fish hater don’t think I’ve ever really done before, and was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the lot. I think it’s because it is so fresh and with such strong and tasty seasoning that it is pretty much free from the “fishy” taste I can’t usually stand, so I’m a convert!
That night we went to a new place called Perú bar and had a pisco sour class! The owner David talked us through what goes into one (turns out this includes roughly 3.3 shots of 42% pisco… and it’s not even a big glass!) with the help of couple of his staff, then we had a go at making and drinking our own.
He showed us the top held of his bar and talked us through the various different marinating flavours he had including loads of fruit, and Ricardo even made one with chilli pisco which genuinely works in my opinion! We basically got to choose our own, I made mine with a eucalyptus pisco but still reckon the original one made in the demo was the best of the lot! All this for pretty much what you would spend on one drink in a club so highly recommend. We then had a few drinks and headed out to a couple of clubs (mama Africa and mythology) both very touristy but fun and free entry. The latter was even offering salsa classes in one section until 4 am in the morning!
I had a fairly slow start to the next morning and decided to have a wander round by myself whilst the others visited a couple of sites with an early bus that I was never really going make. I reckoned now would be a good time to look at some museums and learn something on the pan pipes I’d bought a while back and never really used. However, it wasn’t long that I realised they were pretty much all shut (save the chocolate and coca museums) as it was Sunday, and not working on the sabbath is observed a lot more than the London I’m used to!
So with a bit of FOMO given the others were all doing stuff and I wouldn’t be able to hit the items top of my list in the city I headed towards the coca museum in the San Blas Plaza when suddenly I heard someone calling my name. After spinning around staring at people for longer than it probably should have taken… I eventually identified Ricardo sitting on a bench massaging some fragrant green goo into his knee which was damaged from Ju-Jitsu sparring. It turns out this was a coca leaf preparation designed to soothe and heal joint pains and the like. Both my knees were also apparently still sore from the trek as I’d realised even from the short walk I’d done so far today, so I could readily empathise and tried some myself when he offered it to me, before animatedly saying
A friend of mine knows a spot up in the mountains with an ice cold pool that is meant to be therapeutic, so a few of us are going… do you wanna come?
It sounded pretty cool (sorry…!) and I wasn’t particularly enthused with my existing plans so I quickly agreed, grabbed some warmer clothing as well as some swim shorts… making a conscious effort not to think too much about how sensible it was.
With met up with two of Ricardos friends, Manuel and his girlfriend from the states, Dana. She had pretty much done what I was doing then gone home for a bit and decided the latter just wasn’t for her and so has lived in Cusco for about two years now. We waited for another friend who was giving us a lift whilst Ricardo passed the time flagpoling on road signs… until it started pouring it down (great!…). We eventually made it up to our destination, after navigating a certain hurdle as someone had unhelpfully padlocked and chained the road we were trying to get through. Rude!
We watched some ice man videos on YouTube to psych up, and Mani took us through some breathing exercises designed to prepare your body for the extreme cold, which was at the very least a good way of taking your mind off it. He and Ricardo had done it before and were pretty relaxed about it while Dana and I (both our first time for anything like this) were quietly panicking in the back of the car, but both determined to see it through. It was really cold and rainy outside so we opted for the breathing exercises inside, whilst Ricardo did them standing just outside the pool. When we finished the prep we jumped out and clambered over the pool… it was freezing just walking in the rain in swim shorts so again took some effort not to think too hard about the craziness of it. The result was the occasional maniacal titter, but all too quickly we were there by the pool and paddled in to just above our knees. The unduly optimistic thought flashed through my mind that was where it ended, but nope it was time to sit down in the icy water and submerge fully. The idea is you need to think that you just aren’t there, and imagine yourself warm. Most importantly you need to keep calm and control your breathing. To be honest, it does work, and I felt like I was able to stay in quite a while before I lost focus and it became impossible to visualise myself elsewhere… in reality it couldn’t have been much more than a minute though! I scampered out with a new appreciation for the relatively warm air temperature, and was passed a cup of extremely welcome, hot tea by Dana who had got out already.
Next was Mani, then Ricardo who both put in quite a stint (and apparently out of their group of friends up to ten minutes in can be done). It was an adrenaline rush and we spent a while excitedly reflecting on the experience and the apparent health benefits… before eventually realising it was really cold and we should probably get out of here, and had a leisurely lunch with more ceviche and hot soup. They were good people and we talked about future plans and how we’d ended up where were so far. They’ve got a restaurant and some property they are looking to make an Airbnb business from, and Dana make some cool jewellery out of colourful things found in the jungle… you can find see on Instagram:
It was a very cool day and particularly so as it was spontaneous. At the end of the afternoon they dropped me off at a market I wanted to visit to pick up some souvenirs and then I headed back to the hotel to meet up with everyone and head out for the “final supper” with Melvyn and Anna, our Maltese friends in the group before they split off and headed into the Peruvian jungle. A few of us treated ourselves to Cuy (guinea pig) and I had a delicious cocktail called an Algarrobina that is sweet with a taste a bit like baileys and maple syrup. The guinea pig was pretty interesting but genuinely tasty. After taking a leg piece I went for the head. Sabine braved an ear, expecting it to be crispy like the skin and panicked a bit when finding it was all squidgy. Unfortunately this happened directly over my water glass and so I was faced with a bobbing piece of guinea pig in my drink.. i resorted to drinking from the bottle…back to mine…It was a bit gross thinking about it so I tried to employ some “mind over matter” techniques from earlier which again worked pretty well until one point where the jaw flopped open and I was staring down the gob and full set of teeth for this little beasty. I closed it back up and managed a little more before passing to Ricardo, who deftly got to work finishing it off. I’d heard the brain was meant to be a good bit so enquired as to how that was got at… “brain? You have to crack the skull”. Yup, ok that’s definitely enough of that… I left him to it and focused instead on a nice rocotto relleno I’d ordered as I’d enjoyed the last one so much.
We spent most of the next day travelling by bus to Puno, and got a glimpse of the impressive lake Titicaca en route. It’s the highest navigable lake in the world at an altitude of around 3,800 metres and is huge! Something like 160km long and 85km wide. We would be spending our next two days exploring it but for today we just got dinner and picked up some gifts for the families we would be staying with on one of the lakes islands (sugar, pasta, oats etc). I’d been having stomach issues for about a week so Ricardo also recommended I got some tablets called bianos, so I took these and got an early night.
We breakfasted the next day and got on our boat to the floating Uros islands and were greeted by some of the locals that lived there. It was a beautiful day (at last!!) and made for a pleasant boat trip and wander around these man made habitations before a three hour stint back in the boat to reach amantani island.
Waliki – I am very well
Sumach – delicious!
We were staying with a local “Indian” family tonight and had the head of our household waiting for us at the harbour to take us back to his place for some lunch ahead of us rejoining the wider group (we joined others for a group of about thirty for these two days) for a hike up to the Pachamama and Pachatata temples.
Then later it was dinner, dressing in tradicional garbs and off to the party.
Off to the jungle soon!