Peru 2 – Sacred Valley (Cusco and Písac)


As with “Peru 1,” I’m using some annotated photos, this time from a 2011 trip, in order to put them to rest in a travel log. Laura was already there, as it was the end of a lengthy visit to Bolivia and Peru.

Maps: Peru, Lima, Cusco and Písac

Flying south from the US involves only an hour time zone difference from Colorado.


Then Lima to Cusco.

Lima is the only customs stop, so you have to pick up your bags, and wait until about 3:30AM to check into the flight to Cusco where you wander the airport with other adventuresome but grumpy people waiting for 3 hours in an airport until they can check into the domestic flight area.
But, once 5AM or 6AM rolls around, you are on the plane to Cusco, a short and scenic flight (from sea level to about 11,500 feet).

Our first hostel was without water most of the day. The owner allowed us to discover the shortage of water empirically (instead of discursively). We bought some rubbing alcohol to refresh ourselves. The rubbing alcohol was ethyl (not the usual isopropyl). According to Laura’s terminology, it was “potable,” although we never refreshed ourselves that way with it. We did, however, learn that if one of the many stray dogs bit us, a minimal preventive step against rabies was to wash the wound with ethyl alcohol. So we were set.

Hostel #1, a look outdoors before a soccer team began using the window bars as a drying rack.

After one night, we moved to the Resbalosa hostel, which is where I stayed with Laura and Sarah in 2008. One day, Laura and I decided to run-walk to Písac, about 17 miles. We began at our hostel.

In this view of Cusco, the magenta line goes north from the main plaza (Plaza de Armas) to our second hostel on Resbalosa (slippery, by translation, and steep, in practice). It has a great patio (actually two of them) for looking down upon the city and out upon the hills.

We looped out of Cusco, and stopped at some ruins along highway 28 to Písac.

The road loops around some extensive Inca ruins, including Sacsayhuamán.[1] On that loop we walked with Jordy, from Holland, who was feeling quite eager to eat some Peruvian guinea pig (and anything else that was offered to him that smacked of adventure).

From there it was a beautiful trip along a highway to Písac (which actually lies across the river instead of where it is marked by the pin on the map).

Here’s the approximate walk. One leaves Cusco at 11,500 feet and climbs above 12,000. Then the majority of the walk descends slowly into the Sacred Valley, which is ~1,000 feet below Cusco.

Písac lies in a valley, across the Vilcanota River (which becomes the Urubamba River as is descends towards Machu Picchu).

Písac is a Medieval city, in that you cross a bridge and find yourself inside a walled-in town. The Inca ruins are just up the (steep) hill from the town, an unforgettable combination of civilization and nature.

Bumming Around Cusco

In 2008, Laura volunteered to help the community, and one of her jobs was to paint this park. She now guarantees her paint jobs for at least 3 years.
The paint job certainly satisfied this fellow. Once again, Cusco weaves the needs of society, this time a boy, into a fabric of arches, streams, and hills.
These are Inca-laid stones. They survive the earthquakes that bring down the more recent Spanish buildings. Very small gaps are left between the stones, and the walls generally slope inward as they rise (for stability). Rarely would the vertical lines of a stone align with the vertical line of a stone below it, one of the several ways the construction remains sturdy for the last 500 or 600 years.
This is a different plaza (San Francisco—a few blocks away from the Plaza de Armas).
This, a rooftop patio in our second hostel. In the daytime, the red tiled roofs of countless buildings in this high-altitude city fill the valley and are surrounded by beautiful green hills and ruins. In the night, darkness effaces the hills and lights outline the buildings.
A place called “Jack’s” attracted good looking Americans, or at least so it seemed when I looked in the mirror (and saw Laura). They had good espresso and pancakes.
This is the shoe shop that was laden with the nicest looking women’s shoes and boots. We called it the Cusco Shoe Pavilion.
Many of the streets are steep, descending toward the Plaza, this one being typical. We had just eaten pancakes (a staple) in the restaurant on the left (which isn’t Jacks, if that betrays our eating habits).

One day we hiked from town up to “Cristo Blanco” a statue of Christ made out of white something. It was given to Cusco by people of Palestine in 1945 who had found refuge in Cusco at that time.

A young man who dressed up for photographs had an alpaca—and allowed us to take a few photographs, with Cusco in the background.
The young man himself.


All I remember about Cusco at night is its incandescence.

This is the Plaza de Armas. The building in the distance is I think Cusco Cathedral, although it could be the Church of the Society of Jesus that was put up on the adjacent corner, with overtones of rivalry.
Different view.
This is a fountain in the Plaza de Armas in 2011. Later that year, it changed drastically, with the (controversial) addition of a golden Inca warrior atop it.

A Girl Named Melita

One night, we were reading this plaque that’s on the ground at the Plaza of Armas, which says something to the effect that Dr. David deserves credit for tiling the plaza with stones. Laura voiced a quick subtraction of the years that had passed between then and the present. Apparently she made an error, at which time a 7 year old girl (Melita) appeared in front of us, correcting Laura’s figure. So she was good with numbers (and cute).
Laura talked to Melita a bit, and then Melita pulled out a bag of knitted hats, and began the negotiating process. At one point she offered 2 for the price of 2 (“dos for doce”), which didn’t strike me as a great discount, so I said, “two for 10 soles,” to which she said, enthusiastically in very clear English, “two for 10 soles.” Seeing she had gotten our attention, she laughed and went back to Spanish, and the old price. We liked her a lot.
After buying a hat, and having that business behind us, we spent some time with her. After I took her photo, she pulled out a plastic cell phone and started taking pictures of us. She had a brochure of some local attraction, and had us pose, so that she could keep showing us the brochure, pointing out our shapes in it. She could demo vaporware with the best of them.
Melita took us up on an offer to buy her some ice cream off the dollar menu, which, by the way, is true to the American dollar, although the average Peruvian makes $1,900 compared to the average American’s $33,000. Lots of locals were in the place, demonstrating the Attractiveness of the Other. While Jordy from Holland sought Guinea Pig meat, plenty of people from Cusco were after Chicken Nuggets.
Somewhere the McDonalds (yes) Laura obtained some goofy glasses . . .
And they made everything sparkle.

Písac and Inca Písac

A few days after running to Písac, we took a taxi back there, with a camera.

This is the beginning, just above Cusco and beneath Sacsayhuamán (a fortified town that pre-dates the Incas).
The ruins, again, with the Christo Blanco on the hillside to the right.
In Pisac we went to rent bikes from Javier, whose bikes unfortunately were not suitable for the distance we wanted to travel, so instead we took him out for some kombucha and later hiked.
He was a guide near the Amazon for a year and it “changed my life” he said, so that he wants nothing more to pray and continue to feel secure.
I asked, “You have friends in Písac?” and he said, “All of Písac is my friend.” Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
On the hike in Písac, we passed these flowers.
A continuation of the hike, which, after about an hour, we realized was leading us up above the ruins, where the taxis drop people off. But that is a long distance, and we didn’t aim toward it.
The Incas were trapezoid dependent for good reason, since structures bear more weight at the bottom than the top. Their individual stones often followed this pattern, and, though not a true trapezoid, their walls tapered inward from the ground up.
This, a modern house, is built at the foot of the Písac ruins with the trapezoids in mind. Laura was going to buy the house but had spent her money on apple strudel the day before (that and carrot cake being some of main dishes, since we passed on the guinea pig, and I passed on the fresh vegetables).

Walk Around Inca Písac (Ruins)

High places—higher than the temple areas that were usually higher than the domestic areas—were used as a lookout.
Some terraces (perhaps these) are beneath a ruin called the Citadel, and appear in the shape of a partridge wing (it is said), the Quechan word for “partridge” being like the word “Písac.” (Here and elsewhere, false etymologies abound through the layers of Quechan and Spanish spellings, so one must step carefully.)
The mountain sides are commonly terraced—high, steep slopes up which the Incas carried rich soil from the valley below.
Inca Laura on the lookout for Pizarro. If only she had been . . . .
My trapezoidal self.

Leaving Písac, Leaving Cusco

As I recall, our taxi driver changed his price on our arrival to Písac, perhaps as much a cultural shift as an ethical one. At any rate, we were spared returnp-trip negotiations by finding a bus soon to depart to Cusco.

One of the final views above Písac.
Goodbye, gem of a town, hedged in between a river and mountains, built artfully and filled with decent people.
Like a false summit, this town below is a false Písac when driving toward Písac: you see it, think it’s Písac and then turn the corner and find the real Písac.
We had the bus driver drop us off at the Temple of the Moon, known in the original as Salumpuncu. This is the Temple of the Moon near Quenqo, which is an easy walk from Cusco. There are many temples of the moon in the Sacred Valley.
Laura did her bouldering here, and was pointing out where possible “problems” lay in the background.
Another shot of Laura, gazing at a problem.
Note the water-bottle holder with some wine, one way of keeping oneself (de)hydrated.
Also note the yellow bag. That morning, she had bought it to carry things, and she suggested I get one, too. For some reason, I had a visceral reaction to the checkered pattern of nylon fabric. Perhaps I was pushed out of a lawn chair of similar fabric when a child. At any rate, I called that type a “Value Bag,” although Laura’s, by contrast, had a better design, making it a Value Bag Plus.
Last moment on our patio at the Resbalosa Hostel. According to UNESCO, “From its complex past, woven with significant events and beautiful legends, [Cusco] has retained a remarkable monumental ensemble and coherence and is today an amazing amalgam of the Inca capital and the colonial city. “
We had a 6-hour layover in Lima and looked for a taxi, well aware of the warnings that one should use only official taxis, which look like unofficial taxis. Instead, I told Laura to listen to her heart (her heart being conversant in Spanish). She found a taxi driver, Miguel, who said he wouldn’t rob us and gave a good fare to this restaurant, Nautica Rosa, which is built on a pier over the Pacific Ocean.
It was a perfect place to wrap up our trip, and Miguel returned to take us back to the airport, showing us photos of his mother, niece, and nephew on the way back. He was truly a nice guy, and I promised I’d refer people to him. Need a cab in Lima?
Laura flew out on a Peruvian Airlines jet. I later flew out on a LAN jet, perhaps my favorite airline since on my previous trip they put me up in a hotel when the weather turned us away from Cusco on our first attempt to land.


[1]The spellings of Sacsayhuamán illustrate well the collision between ethnological respect and orthography. The Wikipedia article currently begins, “Sacsayhuamán, Sacsayhuaman, Sacsahuaman, Saxahuaman, Saksaywaman, Saqsaywaman, Sasawaman, Saksawaman, Sacsahuayman, Sasaywaman or Saksaq Waman (possibly from Quechua language, waman falcon or variable hawk) is a citadel on the northern outskirts of the city of Cusco, Peru, the historic capital of the Inca Empire.”