My Trip to Peru, Part 2: Here and There

When we left off in Part 1, I had arrived at the Hotel Rumi Punku in the early morning and proceeded to collapse in bed.  I awoke from my slumber in the afternoon and explored the hotel grounds.  The Rumi Punku is designed in an open air format similar to a motel with a courtyard in the middle, but calling it a motel does not do it justice.  I found it to be quite gorgeous, and for roughly $80 a night, I couldn’t have asked for more.

The main courtyard of the hotel.
View from the roof of my hotel.

Although some might balk at the basic amenities of the rooms, and the fact that the heat does not turn on until after 5 pm (I was there in winter, which is the preferred season to hike the Inca Trail for the best chance of avoiding rain, though it didn’t work out that way for me, but that’s a story for another day), my room was perfectly fine to use as a base of operations: I had hot water 24 hours a day (not always the case in Cusco hotels), a flat-screen TV, and a safe, not to mention a free American-style breakfast every morning and 24-hour access to coca tea in the lobby.

If you’re looking for a five-star hotel, you’ve come to the wrong place, but I was very pleased with everything the hotel offered and will definitely return if I ever find myself in Cusco again.  The Rumi Punku primarily caters to Inca Trail hikers anyway, so for those of us preparing to spend four days in the wilderness, staying here was practically the lap of luxury, and I was very grateful that the hotel would be storing my luggage free of charge for the four days I would be away on the trail.

After touring the hotel I headed into the city of Cusco.  I first visited Dos Manos, the travel company that was arranging our Inca Trail hike.  I paid for the balance of that trip as well as for two other excursions they were arranging for me.  For an extremely low fee, I would be taking a half day tour the next morning and a full-day tour the following day (lunch inclusive) to visit Inca ruins and some other sites in the Sacred Valley of the Incas and the surrounding area.  I would be taking these tours on my own because Uncle Kipp had already been on the tours.

One of the alleys I traversed on my way to Dos Manos.  Notice the original stone construction on the walls.  Much of Cusco was built on top of original Inca and colonial construction.
Stray dogs like the one pictured were everywhere in Peru, running around solo and in packs.

Dos Manos was an uphill walk from my hotel, which led to my first experience dealing with physical exertion and the high altitude.  It was a little difficult to breath and my heart was racing a bit, but overall it wasn’t too bad.  My doctor had prescribed some Diamox for me but I had decided to try going without due to some of its side effects, which would later prove to be a mistake when I was climbing to over 13,000 feet on the Inca Trail.  At this time, however, the altitude effects were minimal so I thought that I would be okay.

Following my visit to Dos Manos I backtracked to the hotel and then made way toward the beautiful Plaza de Armas in the center of the city, an easy ten-minute walk from the hotel.  I was supposed to meet Uncle Kipp for dinner but he wasn’t feeling well, so I was on my own.  I walked around snapping photos and dodging the incredibly aggressive merchandise peddlers (they will follow you all over the plaza).  By the end of my stay I had learned that the best way to keep the peddlers at bay is to avoid eye contact, never stand still, and turn in the other direction when you see one approaching.

The Plaza de Armas

I wound up at a cozy restaurant overlooking the plaza called the Bagdad Café, where I had an excellent dish of beef, onions, chili peppers, rice, and fresh cilantro. There was also some type of stewed tomato, which I would normally not eat, but everything was so good that I mixed it in (it would not be the first time on this trip that I would consume a previously taboo food).  They also served me the best glass of blended orange and pineapple juice I’ve ever tasted.

View of the plaza from my restaurant seat.

After dinner I walked around the city in search of a churro (alas, I would never find one on this trip).  Instead, I discovered a tasty Peruvian fried dough pastry topped with syrup called a picarone that I found in a hole-in-the-wall joint on my way home.  I also tried a popular soda called Inca Kola, which looked like Mountain Dew but tasted more like vanilla cola.

That night I had intended to get to sleep early since I had an early wakeup for my first excursion outside of the city, but those plans were thwarted when I stumbled onto Braveheart on television, and it was actually in English.  Yes, I’ve seen it dozens of times and have the blu-ray at home, but I was weak.  Thus began my six days of Walking Deadness (I would not get another good night sleep until I returned from the Inca Trail).

The next morning a small bus picked me up in front of my hotel for our half-day tour of Maras and Moray.  There were only a handful of us on the bus, which was nice.  We first stopped in the town of Chinchero to see a demonstration of the process of cleaning and dying alpaca wool for garments.  They provided us with complimentary coca tea while we watched.

Local women demonstrating their craft.

After the demonstration I twisted my ankle badly walking down the steps to where they were selling their goods.  My first thought was that I had just screwed myself out of the Inca Trail, my entire reason for coming to Peru.  Thankfully, there wasn’t any real damage, though I did walk with a limp for a while and remained in some pain for most of the rest of the trip.

Following Chinchero we had a long ride to our next destination, the Maras Salt Mines, which are actually a series of evaporation ponds that apparently have been in operation since Inca times.

The Salt Mines of Maras
Our guide was kind enough to snap a photo of me in front of the salt mines.

Our next destination was Moray and its famous circle terraces.  Moray is thought to have been an Incan agricultural station due to the large increases in temperature the further down into the circles you descend.  The Inca steps used to climb down the massive circles were built into the sides of the terraces as jutting stones in order to maximize the available farming surface.

The main circle terraces at Moray.

By the time the guide stopped talking, we only had fifteen minutes before the bus was to leave, which was not enough time to climb all the way down and back up, but I decided to give it a go and race down, figuring it would be good practice for the Inca Trail.  I made it about two-thirds of the way down before turning around and running all the way back up, seriously huffing and puffing by the time I reached the top.

The smallest of the three main circular depressions at Moray.

On our way back to Cusco we drove through the town of Maras.  Most of the buildings in town are old colonial structures still in use. We didn’t stop, so I snapped this photo from the bus.  It turned out to be one of my favorite shots in spite of being almost an afterthought.

Maras: woman in the street.

We arrived back at Cusco in the mid-afternoon.  The bus dropped us off in the Plaza de Armas and I walked back to my hotel to freshen up before my scheduled meeting with Dos Mano that evening, where they would be briefing us about what to expect on the Inca Trail hike.  I met Uncle Kipp there; it was the first time we’d seen each other in the two days since I arrived.  We listened to the briefing and they gave us our rented sleeping bags.  They also  provided us with the large duffels that our personal porters would be carrying on the trail.  The personal porters cost us an extra $100, but it was the best decision we made–there was no way I would have made it through that trail if I was carrying all of my own belongings.  I’ll elaborate more on that when I get to the hike itself.

Later that night, after a brief stop at my hotel to drop off the sleeping bag and duffel, I returned to the main plaza to meet Uncle Kipp and his friend Yuri, a resident of Cusco whom my uncle had met and befriended during his stay.  We met Yuri’s family and we all went out for a nice dinner to a local joint where I had some tasty chicken and my first glass of Chicha Morada, a sweet drink made from purple corn.

After dinner I headed home and did some preliminary packing for the Inca Trail before heading to bed.  The next morning I would be waking up even earlier for an all-day excursion into the Sacred Valley of the Incas, which I will be covering in Part 3.  In the meantime, you can find more photos from Cusco, Maras, and Moray at the link below.

Peru: Cusco, Maras, and Moray

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