Over the course of 300 years the Inca civilisation made an indelible mark on the culture and landscape of Peru. As we emerged on the crest of the hill above the village of Pisac the tiers of terracing came into view, dropping several hundred metres towards the valley below. Each terrace, perfectly flat and approximately 5 metres wide, was faced with a retaining wall made with boulders the size of a basketball. The curve of each terrace follows the contour of the hillside, in the shape of a scimitar, ending below a group of ruined buildings that formed a part of the cemetery complex. As we made our way around the hillside above the terraces we passed through a trapezoid doorway that marked the entrance to the sacred area. The religious buildings in this part of the complex are easily recognisable by the exquisite masonry work, reserved for the most important sites. Huge stones, the size of a small car, fit perfectly to the contours of the bedrock on which it is built. Each stone fits exactly to the next, with multiple fascia, cut to such tight tolerances that even a credit card wouldn't fit between them.
As we made our way from one site to the next, with our guide William (Guillermo), the flood plain of the Urubamba river cut through steep sided mountains, scarred at various angles by ancient pathways that gave access to high pasture. Every so often we would get a glimpse of glacier capped mountains as the moisture laden clouds parted. Waves of light rain processed up the valley, giving ample warning to don our rain jackets. If this day was anything to go by, the next four days of hiking on the Inca Trail will be an unforgettable experience. The prospect of reaching the Sun Gate at Macchu Picchu at sunrise is thrilling and I am sure that it will be an unforgettable experience.
We have been in Cusco for four days now, acclimatising and preparing for our trek. The town itself is probably the most beautiful we have seen and certainly the most heavily geared towards the tourist train. This is certainly the epicentre of the Gringo trail. The Plaza de Armas, the central square, is teeming with visitors and Cusquenans hawking their wares. Elderly, well heeled, American tourists rub shoulders with grungy backpackers. As we make our way through the narrow cobblestone streets the separate our hostel from the city centre we hear all manner of languages and dialects, a veritable tower of Babel.
The closer you get to the main Plazas the more often you are approached by hawkers: "one postcard, one Sole Meester"; "Massagee? Massagee?...no...maybe later Senor?...after treking?". The strangest of all are the local indigenous ladies with their daughters, dressed elaborately in their finery, towing their prettiest Alpaca or cradling their most photogenic lamb. "One photo...one Sole?", is the standard refrain, often delivered in unison.
Despite the comforts of Cusco and the fantastic restaurants I will be glad to get on the trail to Macchu Picchu. The prospect of stunning panoramas and a feast of interesting flowers (we are in prime orchid flowering season), all topped-off with the promise of one of the finest sights in South America, is hugely appealing.
I have posted some pictures from our first week in Peru in the Peru gallery and will do the same for the Inca trail pictures when we get a rest day next Tuesday. As it stands, we plan to leave Cusco on Wednesday by train to Puno (the gateway to Lake Titicaca). From there, we plan to make our way out to the islands for a few days before heading into Bolivia. Our visit to Peru will be short but sweet, leaving ample opportunity to return for the areas we have left untouched.