We are lucky enough to be in Cusco in the two week lead up to Inti Rami – the festival of the Winter Solstice. It is truly amazing, there is always something going on in the Plaze de Armes
Cusco sits at 3300 metres above see level. It is the continents oldest continuously inhabited city, steeped in history, the narrow cobblestoned streets are lined with huge Incan built walls, and while it is undeniably a tourist city it is also undeniably beautiful and still quite authentic. It truly is a lovely, living city.
The Plaza de Armes – Cusco
However our first three days in Cusco are marked by rain, freezing temperatures and continual visits to DHL to check on our parcels arrival. We know that the DHL process will be a long tedious one so we make the decision to move to a warmer hostel. We feel a bit mean doing this, as the family at Hostel Estrellita are incredibly kind, the place is old but spotlessly clean and the company is good. However I am frozen to death and the old beds are not that comfortable. However the price is right, it is ridiculously cheap, about $12.00 a night including breakfast.
We literally move one street away to Hostal Labrador run by the gregarious Estella and her family. We negotiate a weekly rate. We now have a comfortable bed (well beds), our own bathroom and a warmer room. There is no off street parking but it is in a dead end lane way close to the Plaza de Armes, the only beings interested in the bike seem to be the street dogs, lets just say the cover needed a wash when we left.
The hidden alleyways to Hotal Labrador
Our new posh room
During those first few days in Cusco we visit Qorikancha. these Incan ruins form the base of the colonial church of Iglesia de Santo Domingo. In Incan times, the Qorikancha was literally covered with gold and was used not only for religious purposes but also as a celestial monitoring station. Of course it was looted and trashed by the marauding Spanish conquistadors, however the Incan stonework has survived unscathed by the Spanish and numerous massive earthquakes. The Incans really were master craftsman.
In complete contrast we also check out the local motorcycle street and with the help of the phone to translate, Skill asks a local shop if he can work on the bike in their workshop. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing they agree and we try to explain that we are waiting on a part. All seems to be Ok and we take our leave.
Everyday we go to the main Square to watch the dancers and parades, there is always something going on, there is never a dull moment, it is an amazing time to be in Cusco.
Dancers in Plaza de Armes
Parade Plaza de Armes
Parade Plaza de Armes
Parade Plaza de Armes
Parade Plaza de Armes
We aimlessly wander nearly every street in the city centre there is always something to see. There is not much of Cusco we didn't get to explore.
Lan points out the 12 sided stone
Lan in Diagon alley (well that's what she christened it)
We also become complete and utter gringos whilst in this city, eating out at all the gringo haunts. One day whilst leaving Jacks (our restaurant of choice) we get a moral lecture from a young American lad who happens to be outside. He tells everyone within earshot that he only ever eats at local haunts when he travels, to which I silently reply “Well that's great for you, but I have had more Caldo Galindas (vegetable soup with a piece of meat) than you've had breakfasts sunshine so I am going to continue coming here everyday and eating everything on their menu” which I think we probably did. Anyway it's an Aussie owned establishment and by all accounts the owner is a silent philanthropist in Cusco helping out countless local disadvantaged women.
We also enjoy a fantastic curry at Los Perros Restaurant, another Aussie owned establishment, this place is quite posh, but we lashed out, our first Asian curry in soooooooo long.
Skill at Los Perros
Of course we frequent the local watering holes showing no favouritism, we give them all a fair hearing - Paddy's Irish Pub, Cross Keys Pub and of course Norton Rats Pub, not only can you get beer and food, they are good vantage points for taking in the squares goings on.
Skill enjoying the sunshine and a beer at the Cross Keys Pub
A beer or two on the verandah at Norton Rats Pub
It is also where we meet an interesting variety of people. On one day we meet a group of independent American travellers who have had to turn back on Day 2 of the Inca Trail, it was just too tougher going for them. To their credit they listened to their guide and found some alternative trails to walk. On another day we meet a group of brash young Australian men about to set out on the Sakilkantay Trail, apparently a tougher prospect than the Inca trail, and with a couple of them suffering from altitude sickness, we wonder how they will fair.
One of the great things about travel is you get to meet amazing people doing amazing things. At Hostal Labrador we meet Jan, an English lady who is in the midst of setting up a charity to feed the street children of Ollantaytambo and surrounds. It gives her adopted Ollantaytambo godson a job and purpose while utilising the families disused terraces.
Meanwhile the DHL saga continues: I will now give you the abbreviated version of the proceedings. After having been in Cusco for nearly two weeks we are no closer to getting our bike parts. For 3 or 4 days Skill had been going twice daily to the DHL office asking “Was there anything we needed to do to expediate the packages arrival” only to be told the same information everyday, “No it was with Customs and it should be cleared in a day or two”. In the end it was a prompting email from Stacey (DHL Australia) and with the DHL tracking still showing the package in Lima on Friday morning, SkllI went back to the DHL office and insisted they call Customs in Lima to find out what was required. After they called DHL and Customs in Lima, yes there were actually documents required - surprise surprise! Apparently they wanted the invoice for the parts. Skill said “No invoice, parts are gift from a friend”.
So more calls to Customs and finally an answer. Aduana (Customs) will email a form/declaration to Skill which he must sign and return to DHL. Skill asks if DHL can print the form and sign it here immediately? No, the email will come to him, not DHL. When? Within the next hour. Three hours later Skill returns to the DHL office to tell them that no email has been received yet.
More phone calls and emails to Aduana, then "Please return in 15 min". Skill returned "No response from Aduana, please return in another 15 mins", Skill returned again "Aduana must be on lunch, please return later this afternoon", Skill returned 2 hours later and now the man that speaks English is not there "Please return in 1 hour" all in Spanish of course, Skill returned in 1 hour "Man will be here soon please wait", man finally returns and prints the Aduana form which was duly completed and signed complete with Skill's thumbprint and a passport copy!
Skill is thumbprinted
By the time we got this far it was clear that Aduana need a value for parts and 'gift' wasn't going to fly, so we made up a value of $10US. Skill was then told to return the following day even though he pointed out it was Saturday and Aduana didn't work on a Saturday. "No please return tomorrow" He returned on Saturday only to be told Aduana don't work on Saturday, “Please return on Monday.”
Skill returns on Monday, there is no movement and after the man at DHL Cusco phones DHL Lima, he then resends the paperwork for whatever reason.
On Tuesday, I asked Skill if he wanted me to come with him today, to which he replied "Are you sure that's a good idea"?. Well the inevitable happened I had terse words with the young man, who kept telling me it was not DHL's problem, the package was with Customs and now we would have to deal with Customs to get them out.
I told him politely but very very firmly that “we have paid for DHL to deliver our parcel and they need to help us get it out of Customs, this is what their business is, receiving and delivering international parcels, they must deal with Aduana every day. It is his problem and we expect him to help. If he had given us the correct information on Tuesday instead of waiting till Friday, that may have helped us get our parcel earlier.” He seems to be completely dumbstruck that a woman would speak to him in this manner. He fiddled about on the computer for ages then told us we had to ring this number in Lima. By this time I am very antagonised and told him “No” he could ring the number in Lima, and sort it out, but apparently only the receiver of the parcel could do this, so we assumed it must be the Aduana in Lima, but no it was DHL in Lima.
Anyway he grudgingly rang the number in Lima and handed Skill the phone. Skill gave them the tracking number and explained that two lots of paperwork had been sent, (including a signed declaration with Skill's thumbprint), they then informed us that they hoped it would clear customs today or tomorrow, which they have been telling us for over a week.
We explained that we really need to leave Cusco as there is no accommodation this weekend (which is almost true as everything is booked out for the winter solstice party, we have to go back to our first cold dodgy hostel for a few nights) and her solution to this problem was that perhaps we could come to Lima (over 500 km away) to pick up the parcel. By this time Skill (a very patient man) has had enough and tells her in no uncertain terms that this is a ridiculous suggestion and we expect our parcel to be delivered here in Cusco by Friday.
We must say that DHL Australia was fabulous, it was all tracked and here in two days, it is the Peruvian end that is hopeless, they just don't seem to have any idea of how their own system works, or perhaps they just don't care.
It is also at this point that Stacey (DHL Australia and a friend of Guys) also has a terse word with DHL Lima and things start to happen. We are so grateful for her help.
As it became obvious that we are not going to get our parcel any time soon we decide we will take a day tour to the Sacred Valley. It starts off badly as our bus and guide do not show at the Plaza de Armes at the allotted time. In fact an hour later a completely flustered woman arrives apologising profusely that they could not get the bus into the Plaza because of all the people and police blocks for the street parades. We now get a private car ride to meet the tour which has only just arrived at its first destination, a dodgy market about 45 minutes drive away.
We have an enjoyable day with an eclectic group of 15 people. We visit the small village and ruins of Pisac, an Incan citadel surrounded by terraces, atop the terraces is the ceremonial centre with an Intihuatana (hitching post to the sun), several working water channels and some well preserved buildings. A cliff behind the site is honeycombed with hundreds of Inca tombs.
The ruins of Pisac
The ruins of Pisac
The Incan tombs of Pisac
From here it is onto the Pisac markets and a posh smorgasboard lunch and then a visit to the ruins of Ollantaytambo. This village is absolutely gorgeous, and is perhaps the best surviving example of Inca city planning, it's massive fort stands guard over the cobblestoned village. It is also one of the only places where the conquistadors lost a major battle, when the Mano Inca threw missiles and actually flooded the plain below. The site was however more ceremonial and the stone work is amazing considering it was transported from kilometres away using huge (still visible) ramps.
Lan at the ruins of Ollantaytambo
The girls playing silly buggers in the niches at the ruins of Ollantaytambo
View over the village of Ollantaytambo and the grainery on the opposite hillside
We love this village, but our time here is too short so we make a decision to return once the bike is back in action.
The tour bus wends its way back to Cusco via the village of Chinchero where we stop to look at the simply frescoed church, it is now dark and cold so it is a very quick stop.
The Church at Chinchero
We arrive back in Cusco in the dark and to an absolutely packed Plaza de Armes, the place is going off, bands, and partying locals everywhere. We go for a wander through the chaos, grab a kebab and retire for the night.
The following day, Thursday we decide to book a city tour as it is cheap and we enjoyed our tour the day before. We do have a bit of a question about the timing, 2pm – 7pm, considering it is dark by 6.00 pm. Oh well we will give it a whirl. Just before we board the bus Skill goes to the DHL office to check on the parcel.
“Oh yes sir it arrived this morning”. WTF!!! “ and you didn't notify me. OK well I am here to collect it”. “Good sir we need your passport”. “ I don't have it on me and you know me. I have been here 3 times a day for the past two weeks. You also have now made 2 photocopies of my passport” “Sorry sir, we need your original passport” is the response. Bloody hell there is no time to go back to the hotel and get the passport before we get on the bus and DHL closes at 7.00pm.
The tour is hilariously BAD, every city tour in Cusco leaves at 2.00pm, they all follow the same itinerary and there are about 50 people in each group. We firstly visit Saqsaywaman, where we have to wait for nearly an hour to get in, we then have a rather disjointed misinformation session, which leaves us 20 minutes to look around, before it is back on the bus racing all the other tour buses to the next site. We do get the giggles as the guards are constantly blowing their whistles at the marauding tourists telling them to get off the rock walls that have survived Spanish conquistadors and earthquakes, but apparently it was alright to use the place as a quarry (for buildings in Cusco) up until 2001.
Lan at Saqsaywaman
The ruins of Saqsaywaman
Next we visit Q'enqo a small mysterious cave with rock hewn alters. Here we line up for another 30 minutes for a two minute walk through the cave. Then it is back on the Michael Schumacher bus for a 10 minute race to Tambomachay, a beautiful ceremonial bath still channelling clear water. It is very simple but quite lovely.
By the time we leave here it is completely dark, so at the next ruin of Pukapukara we don't even bother getting off the bus. Apparently in daylight it is a “Red Fort”.
And finally to add insult to injury our last stop for nearly an hour is at an Alpaca wool and jewellery shop. We do a cursory 5 minute walk through before getting back on the bus and chatting to a lovely young couple from Singapore.
Back to Cusco and we cannot move for sea of people, Inti Raymi festivities are in full swing, the Plaza is packed, there are food and drink stalls everywhere, 2 huge stages with rock bands playing, and a finale of fireworks. WOW!
Next morning Skill and his passport are at the DHL office before the 8.30 am opening time. He comes back with parcel in hand and a smile on his dial, has breakfast and then goes directly to the motorcycle shop and leaves me at the hostal.
Our DHL Parcel arrives, thanks to Guy and Stacey
Skill writes - Because its now 2 weeks since I arranged to use the very nice clean Honda workshop, they take a while to remember me. Then the bad news, today is Friday and the start of the long weekend for Inti Raymi festival so although sales is still open, the workshop is closed until next Tuesday. WHAT? I explain that I don't need a mechanic just access to the workshop. Sorry but you are not allowed in workshop while it is unattended. While I do understand this I really need to get this fixed and get out of Cusco – PLEASE!
I can tell they want to help and after a number of phone calls a guy turns up on a 2-stroke motorcross bike (no helmet) and then everyone says I must go with him to another workshop. I thought maybe in the next street, but no, we go halfway across the city and now I have no idea how to get back to our hostal. We finally get to the workshop and its the usual ramshakle dusty dirty establishment – bugger – what to do. Oh well make the best of it I guess. I once again try to communicate that I will do the work and pay them for use of workshop. They seem confused but sort of agree. All goes reasonably well although they keep trying to take over working on the bike even though they would never have seen a bike like this before. In the end we replaced the leaking oil seals, changed the engine oil and filter, cleaned and re-oiled the air filter and washed the bike all for about $60Aus including new Motul engine oil and bottle of air filter oil. Result!
Luckily for me a local guy who spoke a little English took a liking to the bike and translated for me in the workshop, then he wanted a lift back to near the Honda shop, so at least someone could give me directions from the pillion seat. Only problem was he was enjoying the bike ride so much he kept forgetting to give me directions, or perhaps he was shit-scared, not sure.
Lan writes - As it is now the weekend and most hostels/hotels in town are full we move back to Estrellita Hostel. Compared to our stay 2 weeks ago the place is packed and there are now 4 bikes parked in the courtyard. We enjoy a lovely couple of days with like minded souls, but are itching to get going. Bring on Monday!
Posted by John Skillington at July 22, 2013 06:32 PM GMT
Bikes parked at Estrellita Hostel
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