Monday, February 14, 2011

Ten Days - Saturday

Transportation is everything here. Saturday's adventures started with a 3-sole taxi ride to the bus station, about 1.5 miles from our apartment (3-soles equals approximatley one US dollar). Next, we paid 9.6 soles for assigned seats on the bus to Pisac, which is 20 miles away. With bus gears grinding, we bumped along atop ancient struts past Saqsayhuaman (which we reached by taxi for a bargain basement price of 10 soles the day before) to our first stop of the day - Q'enqo, a mere 2 miles from Cusco.

The day was blessedly warm and clear, making it that much more enjoyable when compared to the thunder and lightning of Saqsayhuaman. The girls frolicked in the grassy courtyards as we passed sunbathing students studying atop some fallen Incan handiwork. We walked through dripping caves with sculpted homages to the lightning, one of the Incas' spiritual incarnations thought to be the source of life. Some naughty local boys climbed on top of a Incan wall and received a sharp whistle as a reprimand from a Ministry of Culture employee still sitting at the entrance gate 400 yards away. I told our girls, "Don't do whatever those boys just did."

We walked back up to the main road after we had had our fill of peaceful Q'enqo, and waitied no more than 10 minutes before a bus from a different bus company appeared. We took it to the next stop - Puku Pukara.

The bus was packed and we stood for this leg of the journey, hanging onto the overhead rails and trying not to bump our fellow passengers with our overloaded backpacks. The highlight of this ride was when I let go of the bar for a split second to adjust my pack, just as the bus rounded a sharp, steep curve. I lost my balance and fell backwards in slow motion, but we were all so tighly packed together that the result was more like leaning heavily on the young Peruvian teen behind me, as if I were a heavy sack of traditional weaving and alpaca sweaters to be sold at market. He might have thought it was funny, the big clumsy American woman who didn't know how to ride a bus properly, but I couldn't tell. I was so tall in comparison to both my fellow passengers and the front windshield, that I couldn't see the boy's face nor what the road promised ahead of us. I apologized to the back of his head and resolved to hold on at all times from there on out! Puka Pukara was only 2 miles up the road. The fare was 4 soles.

Puka Pukara was a military lookout post. Although the ruins were simple and not much to write home about when compared to the enormous stones of Saqsayhuaman, the view won top prize over all other sites. From left to right, when standing at the former tower site, the vista encompassed sheep with their brightly-dressed shepherdesses roaming over green fields; the long, deep valley leading towards Pisac on display with various other shades of green; smallish blue mountains in the near distance; and the gigantic grey masses of the Andes further off. The bright blue sky with nary a reminder of yesterday's heavy, black storm clouds topped off the photogenic scene like a South American cherry on the top of this deliciously beautiful Incan sundae. Closer to us on the right were four burros, tied up below the tower to graze in small circles, conceivably providing a public service by cropping the public grass.

Across the road was another site - Tambomachay - a resort and ceremonial center for the Inca and his princess built in 1500 AD. The famous ritual fountains, built by carving out pipe-like cylindrical passages in the enormous stones, provided spring water year round. It was a little less impressive than the other sites due to its middling size and view, but it was a well-preserved working example of Incan technology in action.

We ate lunch on top of another Incan tower foundation - peanut butter and jelly inside of traditional Peruvian bread rolls - then headed back to the road to hail another bus, this time one with the same company who issued us the original tickets. We had 15 twisting miles to get to Pisac.

Originally, when we planned our day, we knew that we would have to pay the extra cost for the leg from Q'enqo to Puka Pukara because we would be riding with a diferent bus company. But when we tried to board the bus owned by the original company with our original ticket to Pisac, we were denied. It seems that the ticket was only good until we disembarked, even if it were only 10 feet from the front door. We had to pay another 6 soles to get the rest of the way to Pisac, and of course, we stood, packed in like sardines between the luckier sleeping passengers who had boarded in Cusco - something we had done 4 hours earlier.

In the end, it was only $2 more, and regardless, we arrived in Pisac intact, not too weary, and with nothing picked from our pockets. Everyone on that bus had a purpose and it wasn't to take home a pair of cheap American sunglesses or a half-used Boleto Touristico. I began to relax about the numerous tourist warnings we had read against robbers and scoundrals. Most people were just going about their daily business of commuting to and from work or buying supplies in town. Nevertheless, I still insist on zippered pockets for me and my girls whenever we go out (mostly to guard against accidentally tripping and spilling the irreplacable contents of our pockets down a grate in the street - I like to call it being careful, although I know others might label it paranoia).

We hung around in the town of Pisac for awhile, drinking cold fruit juice and tepid coffee and peeking in the gate of Kusy Kawsay - the school the girls will attend in March. We saved the ruins of Pisac for when we move there next month. The main square is small and manageable; the city welcoming and not too big. I can't wait to start looking for apartments!

It was only mid-afternoon when we took another bus to LaMae (4 miles, 4 soles) with our friend Rocia. There, we got to know Sandra and Sandy, the couple who run the organization where Matt will volunteer. We toured their beautiful property by the side of a gushing river and met their children, age 12 and 14 who also attend Kusy Kawsay. We spoke Spanglish and ate a wonderful home-cooked meal as we listened attentively to the other guests - the best way to learn Spanish in my opinion.

Bedtime came too early and we caught a taxi to Calca (10 miles, 15 soles), where Rocia housed us for the night in style at her beautiful bed and breakfast, "La Casa de Mama Gloria". The gifts of friendship had warmed us, fed us and made us feel at home in this new territory. In all, we spent 62 soles - about 24 American dollars - and 12 enjoyable hours getting from Cusco to Calca, Peru and, more imporantly, getting to know our new friends and new home. What a day!

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