30.12.2010 - 04.01.2011 15 °C
The final day of 2010 was a special one. Molly and I joined a small group and went exploring indigenous villages and magical Incan ruins. First stop was Chinchero village in the sacred valley where the mate de coca did its job yet again, wading off the dizziness at this altitude (about 4000 metres up). The Quechua people of Chinchero were very welcoming and gave us some amazing demonstrations of how they use natural plant substances to clean and dye wool. The people here wore brightly coloured clothing, beautiful plaited hair, and huge smiles. Our guide explained the whole time to us in English what was going on, a very welcome contrast to the previous day where we had a bit of a disastrous day.
We were both interested to find out more about Incan agricultural irrigation so joined an ‘English speaking’ tour that didn’t speak a word of English! Not only this but we didn’t actually make it to the agricultural place after all due to a flooded road so we were pretty pissed off. What more than made up for this though was 1) we managed to get a full refund hence booked on the other tour next day for free! And 2) we met Wouter and Tonny, two cracking guys from Belgium, who helped us a little with translating some Spanish. After the disappointing tour we introduced them to the real McCoy and spent the rest of the day sipping mojitos on the balcony. More than made up for it.
Anyway, going back to the final day of the year, that memorable day. After enjoying the hospitality in Chinchero next stop was the moray salt mines. This was a bit of a magical mystery tour, we didn’t really know what we had signed up for, but this place was beautiful. After a very scary ride on the minibus, way too close to the edge of the cliff tumbling down the valley, with a few ‘close your eyes, don’t look and just hope’ moments, we arrived at these incredible Incan salt terraces crammed into the valley. The process of salt mining here has not changed from Incan times. Warm salty water (yes we tasted it!) flows down the valley to be collected in these terraces where it dries to leave layers of salt. We had some fun here trying to balance on the edge of the terraces and not fall into the valley but was also quite a beautiful and surreal sight.
The final experience of the day was a trek to the bottom of an Incan agricultural ‘laboratory’, well that is what this place is thought to be anyway, no-one really knows. This place is basically huge layered circle terraces of Incan stone going down steeply into a valley making for a great puffy high altitude trek down and all the way up again. The situation and depth of these terraces provides up to a 15 degree C temperature difference from top to bottom and has led to the hypothesis that this is an Incan ‘laboratory’ for testing crop growing conditions at high altitude. Who knows. Anyway, most of the way down, clambering down those steep, precarious, ancient steps all I could think about was how the hell we were gonna make it back up again. It was so steep and hard enough getting down! Right at the bottom, at the centre, felt like being in a theatre with very strange acoustics and apparently a ‘positive energy’. It did feel quite surreal and peaceful being down there must admit. We joined in for a bit of group meditation (cue giggles!) and then Molly and I lay down in the middle and had some thinking time. Wow, I am in Peru, laying here in the middle of an ancient Incan treasure, it is the final day of 2010, the most incredible year of my life, I have nearly travelled round the whole world. Maybe this place did have something special. We needn’t have worried about making our way back up as we rocked it! So proud of ourselves to be the first ones to reach the top, only a little bit out of breath, getting very used to this altitude now, finally have it nailed
I had quite a few emotional thoughts on New Years Eve. On the TV I watched live as Big Ben rung in 2011 and felt so far away from home. As I also watched the NY celebrations in Singapore, Australia and NZ it also made me reflect on my journey around the world. Peru has some very unusual New Year traditions and superstitions. They become obsessed with the colour yellow, representing good luck and prosperity for the coming year. Like on Christmas Eve, there are fireworks and firecrackers going off EVERYWHERE, not just at the stroke of midnight but all through the evening and well into daylight the next day (still don’t get this!). Molly and I got nice and merry on pina coladas and cerveza and joined in with the thousands of others in the plaza de Armas for live salsa music, dancing (my thighs ACHED like hell next day!) and all kinds of crazy shit. Careful where you step, these dudes were setting off fireworks right next to your feet. The atmosphere was just amazing. Just after midnight, once the kissing random strangers thing had slowed down, the thousands of drunk people started running around the plaza, many wearing yellow pants, another good luck superstition. Some carried objects representing their wishes for the coming year. For example, carrying a suitcase around the square is thought to bring good travels to 2011.
Once I was over my hangover (very easy to drink too much at this altitude, lets blame it on the altitude eh!) I spent my final days in Cusco relaxing and enjoying the atmosphere of this incredible city. One day, we took a taxi up to the cristo blanco statue overlooking the whole city with views also to the Sexy woman Incan ruins. The actual name of the site is Saqsaywaman, but is pronounced ‘sexy woman’ and that is all we seemed to hear about, the joke got a little tedius!! It rained quite bad that day but we still had fun. In case you were in any doubt I F*@KING loved Cusco and could have stayed here enjoying the unique ambience for months. OK, right in the centre around the plaza de Armas is very touristy but who cares, walk the streets around here and there, the cute little Incan streets, the vibrant plazas, the amazing food and the friendly locals, this city is a true gem of a place. I was so sad to have to leave Cusco, leave Molly and leave the Real McCoy but VAMOS and onwards towards the Bolivian border.